As I was getting ready for work this morning, the Today Show had a profile of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who announced that she was expecting twins. The profile noted that when Mayer had her first child, she declined Yahoo’s (rather generous) Maternity Leave Policy and took only one week off from work. The panel on the show debated whether a company’s chief executive was setting a poor example for new moms in her employ by declining a maternity leave.
I had a interesting perspective on the issue as I watched the segment with my wife, a junior management employee at a Fortune 500 company who is currently on maternity leave with our own 7 week old twins. My better half harshly criticized Mayer, saying that her decision would have a chilling effect on Yahoo employees. Would they get a message though their CEO’s actions that taking maternity leave is bad for their career?
Maybe yes, maybe no. Listen, companies cannot force new moms to take their full maternity leave. It is an employee benefit that, like all benefits, can be accepted or declined. But what companies can do is reinforce the message that new mothers (and dads) availing themselves of a paid leave policy will not be subject to retaliation or any other adverse employment actions. This can be easily outlined in an employee handbook or, if applicable, at an exit interview before the leave. Conversely, it should similarly be stressed that declining a postnatal leave is not the avenue to advancement in the company.
Feel free to contact our Labor and Employment Department if you wish to have your Policies and Procedures reviewed on this or any other issue.