Forget the Binky. Donating Vacation Time to Expecting Colleagues is the Latest Trend

By: Lauren Mineau

A new and concerning workplace trend is emerging in the American workplace. Some offices are seeing a surge of colleagues donating personal vacation time to a pregnant coworker to add days to her maternity leave.

A recent segment on Good Morning America showcased the trend as a lighthearted alternative to a traditional baby welcoming gift, like a stroller or baby blankets. Many of the moms profiled on the popular morning show said they were not planning to have any time off after giving birth, which might become a medical necessity in case of complications, but through donations from coworkers they were able to focus on their children.

While it’s incredibly kind of these colleagues to forgo some time off for their coworkers, the trend is telling of a greater issue among the American workforce. The U.S. remains the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, according to 2016 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for most mothers of newborn or newly adopted children, but this is not a feasible option for a lot of people. At the state level, many require employers to offer paid maternity leave, but so far it has not spread across the majority of the U.S. It is improving, but tough decisions are frequently required for expectant mothers. Paid maternity leave increased between 2016 and 2018, from 26 percent to 35 percent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2018 Employee Benefits Survey.

For mothers like Jessie Sampson, 31, of Nebraska, paid maternity leave is not available, according to her interview with Good Morning America. Nebraska does not offer state employees paid maternity leave, but they do allow employees to share earned time with their expecting colleagues. Without this program, she would not have been able to take any paid time off for the birth of her son. 

Even with this program, employees don’t know how much time they’ll get from colleagues until they start their maternity leave. Employees anonymously donate their time off and the new mom gets an email after she’s left to welcome her child.

The American workplace culture is already one that pushes for nonstop work and little play. Now, it’s encouraging giving up earned time off to someone deserving. It puts employees in quite an ethical conundrum: do you hold onto your hard-earned vacation days or help out a coworker who’s having a baby when you know the company doesn’t offer paid leave?

And yet, even with gifted time or employers that do offer a paid policy, the U.S. still lags behind in the amount of time off given when compared to other developed nations.