During my husband’s last year of graduate school, he was constantly applying to different companies for work following graduation. With every job application, we went through the same routine. My husband, Burke, would let me know what jobs he found that seemed to be a good match for him, and I would get on the companies’ websites and start researching how “family friendly” the company culture was. The very first thing I did was check out their parental leave policy (I wish this site had been around then [1]). Did the company have maternity leave? Parental/paternal leave? For how long? And did it include leave for the adoption of a child? And if a company did not have any sort of parental leave at all, we crossed them off the list as possible employers.

One day, while I was researching the paid leave policies of yet another potential employer for my husband, I wondered what exactly the parental leave policy was with my current employer, Brigham Young University. I had simply assumed that were I to give birth or adopt a child, BYU would have policies in place to support my role as a mother. After all, I assumed that as an LDS-affiliated school, it would be a leader in progressive, family-friendly policies supporting mothers who were also supporting families. I was in complete shock when I found that BYU did not offer any paid leave at all. If I were to give birth while a full-time employee, I would only be allowed to take unpaid leave, as mandated by the federal government through FMLA. But in doing so, not only would I not be paid for the time off, but I would also receive a bill for all the regular deductions in my paycheck. Suddenly, I was very glad that it looked like we would not be having any children while I worked at BYU. It made sense to wait until we were with a different employer. As I realized that the policy at BYU was actually encouraging me to delay having children, I felt betrayed and remembered the words of the Savior as he chastised the Pharisees saying, “Ye are like unto whited sepulchers… Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”[2] In October 2013 General Conference, Elder Cook declared that the, “goal would be a family-friendly environment for both women and men. Let us be at the forefront in protecting time for family.” With this statement I thought that surely, family friendly policies—especially ones protecting the critical mother-child bonding time just after birth—would be quickly announced for all Church-sponsored organizations. And while it didn’t happen as quickly as I had hoped, the LDS Church has made a tremendous change in policy, one that is in line with helping its employees maintain focus on their families.

In June 2017, the LDS Church announced that all full-time LDS Church employees, including those at BYU, are now eligible for six weeks of paid medical maternity leave and one week of paid parental leave.[3] These benefits are available at the time of hire, meaning there is no waiting period before they kick in. Mothers who give birth may take the six weeks of medical maternity leave and the one week of paid parental leave. For an adoption, a mother or father may take the one week paid parental leave. With this change in policy, the Church is sending a clear message that people are not just working for the Church, but are working to support their families. The Church is helping people see their identities primarily as mothers and fathers rather than as employees. This change also brings the Church in line with its statement in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, where it says that “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” Parental leave policies are one of those measures that directly strengthen families and the LDS Church is now (finally) promoting them.

Numerous studies show the benefits of paid leave for both the mother and child. Several have shown that as paid leave increases, child deaths decrease. In fact, one study showed that with a 10-week paid leave, infant deaths decreased by twenty percent.[4] Paid leave also helps support breastfeeding and additional research shows links to higher IQ and income levels of children whose mothers took maternity leave.[5] And these benefits are not just for children who live with their birth mothers. As the mother of two adopted children and one biological child, I can unequivocally state that caring for an infant in the first few weeks of life is demanding and important whether or not you gave birth to that child. Policies that do not discriminate against the care of an adopted child are best for the parents and the child.

In reading comments on Facebook and other social media sources, I have seen several people ask why this is such a big deal. After all, isn’t it just a simple benefit change for employees? The answer to that is, no. Behind this change is a dramatic shift in attitude towards women in the workplace. I have often spoken with (male) professors at BYU who have commented that BYU should not offer paid maternity leave, should not provide any sort of daycare for female employees, and even that female employees should not be allowed to send their children to the BYU preschool. They felt these measures would encourage women to remain in the workforce, as if by making employment more difficult, and putting more stresses on family and home life, these women would suddenly no longer need any income and be forced to return to being a full-time stay-at-home-mom for their own good. In my experience, this attitude has been quietly pervasive among many members of the Church. And in fact, in April 2011 Elder Cook addressed this attitude directly, warning that “we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances.”[6] By adopting policies that help mothers fulfill their role as nurturer to their newborn child and maintain their employment, the LDS Church is acknowledging that women are in the workforce to stay. They can honorably make the choice to work and should be supported in that choice. This is not a mere adjustment in HR policy, but a revolutionary shift in attitude towards women who work outside the home.

So is the Church at the “forefront” of creating family-friendly policies as Elder Cook urged? I would say a step has been made in the right direction. While six weeks is a small time compared to the hundreds of companies that offer more,[7] it is better than the 88% of US companies that offer no parental paid leave at all.[8] And hopefully, the example of the LDS Church adding medical maternal and parental leave will drive other companies (particularly Utah-based companies) to also include parental leave benefits. Bills drafted to require this leave or to add it to the Utah State benefits package usually languish and die without much debate.[9] Perhaps seeing the LDS Church establish these policies will help other decision makers adopt family leave policies into their benefits packages. In fact, I would make the call to all LDS business leaders to help bring about Elder Cook’s vision. Let the example of the LDS Church spur you on to adopt maternal and parental leave at your companies. Implement policies and benefits that will support the families of your employees. As we align our businesses with our faith, we will be seen as a guiding light on the hill and not as whited sepulchers. Follow the example of the Prophet by providing paid maternity and parental leave to your employees.

Regardless of what LDS leaders of other companies choose to do, I am greatly heartened by this change. As I read the new policy, my heart rejoiced and I couldn’t help but raise my voice and say, “Hurrah for Israel!”


[1] https://fairygodboss.com/maternity-leave-resource-center--- [Back to manuscript].

[2] Matthew 23: 27-28 [Back to manuscript].

[3] https://news.byu.edu/news/byu-offering-paid-maternity-and-parental-leave-full-time-staff-and-administrators--- [Back to manuscript].

[4] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=226287 and http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/C_Ruhm_Parental_2000.pdf. In fact, Ruhm’s study found that the amount of time needed for optimal health benefits of the mother and child was 40 weeks. [Back to manuscript].

[5] http://le.utah.gov/interim/2016/pdf/00003871.pdf ---[Back to manuscript].

[6] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/lds-women-are-incredible?lang=eng
--- [Back to manuscript].

[7] https://fairygodboss.com/articles/paid-maternity-leave-companies-who-offer-the-most-paid-leave
--- [Back to manuscript].

[8] https://www.dol.gov/wb/resources/paid_leave_fact_sheet.pdf. Paupa New Guinea is the only other developed country that does not mandate some amount of paid leave for mothers who give birth.
[Back to manuscript].

[9] https://le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/static/HB0390.html --- [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Powers, Emily (2017) "The LDS Church’s New Medical Maternity and Paternity Leave Policies," SquareTwo, Vol. 10 No. 2 (Summer 2017), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticlePowersLDSNewPolicies.html, accessed <give access date>.

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