Charles says companies could be more willing to give a more generous maternity leave to valued workers—perhaps up to six months paid time off—if there were a policy in place to protect the companies financially from those who take leave and never come back to work. "You can arguably make working women better off if you get a little tougher on maternity leave," Charles says.
An economically sound argument could be to make a woman refund the paid leave to her company if she doesn't return to work, Charles says. Another solution could be to phase in paid leave over time once a woman comes back to work, he says. "Your first thought is, 'Is this guy trying to get tough on women?' … But, I think the essence of economics is thinking through the incentives," Charles says. "This idea of moving away from maternity leave as kind of a parting bonus or just something you get, to maternity leave as something you get for leaving and coming back for a spell, is the essence of where you've got to go."