Why wouldn't we? Are we too poor? Too uncaring? Too stupid? It's a false dichotomy that we can't have it and efficient businesses. Plus, it's not always about the economy. Sometimes its about quality of life. This seems to be a clear case. Allowing mothers (and fathers) time with their newborn, when they are sleep deprived anyhow, is sensible. It's Right.
In our society, we are spiraling toward an abyss where employers are able to set ever higher bars for their employees to meet, while giving them nothing in return. Our comeback from the most recent recession has largely been on the backs of the workers; employers have found that they can extract more and more value out of their workers, because the workers know they can't find work anywhere else. As a result, executives are doing fine, companies are doing fine, Wall Street is doing fine, but the workers on the line are hurting, bad. This situation is a rubber band stretched to its limits, and it will eventually snap. Requiring companies to give paid vacation/family leave is one of many things that need to happen to alleviate the stress on those of us who actually do the work, and it will help to strengthen the economy overall.
In a competitive workplace, those who choose to take time off when it is not mandatory may be seen as less valuable to a company than those who choose to work all the time. This kind of all-work atmosphere might work for some, but it allows employers to set higher standards than are healthy on the amount of work they expect.
This argument is even more pertinent when talking about women in the workplace and maternity leave. Maternity leave is undeniably important for a mother as it allows her to take care of a child sufficiently while the child is still very young. If a mother would whose to work rather than care for such a young child without the threat of losing credibility in the workplace then I struggle to see why she would choose to be a mother in the first place. However, as long as the option is there, the few who choose to work will set a standard that other women will be expected to meet.
An argument that follows from that is that men should take time off when their child is young too, both because the child is equally their responsibility and because women can be seen as less desirable employees because of the threat of maternity leave. However, that is an argument for another time.
The government shouldn't get involved in stuff like this; it should be up to the employer. There's also the Family Medical Leave Act (though it's unpaid). America's workaholic culture wouldn't allow it, there's a lot of competition (in the economy and among people), and we're a pretty materialistic society as well. Small businesses may not be able to utilize this provision.
Mandatory leave would encourage more women who would have otherwise become stay at home moms to join the work force. This would have the effect of lowering wages in female dominated fields (both for women and the men who work in those fields). Also, the depressed wages and reduced employment opportunities would add an additional economic strain to families who choose to have one parent remain at home beyond any mandatory leave period.
Although this is an interesting and important question, I think it needs to be parsed and clarified.
The first question is, for whom should be mandatory? Are you proposing that it be mandatory for people to take vacation or maternity leave even when they do not wish to. Or are you, as I am supposing, making it mandatory for employers to pay employees for vacation time and family/maternity leave.
Solely based on the way the question is phrased, I am going to vote no.
Let's take these issues separately. Obviously family and maternity leave are currently protected by federal law but on an unpaid basis. For those who are unaware of FMLA, it provides you the ability to take a family or maternity leave without having lost your job upon return, however there is not a provision that you must be paid during said leave. I think the unpaid leave is actually the ideal circumstance as it protects a person's job but provides a strong incentive to make the leave as short as necessary. As much as I hate to say it, there are many people who would take unfair advantage of a family leave it there were continuing to pay them regularly.
As far as maternity leave is concerned, employers should offer paid maternity leave but should not be legally required to. Those who are smart enough to do so gain access to a valuable part of the employment market: smart, hard-working, highly-educated women who wish to have children. However, legally requiring employers across the board to pay maternity leave (particularly small employers who would have a difficult time affording this) would likely have the unintended consequence of increased discrimination of women of childbearing age when applying for certain jobs.
Paid vacation time is an easier issue for me, I feel comfortable saying no it should not be mandatory. I think it's reasonable to say that the vast majority of jobs available allow for some amount of paid vacation, however paltry; it would be very difficult to attract employees otherwise. It is also in the employer's best interest for his or her employees to be in the best mental framework possible.
However from an economic standpoint vacation time and paid salary are fungible assets. If I need to make $80,000 to meet my financial obligations but an employer says he can only offer me $78,000 with four weeks of paid vacation, I would very much like to have the opportunity to negotiate for a job that would pay $82,000 with three weeks vacation. If paid vacation were mandatory and the amount of vacation were set in stone, I would not have that flexibility.
In summary, family leave should remain protected but unpaid, there would likely be unintended consequences of legally requiring maternity leave in the form of increased discrimination against young women in the job market and paid vacation time should be encouraged but not made legally necessary