After outcry, Women’s Tennis Association changes maternity leave rules
Serena Williams of the United States talks to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, after defeating her in their singles match, at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, July 7, 2015. | Pavel Golovkin / AP

It is a sad fact that when it comes to paid maternity leave the United States brings up the rear internationally. In fact, we’re dead last.

Out of 41 industrialized nations, the U.S. is the only one to not mandate any paid leave for new parents, according to data compiled by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

We have the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides job protection for parents taking unpaid leave, but that’s it. Anything above and beyond that is up to the whims of private employers. And we know how much they “care” about workers’ well-being.

Just look at how well Sears executives are taking care of their laid-off employees…Oh wait, that’s right, they’re not. While the company’s executives could get close to $25 million in bonuses after declaring bankruptcy, jobless workers are being denied even a basic severance package.

Proves once again that the most powerful tool working people have is organizing, direct action, and the help of public outrage.

Part of that mix is what led the Women’s Tennis Association to approve changes Monday, Dec. 17 meant to ensure players are not penalized after returning from pregnancy or an injury causing a long absence.

Yes, that’s right. Before this move, female tennis players were punished for taking pregnancy leave.

These changes were brought about, in part, by former No. 1 seeded players Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka’s experiences after returning to competition from maternity leave.

Williams, who has an Open-era record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, was unseeded at this year’s French Open in her first major since the birth of her daughter, following a lengthy absence due to life-threating complications after giving birth—despite having won the previous major she played in 2017. Williams was seeded 25th at Wimbledon and 17th at the U.S. Open, and reached the finals and lost at both of those majors.

Under the new Special Ranking Rule: “If a player is out of competition due to pregnancy or a medical condition, she is allowed 3 years to use her special ranking. In the event of pregnancy, the time period is calculated from the birth of the child.”

And: “No player will be bumped from her earned seeded position.”

The WTA also said it will ensure players “are not penalized or prohibited from wearing leggings or compression shorts without a skirt, dress, or shorts over them.”

That’s another Williams-inspired change, coming after the French Tennis Federation tightened its rules on dress code following her black panther bodysuit debut, where she pulled out with an injury before the fourth round. Williams said she wore the compression suit because of a history of blood clots, including after childbirth.

“These changes are designed to fully support players in their return to competition, while maintaining the highest standards of athletic competitiveness and fairness,” said WTA CEO and chairman Steve Simon.

Azarenka, a member of the WTA Players’ Council, said she wants to make sure the WTA is “the most progressive and inclusive association in sports.”

“Our players should feel comfortable and confident to take time away from the courts to have a family or recover from injury.”


Al Neal
Al Neal

Al Neal is the associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World.