Flexible Maternity Leave: Good for Mothers, Babies or Employers?

The Neta Center (Women for Bettering Their Future) has proposed altering the laws surrounding maternity leave.

Currently, maternity leave lasts for 14 weeks. If the mother has been working in the same position for the previous 10 months, she receives a monthly salary from the National Insurance Institute (NII, or Bituach Leumi) based on the average of her last 3 monthly paychecks. After the first six weeks, the father may take over all or part of the remaining leave. Mothers can extend their maternity leave, albeit without pay, to a full year after birth without risk of getting fired (at least in theory).

The National Insurance Institute (NII) is strict about maternity leave. If a woman gets caught visiting her office, or doing work at home, the NII will refuse to pay the salary. Sometimes the NII grants a permit for new mothers to work, especially if they are business owners.

Neta recommends allowing women to choose when they will work during their maternity leave, and get a proportional payment from the NII. If she decides to go back to work six weeks after birth, or go in for a day here or there, or work from home, the NII would dock her salary accordingly.Marina Slobodkin of Kadima agreed to sponsor such a law in the Knesset.

Neta wants to loosen the rules, in light of a study among 204 women with academic degrees. Fifty percent said they would like to be able to work during their maternity leave.

On the radio, the head of the center claimed that inflexible maternity leave puts women at a disadvantage in their career. One accountant recalled how with her second baby, she gave birth in the middle of a big project. When she came back, she had a lot of extra work to get to where she had been in her career before the birth.  Her fourth child was born in between projects and was able to take a full five months.

Neta represents professional women. But it is the poorer women, in menial jobs, who would suffer when their employers ask why they aren’t taking flexible maternity leave.  A columnist in Haaretz complained that Neta is trying to take away the only freedom women have from their employers–the three months after they give birth.

Israeli women’s rights organizations have worked hard to protect maternity leave. It was recently extended by two weeks to fit more in line with European norms, despite the cost to the economy. Maternity leave not only helps the mother recover from birth, it ensures that the baby can be with its mother during this critical time. Since the father can take over the maternity leave after the initial six weeks, his career could share the hit. (The fact that this rarely happens cannot be blamed on legislation–parents have to work this out between themselves.)

While there are many practical and important reasons that mothers would want to spend some time at work before their maternity leave is up, it makes me wonder how much parents are willing to adjust their lifestyles in order to have children.

So what do you think? Is it sexist to keep mothers away from their jobs after birth? Would you choose the option of part-time work rather than a full maternity leave?

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  1. Israel’s protective legislation on behalf of women which dates back to the 1950s-was less about encouraging women to be in the workforce and more about encouraging childbirth. The idea behind mandatory leave was that no one should be coerced into working. But the protective legislation leads to so much discrimination–for example, asking a woman about her marital status is common at Israeli job interviews (illegal, but common).
    Feminists are often accused of being elitest but I think Neta has it right here.

    • pseudo1: Perhaps in the 50’s that was the reason, but maternity leave is standard in every country except the US. Making it optional won’t stop employer discrimination against young women, unless you are advocating eliminating it altogether. Maternity leave should be considered a basic human right, both for the mother and the new baby.

      • sorry if I wasn’t clear. I think maternity leave is very important and am not advocating getting rid of it. The problematic piece is making it impossible for a woman to work at all within the period if she chooses to do so. Of course it is a complicated issue for women who have less choice in the workplace & who could be forced to work. I think it’s best to not make the whole period mandatory and to use anti-discrimination statutes to prevent women who want to use the whole 14 weeks from being forced to work.
        Even as I say this, I think 14 weeks sounds about right.

        • A woman cannot opt out of maternity leave? I find that hard to believe. Technically, a woman can go back to work and simply not file for Bituach Leumi. BL doesn’t automatically pay you as soon as you walk out of the hospital door. You have to file forms, including a signed perut of your last 12 months of pay. If you don’t file these forms, you don’t get paid.

  2. I think more choice is better. Not every mother is suited to being home from work for all that time – not every mother wants that. Other countries (like here in Canada) have a longer, paid, maternity leave, which is voluntary, and I don’t know anyone who’s been asked why they wouldn’t come back to work earlier.

    I’m unclear, though, on whether the maternity leave in Israel is mandatory, as in women are not allowed to work, or whether its a situation where women must choose one or the other, but not both. Here, you can start your leave any time within the first year post-partum, but must finish by the end of the first year. You can’t go in to work part-time. But you can opt out of leave altogether, or return early from the full year.

    Another thought is about those poorer women you were concerned about. Does the maternity pay equal their full salary, or a proportion of it? People often opt to work instead of taking leave, here, because the recompense they get is only 50% of their job’s pay, so we take a loss of income to stay home. If the same is there, then more choice for mothers to go back to work, if they feel they need to, would also be good.

    • In Canada, women don’t have as many babies so it’s less of an issue. Here, women can go back to work whenever they like, but they will lose their full maternity benefit from the NII even if they work only for one day. If themother has been in the job for 10 months (I believe) she receives a full salary from the NII for 14 weeks.

      • I think the first 14 weeks are mandatory and that is the thing I have a problem with.
        After that, either parent can choose some unpaid leave for up to a year.

        As to not knowing people who were forced to come back to work early, I do know some people in Israel & the US including someone in my extended family in the US with a very highpowered job who was forced to come back early and ended up leaving the job and receiving a settlement because of their discriminatory practices.

  3. I don’t understand exactly what you are saying. If I go back to work one day early, then Bituach Leumi pays me nothing for the whole time? That just doesn’t make sense. But then if my husband decided to take that day off then we would get paid for the whole time since he was taking the mat leave? I don’t understand.

    • Yes, Channa, that is how I understand it from the articles on the topic. If you have an arrangement with NII, either for your husband to take over the leave, or to make an exception for you to go to a meeting or something, it would be okay.

      • If it really is like that, then I support any attempt to make the system more rational. Even under the current system I know many women whose bosses pressure them to come back early, so the current system is not preventing that, only punishing women excessively if they get caught.
        But really I don’t see how bituach leumi could actually end up punishing a woman who goes in to visit her office one day. How would they know? I know when I collected bituach leumi when my son was born, my work filled out one brief form saying I didn’t work, and there were no further questions asked.

  4. I wish they would just give you a certain number of days leave and butt out. What do they care if I take full time leave for the first month and then go back part time over the next three months rather than just have this “cold turkey” mat leave where women go from being with their kids all the time to being back at work overnight (unless you transition slowly at your own expense).
    The current model is very impractical if you’re a professional – particularly if you’re a manager.
    You can offer women options and still protect their right to choose what kind of mat leave they take.

    • This is complex

      I can just say that I know people (Even a teacher), who were made to go into the office, and work, but simply could not get paid for those days

      SO obvioulsy such a solution would make things easier for them

  5. Here’s how it works. There are 14 weeks of leave during which it is illegal for the employer to have the woman work. Section 8 of thelaw says: “An employer shall not employ a female worker whom he knows to be on maternity leave.”She can start some of this (up to 6 weeks) prior to the due date. This is an absolute ban on the employer even if it does happen a lot. In fact, the law had to be amended to allow women whose children did not survive to go back to work–without the amendment it would have been illegal. bituach leumi pays her salary (assuming all the other conditions are met–for ex. that she worked long enough before her leave).
    After that initial period, assuming they have worked at least 2 years at the employer, either parent can take up to a year of UNPAID leave.
    A woman should not lose her entitlement to bituach leumi if her employer had her stop by the office. Instead the employer should be sanctioned for having her come in.
    This is the current legal situation–I’m sure that in reality many women work & some even work because their employers demand it.

  6. I think if there would be an option of flexible maternity leave it wouldn’t be just menial workers who are subject to stress to taking it. I think everyone would be. I for one cherished the fact that there was no push to go back to work for a full 14 weeks. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have an academic degree, I guess I’m in the other 50%.

  7. I see the article somewhat pertains to my current situation, but I was looking for a more specific answer for maternity leave. Does anyone know if you take your maternity leave and then begin a job at a ‘New’ company (not returning to original place of work) if the ‘New’ company by law is entitled to give me the 8 hour work day due to the 1 hour breastfeeding hour? I know my current job if I return to it I will work 8 hours, not my usual 9 because of the breastfeeding hour given to me.