09/19/2012 03:17 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2012

Why Is the U.S. Government Stuck in the Mud for Paid Parental Leave?

For 27 years, Working Mother has been judging companies on how they support their working mother (and father) employees, and I have always been impressed by how these great companies create a support system that is completely voluntary. Today we announced the 2012 Working Mother 100 Best Companies, a particular source of pride for me in watching the list grow from just 30 companies in 1986.

The irony is that while companies like IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and P & G lead the way with progressive leave policies, on-site child and medical care centers and lactation rooms, the United States is lagging behind every developed country with no mandated paid leave. As we turn our sights toward the election, the job market issues and the needs of working families, what could be more critical than giving employees pay when they take time off for a newborn?

Nearly 20 years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act mandated that most companies allow workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. California was the first state to adopt a paid leave program, and a recent Rutgers "Pay Matters" study showed employees who took the time with their newborns with benefits had payoffs for business, the parents and their children.

Every developed country has mandated PAID maternity leave for their employed women, but in this country and in Papua New Guinea, Liberia and Swaziland, there is no mandated PAID leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires 12 weeks of UNPAID leave, and if a company has short term disability benefits (which are not required), these payments might cover part of her pay during that 12-week period. But other than that, companies in the United States (as well as in the other three countries) are left to their own decisions about whether to offer paid leave to an employee who has just gone through the life and body-altering experience of having a baby. Beyond the Working Mother 100 Best Companies, the nation's employers are doing a lousy job of volunteering to give moms the time they need with pay with only 16% giving paid maternity leave, according the an annual report by the Society of Human Resource Management. This shameful record is just mind boggling!

It's not that we haven't tried. Earlier this year, a federal paid parental leave act died on the vine without even making it into a Congressional committee hearing. Before you go into the voting booth this fall, be sure to investigate which members of Congress vote for pro-family policies. is an easy way to search for who has signed on as a co-sponsor to the Expanding Dependent and Child Care Act (HR 2481) and the Working Families Flexibility Act (HR 4106).

In the meantime, Working Mother continues to add names to its nearly 50,000-strong petition demanding a paid family leave mandate in this country. We want to get this into law by 2015. Won't you join us? Signing the petition is an easy way to make your voice heard.

Today we applaud the Working Mother 100 Best Companies for the exemplary role they play in this country. They model how family-friendly policies create a more productive workplace for working families and they are constantly moving forward. The U.S. Congress needs to join the modern workday world and move legislation that will make new moms and dads more focused and less stressed at work with mandated paid parental leave. It's time.