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US slammed by Human Rights Watch over lack of legal rights for parents

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The US is "decades behind the rest of the world" with regards to offering parental leave, rendering work-life balance impossible for many workers, finds a recent report.

According to global organisation Human Rights Watch, the US has some of the worst attitudes towards parental leave on the planet.

As workplace demographics change to reflect baby boomer retirements and a workforce increasingly made up of independently minded Generation Y employees, US firms are going to need to revisit their policies regarding parental leave, or risk losing their top talent, the report states.

Of the 190 countries studied in the research, 178 guaranteed paid leave for new mothers, while nine were unclear about their maternity policies. Just three countries clearly offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave - Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the US.

Janet Walsh, deputy director of Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, said: "Despite its enthusiasm about 'family values', the US is decades behind other countries in ensuring the wellbeing of working families.

"Only in California and New Jersey is there a guarantee under law of paid leave from work after childbirth or adoption. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees only unpaid leave - and almost half of the US workforce is not even eligible for that.

"The US is actually missing out by failing to ensure that all workers have access to paid family leave. Countries that have these programmes show productivity gains, reduced turnover costs and healthcare savings. We can't afford not to guarantee paid family leave under law - especially in these tough economic times."

The country's approach provides a stark contrast to attitudes across the Atlantic. In Sweden, new mothers are offered 360 days at 75% pay, with another 90 days paid at a flat rate and the option to split this time with the father.

The UK gives 18 weeks maternity leave, with new mothers getting 90% of their salary from the Government for six weeks and a fixed amount per week thereafter (Britain also has parental leave; 13 weeks, anytime, until a child is five).

And in Italy, too, there is mandatory leave: two months before the child is born and three months afterward. A mother keeps getting 80% of her salary from the government, and either parent can take up to 10 months off until a child is three.

In Canada, the provision for new parents is vastly different to the US: they can take up to a year of leave and, depending on how much they make, get between 55%-80% of their salaries.

Managing a workforce with increasingly diverse needs is just one of the topics due to be discussed at the upcoming HR Summit US 2011 being held from 12-14 September in Austin, Texas.

This closed-door summit, hosted by GDS International, will feature some of the leading voices in the people management sector, including Geri Thomas, chief diversity officer at Bank of America; Moheet Nagrath, global HR officer for Procter & Gamble; Jim Rottman, VP of global HR at American Express; and Kathleen Wilson, chief human resources officer at Walgreens.

Topics under discussion will include the risks and rewards of the mobile workforce, best practice in succession planning, how integrated learning can improve organisational development and innovation and the problems and solutions around employee mobility and relocation.