New Yahoo! CEO to take “a few weeks” of maternity leave – U.S. workers in heated debate, while Germans wonder what all the fuss is about*

Yahoo’s newly appointed CEO (and former Google executive) Marissa Mayer just happens to be pregnant; she and her husband are expecting a baby boy in a few months. She also happens to be the 20th female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, and has been charged with the task of revitalizing the flailing Yahoo! brand. But her decision to take “a few weeks” of maternity leave, “during which she would work throughout” only re-ignited the simmering debate among American working women: Can women really have it all – a successful career and a full family life?

Meanwhile, German Minister of Family Affairs Kristina Schroeder lamented how this was a newsworthy topic and told Der Spiegel that Mayer is setting a poor example. Schroeder said further, “I regard it with major concern when prominent women give the public impression that maternity leave is something that is not important… Maternity leave is absolutely important and not just from a medical point of view.”

There are, of course, numerous pros and cons for aggressively pursuing one’s professional career and the desire to focus on raising a family, and many women find themselves in an ever-present search for balance. But at a minimum, this issue requires us to review how maternity leave is generally handled in both cultures, as this has a strong role in determining whether “a few weeks off” is considered normal or customary.

Job Protection Laws for Pregnant Women in Germany:

Women are generally protected against a dismissal from their job from the beginning of pregnancy until 4 months following childbirth. Only in rare instances may an employer dismiss a female employee during this time.

Maternity Leave in Germany:

German law requires employers to provide 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Expectant mothers do not have to work during the last 6 weeks of their projected pregnancy, but may do so as long as they formally state their intention to work during this period. New mothers are not allowed to return to work until 8 weeks have passed since their child’s birth.

German mothers may also receive 65% of their regular salary for 12 months (single mothers, 14 months), not to exceed €1,800 EUR per month. Public health insurance covers part of the paid leave, and the employer is expected to cover the rest.

Maternity Leave in the USA:

The number of weeks permitted for paid maternity leave under U.S. Federal law: ZERO

So what does U.S. Federal law provide? 

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, employers with 15 or more employees are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Under the PDA, for example, an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant, so long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave to eligible employees. The FMLA affects private employers with 50 or more employees, and all public employers regardless of size.

What is the rule according to North Carolina state law?
North Carolina does not have a law that requires private employers to grant employees time off for the birth or adoption of a child. Most NC employers with 50 or more employees will be covered by FMLA. NC employers with fewer than 50 employees are free to provide paid or unpaid family leave at their own discretion.

For employers with 15 or more employees, NC state law also prohibits employment discrimination based upon the gender of the employee, which includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. (NC Equal Employment Practices Act; N.C. Gen. Stat. Art. 49 Sec. 143-146.1 et seq.)

North Carolina state law considers pregnancy to be a temporary disability 
Employers with 15 or more employees must provide the same leave benefits to female employees “disabled” by pregnancy that are provided to other employees with temporary disabilities. They can provide leave with pay, or leave without pay, or not provide it at all, as long as all employees are treated in the same in their requests for temporary disability leave. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Art 49 Sec. 143-422.1 et seq.

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Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs