For many, the US's status as one of two countries in the world without paid parental leave for moms can feel like a punchline. Well, NBC's "Superstore" made it just that recently, when the sitcom's "Labor" episode shed light on what it can be like to be pregnant in a workplace with no maternity leave.
Except this is no laughing matter. It's reality for the 88 percent of women working in the United States without access to paid family leave.
With that context, here are a few examples of when Superstore's absurdity felt all-too-real.
1. When Jonah Told Us Women “Shouldn’t Have to Kill Themselves” to Have a Baby
We didn't need Superstore to remind us of the US's infamous status as the only industrialized nation without a paid parental leave policy for new moms after giving birth. But, it was good to see pop culture reflect popular opinion. (Polling regularly shows widespread support for paid parental leave.)
Nearly one-quarter of new moms return to work within two weeks of giving birth. Why? Because too many employed Americans are regularly forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for a loved one. Plum-lipped and very pregnant, Cheyenne was this demographic personified -- soldiering on despite the compressing her lungs because she can’t afford to miss wages from crucial hours to take care of her little girl.
2. When Labor Met Labor
Not only is there an increasing number of women working full time while pregnant, but there is also an increasing number of women that work longer into their pregnancies. As the presence of pregnant women in the workforce becomes more commonplace it makes sense that they would be afforded certain protections. Fictional superstore Cloud9 made sure that Cheyenne had the right to work, even if that meant Cheyenne’s belly might contribute to the task ... and even if she went into labor on the job (or Braxton Hicks hit while she was at the register).
There are protections in place to protect pregnant workers. However, many still face discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions today. From being demoted after returning to work to losing their jobs altogether, women returning to work after having a baby still find that their role as mother impacts the way that their employer views them.
3. When Cheyenne’s Colleagues Rallied to Help Her Cobble Together Informal Leave
For the millions of parents-to-be without access to paid family leave, it can take a lot of creativity to cobble together pseudo-paid leave so they’re not sacrificing a paycheck to take care of their family.
For Cheyenne, that means her friends coming together to make sure she has some time at home with her new baby, Harmonica, without missing out on vital paychecks. From manager Glenn collecting tips to "Help Our Teen Mom" to “officially” taking their own paid sick days while going into work and clocking in as Cheyenne, the Superstore crew has Cheyenne's back. The ultimate show of support was when store manager Glenn sentences Cheyenne to six weeks paid suspension -- a paid maternity leave in disguise. Unfortunately, Greg was fired for his actions.
4. When Amy and Jonah Called Corporate
Nobody ever said there isn’t a lot of red tape to cut through in order to get paid leave. In Superstore, that maze comes in the form of Greg from PR, Rebecca from Legal, Glenn, Howard, Sheryl, and Sue -- to name a few.
In reality, the bureaucratic red tape of lawmakers and business leaders is unraveling slowly. Four states and a growing number of municipalities have laws that provide paid family leave. Additionally paid maternity leave has become an increasingly popular employee benefit as companies vie to recruit and retain the best possible employees. A federal policy, such as the FAMILY Act, would help offset the cost, making it more affordable for more companies to provide paid family leave for employees.
So what can you do?
- Contact your legislators and tell them you support federal policy changes such as the FAMILY Act.
- Talk to your employer about workplace programs and policies that support working caregivers
- If you have access to leave, take it … and encourage your employees to take theirs. We need more positive examples of how paid parental leave is a positive for families and businesses if we’re ever going to affect cultural change
If we can garner up the guts, support federal policies and use the resources at our disposal, then one day this episode will truly be as outlandish as it’s intended to be.