This Iowa “Infant at Work” Program is a Small Win on the Journey to Paid Family Leave

Supermajority Education Fund

November 21, 2019

When it comes to paid family leave, the U.S. has lagged considerably behind other developed countries for decades. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows parents who work for employers covered under the act to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected work off after giving birth — but that time is unpaid. Though national paid family leave is on the minds of many ahead of the 2020 election, some workplaces are already finding solutions.

In 2019, the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa (GSGI) began an “Infants at Work” program within their organization that allows parents to bring their babies—biological, adopted, or fostered—to work after their eight weeks of paid leave has ended. The program enables parents to do so until their infants are six months old. 

This program could be crucial for parents like those who are advised by doctors not to go back to work immediately after a cesarean section or other invasive procedures but have no financial choice but to ignore their doctors’ orders. Even parents who do receive leave face expensive childcare when they return to work. 

“With the Infants-at-Work program, we’re supporting parents in their transition back to work, and creating a space where having children and advancing your career can happen simultaneously,” Beth Shelton GSGI CEO wrote on the organization’s website in January. “This program is also a great way for us to attract and retain amazing talent, support women who choose to nurse, and support babies in a developmental period of importance. With seven babies born or coming soon, we knew this would be a good time to try it out.”

Programs like “Infants at Work” are helpful. Still, as Erika Moritsugu, Vice President for Economic Justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families, told Supermajority News, they aren’t the final solution. 

“Programs that allow people to bring their infants to work, like [what] Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa is doing, really point to the need for a better balance between people’s ability to work and support their families,” she said. “While it’s admirable that employers are coming up with and implementing their own innovative solutions, what working families really need to thrive are public policies that provide comprehensive paid family and medical leave and affordable childcare.”

As the National Partnership notes in its materials that make a case for universal paid family leave, only 17 percent of families in America have access to paid family leave through their employers. Because of this, Moritsugu said there can’t be one catch-all solution for every family, especially those who need to recover after childbirth for medical reasons. 

“It’s also critical to understand that while policies like the one that the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa is providing afford new parents some flexibility, they are not a substitute for the dedicated time away from work that new parents need to care for a new child, and for some, to recover from childbirth,” Moritsugu said.