Coworkers are ‘donating’ their vacation time to new moms – commendable, sad or bad?

If your employer is not going to give you paid family leave, there’s a new trend of mothers crowdsourcing for it. Good Morning America recently told the story of two new moms who were able to have paid family leave — despite not having paid parental leave at their jobs — because their coworkers had donated their own paid time off to them. 

These are not isolated incidents. More employers are allowing employees to donate their vacation time to their colleagues. GMA cited the 2018 Employee Benefits Survey, which found that 15% of employers have donation time policies.

And in Nebraska, it’s state policy. Nebraska does not have a dedicated paid family leave policy, but under its new Maternity Leave Donation Program, new mothers can “receive donated vacation and compensatory time from their co-workers, within their own agency, to augment their own paid time off while on family medical leave” after they use up sick time.

A commendable or horrifying story about paid leave in America?

The mothers who were the recipients of their coworkers’ generosity expressed gratitude. “I was very surprised because I had not been with the company very long. I was extremely appreciative and very humbled,” Angela Hughes, a new college employee who did not qualify for any paid maternity leave, said about eight weeks of maternity leave she ultimately received.

This trend could be framed as a feel-good story of admirable coworkers lending a helping hand, but it could also be read as a disheartening commentary on the state of family leave in America in 2018.

As the only industrialized nation in the world that does not mandate paid family leave, employees are still at the mercy of kind coworkers to pay for it. The Family and Medical Leave Act gives workers 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, but the United States currently does not federally mandate any paid family leave for employees. On social media, the GMA story sparked backlash with people noting that it should not be up to individuals to crowdsource an appropriate amount of family leave.

For Hughes, this story had a happy ending. But for many mothers, who do not have these generous coworkers, having a baby often comes at a financial cost to your career. Having a coworker donate their time off is a free way for employers to not have to pay for it themselves. If this crowdsourcing trend becomes the norm of family leave, it could substitute sensible government and corporate policies around it.