Sometimes, we forget that the United States is only one of three countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity or paternity leave. Despite many preaching the importance of family values in American culture, we have no nation-wide laws that provide paid leave to individuals working in the private sector upon the birth or adoption of a child. The closest we come to providing help to new parents is under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA").
However, the FMLA DOES NOT guarantee paid leave to employees. Rather, it only guarantees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for qualifying employees who work for covered employers. So, even assuming an individual has worked for at least a year for an employer and worked 1250 hours in that year, if the employer does not have at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius, that employee does not benefit from the protections of the FMLA. As a result, employees who work for small to mid-size businesses or individuals who work as independent contractors have no FMLA-based leave rights.
Of course, nothing stops any employer from voluntarily providing unpaid or paid leave to its employees. Some private sector employers provide paid leave for a few weeks or partially-paid leave over a longer period of time.
The Department of Labor is hoping to change the way Americans treat our new parents, and urging us to essentially put our money where our mouths are. Perhaps, in time, we will join almost ever other country in the world in providing the security of a paycheck to new parents, who already have the enormous task of raising a newborn in front of them.