Moms at Work: Do Your Policies Help or Hurt?

By Corey Licht, Esq. on May 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Many policies that are meant to help working mothers end up being double-edged swords: they improve mothers' work-life balance at the expense of career advancement. Telecommuting, for example, is a great way for moms to spend more time with their kids, but it can also put them at a disadvantage when a promotion is up for grabs.

With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, it's the perfect time to review your company's policies regarding working moms. To help you get started, below, we've covered a few common policies and how they can adversely affect working moms.

Maternity Leave

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of leave within any given 12-month period. While maternity leave is an important right for any working mom, research shows that extended parental leave can have a negative effect on women’s incomes and career advancement. For example, a recent study showed that “MBAs give up 41 percent [of their earnings], Ph.D.s and J.D.s 29 percent, and M.D.s just 16 percent for a job interruption equivalent to 18 months during the 15 years after receiving their BA.”

Employers need to be conscious of this effect and work to develop fair policies for both male and female employees. One way to do so is to offer equal maternity and paternity leave. With male and female workers both taking equal time off to raise a newborn, working moms will feel less pressure to prematurely return to work, possibly helping to level the playing field.

Working From Home and Flex Time

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to ban telecommuting for the company’s employees ruffled a lot of feathers. It’s understandable. Many mothers see telecommuting and flexible hours as great ways to balance their work and family lives. However, like extended leave, working from home can negatively affect mothers’ career development, according to Slate. That’s because employees who telecommute often have fewer face-to-face interactions with co-workers and less of chance to collaborate in real time.

One way to curb these negative effects is to limit the number of telecommuting days to maybe one or two a week. That way mothers get to spend more time at home with their children, but still have ample opportunity to meet with co-workers and collaborate face-to-face.

Child Care

The cost of child care can be prohibitively expensive for many families, leading talented mothers to drop out of the workforce in order to care for their children. On the other hand, workers who can afford child care are often bogged down by hectic commuting routines that can impair their productivity and cramp their schedules. By providing employees with child care, child care subsidies, or spending accounts, employers can help retain valuable employees while keeping parents focused and happy.

Corporate counsel often have a chance to influence their company’s policies. Take some time to review your policies not just for legality, but for the effect they might have on your work force, for better or for worse.

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