Pregnant women in Nevada must scramble for stability, support

working while pregnant
(Photo illustration by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

If you are an MGM Resorts employee in Macau and give birth, you will be able to take 70 days of paid leave to recover from pregnancy and adjust to life with a newborn. Meanwhile, if you are an MGM Resorts employee in Las Vegas and you give birth, your options depend largely on how high up the employment ladder you have climbed and maybe how supportive your supervisor is.

What’s the difference?

The difference is Macau has government-mandated minimums for parental leave: Men are entitled to two days of unpaid paternity leave, and women are entitled to 56 days of paid maternity leave. Last year, amid pressure from a gaming labor activist group, MGM China Holdings proudly boasted a change to their company policy to include 70 days of paid maternity leave for women and five days of paid paternity leave. (Wynn Macau and Sands China offer similar policies in the area.)

Nevada has no such mandates, meaning men and women — but especially women — are beholden only to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which only requires that any business with more than 50 employees working in a 50-mile radius offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job protection to anyone who has worked there for at least one year.

MGM Resorts declined the Current’s request for an interview regarding the company’s parental leave policies in Nevada, where they are the largest private employer. A spokesperson sent this statement via email: “MGM supports its employees by offering a number of parental leave and benefit options, depending on the length of leave requested and the employee’s role within the organization.”

Culinary Union members, for example, can take up to 18 months of unpaid leave for maternity, placement of child and child bonding. Their seniority, shift and wages are protected during that time.

For non-unionized employees, it’s a different story. Several recent or current employees who worked in non-union, non-supervisory roles told the Current their only option was to use whatever paid time off they’d accrued and — if they could afford to — take unpaid time off via FMLA. (Those who’d signed up for short-term disability during the company’s designated open-enrollment period could use that to partially fund their leave, but not everyone had the foresight to sign up before getting pregnant.) Employees in supervisory or higher roles within the gaming giant reported receiving paid parental leave.

MGM Resorts is hardly alone in offering many of its non-unionized employees the bare minimum required by federal law. Doing so is the standard not just in Nevada but across the United States.

Interactive version available here. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17 percent of all civilian workers last year had access to paid family leave, which includes maternity and paternity leave. Within private employers, access to paid family leave varies by size, with 11 percent of workers in small businesses (1 to 49 employees) having it and 25 percent of workers in large businesses (500 workers or more) having it.

Workers at the bottom of the employment ladder have the least access to paid family leave. Only 8 percent of workers in the lowest quartile of earners had access to paid family leave, compared to 28 percent in the highest quartile.

Among the 36 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — a generally accepted stand-in for developed countries with strong economies — the median number of weeks of paid maternity leave was 42.

The United States mandates zero paid weeks. Maternal disability, if an employee has access to it, is often capped at six weeks for women who gave birth vaginally or eight weeks for women who gave birth via cesarean. The amount it pays out is often only a partial amount of a person’s salary. Unpaid leave is simply not a financial option for many families.

The appetite for federal legislation on the issue has grown in recent years. Ivanka Trump has identified it as a key issue and advocated for bipartisan legislation on the issue, though nothing tangible has come of it. Unrelated bills addressing paid family leave have been introduced in Congress, though again nothing tangible has come of it. Polls have shown the issue to be important to families, but lawmakers disagree dramatically on how to pay for such policies — and just how far reaching they should be.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, only a handful of states, as well as the District of Columbia, have mandated paid parental leave, though all fall far short of international standards. These statewide policies — like the federal FMLA — focus on employer mandates, meaning they leave out many part-time employers and all independent contractors.

Meanwhile, Nevada only this year mandated that employers offer any paid time off, and they set the minimum at 40 hours per year.

Specific company policies on family leave can be difficult to come by. Many women purposefully avoid asking about it during the job interview or acceptance process because they worry showing any interest in the subject of having a child will lead to judgment or discrimination. While Nevada does have a pregnancy discrimination law on the books, it’s widely believed that discrimination is commonplace and goes unreported.

Finding such horror stories is not difficult. Through two social media groups for parents, the Current solicited stories about parental leave policies and experiences and was inundated with responses. While a few mentioned working for companies with generous (in U.S. terms) paid family leave, the overwhelming majority were tales of hoarding vacation time, stretching budgets to accommodate unpaid time off, and heading back to work before they felt physically or emotionally ready.

One woman, after discovering she did not qualify for FMLA because she hadn’t met the hourly requirement set within the act, negotiated with her employer to get “six to eight weeks” unpaid leave. At six weeks post-partum, she was asked to come back into work. She did, only to months later be called into the human resources department and criticized for not having a “professional appearance.” One of the issues: Her breast pumping at work was making others in her male-dominated sales industry uncomfortable.

Another woman gave birth on a Saturday and returned to work on Monday. She didn’t have any time off.

Women who experienced complications during pregnancy often fared the worst. Forced to take leave while pregnant strained their families financially and pushed the limits of sympathy from their employers, leading to stress about their future employment potential. For at least one, it led to her leaving the workforce for good.

Parental leave policies aren’t universally abhorred in Nevada. According to the employee handbook for Zappos, a woman who’s worked there for at least one year qualifies for four weeks of pre-partum care if medically necessary, 10 weeks of post-partum leave paid and six weeks of parental leave — all paid out at 100 percent of their salary. The online shoe-seller also operates two unique programs. The first is a “leave share” program that allows mothers or fathers to share that six-week parental leave with a spouse or domestic partner who doesn’t have paid leave through their own employer. The second is a “ramp back” program that gives primary caregivers the option to “ease back into work” with eight weeks of part-time work.

Birthing mothers who have worked for Zappos less than a year don’t qualify for all these leave options, but they still receive the 10 weeks paid post-partum leave and can qualify for four weeks pre-partum leave if medically necessary.

Zappos was unable to provide an interview or statement by deadline, but the company has been outspoken about wanting to offer a “culture of happiness.” In previous interviews and blogs on its website the company has referenced studies showing that policies like paid parental leave lead to reductions in employee turnover.

According to a 2016 report citing BLS data, certain employment sectors are leading the way when it comes to offering paid family leave: within the finance and insurance, information and professional, scientific and technical services industries paid family leave increased by more than 10 percentage points between 2010 and 2016.

Growing most slowly — by 1 percent or less — was: accommodation and food services, construction, transportation and warehousing and utilities. Other studies have similarly shown that people within service industries are far less likely to have access to paid time off at large.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the parental leave benefits of Culinary Union members.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.


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