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Is lack of paid medical leave driving women out of the workplace?

Employment law is constantly changing, and one aspect of employment that has lately received increased attention is paid leave. The White House Council of Economic Advisers has reported that paid leave is offered to only 59 percent of employees in the United States, and the U.S. is the only developed country whose federal policy doesn't offer paid maternity leave.

The concern is not only that workers aren't being afforded this important benefit; not implementing paid leave policies may be having a negative impact on U.S. competitiveness. Although the number of professional women in the workplace has been on the rise for years, and while nearly 60 percent of all degree recipients are women, the percentage of professional women in the workplace is recently on the decline.

Currently, two federal laws provide important protections for pregnant women and others with family concerns that affect employment: the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Under the FMLA, public agencies, schools and employers with 50 or more employees must offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees who need to address medical or family issues, including pregnancy and caring for a newborn. Employees must meet strict requirements to be eligible for leave under the FMLA, and workers and employers alike often need legal assistance when a dispute over family or medical leave arises.

The PPACA requires that break time be set aside, along with a private, on-site location, for mothers to express milk for nursing their children. This protection is provided for up to a year after the child is born.

Still, studies have shown that going further than current federal law and providing paid maternity leave can result in more women returning to the workforce and earning higher incomes. We discuss these issues in our article, "Are our attitudes about family and medical leave changing?"

For more on the rights of employees and employers, please visit our labor and employment law overview.

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