Americans have a vague idea of Europe, but what they usually know is that Europeans have a long vacation. Americans talk about it with a mixture of irony, jealousy and irritation; they associate Europe with the land of slackers who, every year, get a month of leave, benefit from public socialist health care and do not want to spend money on the military, because they hope that America will defend them. That's why on the other side of the ocean there is a quite common opinion that Europe will sooner or later have to "fail" (whatever that may mean).
In turn, Europeans usually do not know that America is a land of slaves, although technically, slavery was abolished there a century and a half ago. And even if they know that, they are not aware of the scale of the phenomenon. The United States is the ONLY developed country in the world where the law does not guarantee employees a single day of paid leave (Europeans have, depending on the country, from 20 to 30 days of paid annual leave guaranteed by the law, and to this must be added time off for national and religious holidays.)
Every employer in the United States has a completely free hand in terms of vacation. And many of them use it according to the principle: "If you can get more out of the employee, then why not?" Thirty years ago, one-fifth of employees did not have annual leave, now it’s a fourth. “It's a national embarrassment that 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays,” said John Schmitt of Washington's Center for Economic and Policy Research, which tracks employment statistics.
The poorest are the ones who are exploited the most - as many as half of the 25 percent of the lowest paid Americans do not get any paid vacation. In comparison - it is offered to as much as 90 percent of the 25 percent highest paid Americans. But even they usually do not use the vacation in its entirety. How come? Twenty-eight percent of the people interviewed by the website Glassdoor answered that "they do not want to create a backlog for themselves." Seventeen percent were afraid of being laid off (for using the vacation to which they are entitled). Nineteen percent were afraid of the competition, i.e., that when they are on vacation, one of their colleagues will surpass them in terms of skills, knowledge, social relations, etc.
Anxiety about work occurs even among American filmmakers, and that is in an industry which seems to be experiencing a bonanza. A few months ago, at a meeting organized by the Polish Embassy in Washington, Agnieszka Holland talked about working on the set of a very popular U.S. television series called "House of Cards" (she directed some of its episodes). “In Europe, my assistants often questioned my suggestions, they argued. In America all my assistants always say that my ideas are great. They are afraid. They usually have loans to pay, so they do everything to not attract attention and to not lose their job,” Holland explained.
Coming back to vacations, everything described above pales in comparison to the treatment of women. There are only four countries in the world that do not guarantee a mother any maternity leave: Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Swaziland and—yes, yes, you are not mistaken! – the United States. Finding yourself in this elite group is further evidence of the so-called American uniqueness.
In America, a woman is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but only if she works in a large company employing more than 50 employees. When it comes to paid maternity leave, it is just like the normal annual leave, i.e., every company, regardless of size, offers what it considers appropriate. As a result, after giving birth, only half of American mothers go on paid maternity leave. In the crucial period after birth, millions of families, instead of having their security assured, fall into financial trouble.
Income at that time might be available through disability insurance, but like all insurance in the United States (except automobile insurance) it is not mandatory. Only 40 percent of women employed by private companies have it.
Thus, when it comes to the protection of working mothers, even Iran, so often condemned in the West for violating the rights of women, is much more "progressive" than America. Of course, supporters of American individualism and the free market do not care. They will probably say: if your company does not provide you paid vacation time or maternity leave, then look for another job. And if you cannot find it? It means that you’re not trying hard enough.