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Maternity Leave vs. 'Me-ternity' Leave, and What It Means for Work-Life Balance

Until we, as employers, figure out how to permit our employees (women and men) to step away from work when needed and inject some balance into their lives, we will have employees like Meghann Foye calling for the folly of me-ternity leave.
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I read with great interest the following story in the New York Post, entitled, "I want all the perks of maternity leave -- without having any kids."

The story, written by Meghann Foye, a self-professed overworked, yet childless, woman in her mid-30s (and author of a recently published novel called "Meternity"), argues that all women deserve "me" time away from work, and that maternity leave shouldn't be limited just to new moms.

[T]he more I came to believe in the value of a "meternity" leave -- which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn't revolve around their jobs.

For women who follow a "traditional" path, this pause often naturally comes in your late 20s or early 30s, when a wedding, pregnancy and babies means that your personal life takes center stage. But for those who end up on the "other" path, that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come....

It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility. There's something about saying "I need to go pick up my child" as a reason to leave the office on time that has far more gravitas than, say, "My best friend just got ghosted by her OkCupid date and needs a margarita" -- but both sides are valid.

The backlash against Ms. Foye was swift. For example, the following are just a couple of the tweets the Today Show received in response to its story on me-ternity leave.

This idea of me-ternity leave leaves me with two thoughts, one legal and one practical:

1. Legally speaking, there is a vast difference between maternity leave and me-ternity leave. The law requires the former, while the latter is a figment of Ms. Foye's creativity. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires covered employees to provide eligible new moms up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Moreover, even if you are too small of an employer for the FMLA to cover you, or if an employee is too short-tenured, many state laws still requires an unpaid leave of absence for a new mother, and Title VII (the federal law that prohibits pregnancy discrimination) suggests that an employer may not impose a shorter maximum period for pregnancy-related leave than for other types of medical or short-term disability leave. In other words, you likely have to grant some duration of maternity leave to every new mom.

2. If you have employees clamoring for "me" time, you have an issue deeper than mom vs. non-mom; you have a work-life balance issue. We, as Americans, continue to struggle with the ongoing need for flexible workplaces and time to get away from work and disconnect. It's our own faults. We work well in excess of 40 hours per week at work, and when we are away from work we are tethered to our iPhones emailing about work. We are workaholics. Yet, if technology has freed us from the shackles of a four-walled office and the nine-to-five time clock, does it not also mean that technology has stretched the workplace to anywhere and the workday to anytime? And, with this "freedom", should not employers be more lenient with time off, paid or unpaid?

Until we, as employers, figure out how to permit our employees (women and men) to step away from work when needed and inject some balance into their lives, we will have employees like Meghann Foye calling for the folly of me-ternity leave.