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Parental and Maternity Leave Overview

Maternity leave is time taken off from work before and after giving birth to a child. However, in the modern workplace, with men also taking time off to care for a new child, parental leave has replaced maternity leave.

Laws covering maternity and parental leave are relatively new in the United States. Such laws are commonplace in other countries.

There is no federal policy mandating that private employers provide paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act provides unpaid leave. Capitol Hill lawmakers have introduced paid leave program bills on many occasions, but none made it across the finish line.

Prospective parents are often concerned with how much time they can take off from work before and after the birth of a child. Another important consideration is whether the leave will be paid and, if so, how much. Some states provide parental leave, but the payout varies from total wages to a little more than half.

Several laws can come into play concerning parental leave and coverage for wages.

Parental Leave and the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) guarantees parental leave for many workers. An eligible employee of a covered employer is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period.

FMLA leave can be taken for several reasons, including:

  • Medical Leave: This allows you to take time off to address a serious medical condition or your own serious health condition.
  • Caregiving Leave: This allows you to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
  • Parental Leave: This is time off to bond with a new child. It can be taken for the birth of a child, the placement of a foster child from foster care, and by adoptive parents. Parents of any gender can take FMLA leave.

In addition, a military family can use FMLA leave for deployments and qualifying emergencies caused by the servicemember's active duty or call to active duty.

FMLA leave is job-protected, which means you have the right to reinstatement to the same or a similar job upon your return to the workplace.

Intermittent leave, which is leave taken in short blocks of time, is allowed under the FMLA.

Your employer can't cancel your health insurance for taking FMLA leave. Employers must continue the worker's health insurance coverage while the employee is on leave. However, employees must continue to pay their portion of the health insurance premium.

Employee eligibility means you must meet the required number of hours and months with the employer.

On the downside, FMLA leave is unpaid. Still, you may be able to use accrued vacation time or paid time off (PTO) to receive your full wages while away from work.

FindLaw has compiled a list of frequently asked questions regarding the FMLA.

Maternity Leave and the Americans With Disabilities Act

You may also be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The federal law requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to workers with mental and physical conditions, including temporary impairments. The ADA entitles workers with disabilities to reasonable accommodations as long as there's no undue hardship to the employer. Leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Under the ADA, pregnancy isn't labeled as a disability. But if you're pregnant and facing medical issues because of it, you might be entitled to some special considerations at work.

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) points out that pregnancy-related issues like diabetes or back pain could fall under the ADA's umbrella. So, if your pregnancy is making it tough to do your job, your employer should help you just like they would for any other employee who's temporarily unable to work. This could mean getting unpaid leave or disability leave, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC also suggests that when pregnant employees ask for some adjustments at work, these requests should be handled like any other ADA accommodation request unless it's pretty clear there's no medical issue involved. This means you could get certain adjustments while pregnant, including taking some time off, even if you don't meet all the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules.

State Law

You might be eligible for leave under state law and local laws. As of March 2023, 13 states and Washington, D.C., have paid family and medical leave laws. Many of the state-mandated parental leave laws are paid. Pay ranges from 100% income replacement to 60% of income.

Some states have exhaustive leave laws, especially when municipal requirements apply. For example, California has a paid sick leave law, a state disability law, and paid family leave. Further, an employee in San Francisco has rights that a worker outside the city may not have. Workers in San Francisco are also entitled to pregnancy disability leave.

Short-Term Disability

Another possible source of income for employees on parental leave is short-term disability, often referred to as STD. There are multiple potential sources for such benefits.

Some states provide short-term disability benefits for employees. When available, these state-sponsored STD benefits may provide a percentage of your typical wages (between one-half to two-thirds in most cases). The duration of state-sponsored STD benefits can vary from anywhere between four to 12 weeks, but six weeks of coverage is a standard number for a delivery with no complications.

There are also private and employer-sponsored STD benefit plans that can apply toward parental and maternity leave. These plans vary regarding coverage, how long they last, and the percentage of wages covered. If your employer provides a short-term disability plan, details of the amount of coverage offered and its duration will be included in the plan documents. You can also contact a human resources representative with questions.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Discrimination can be an issue for parents who take leave to care for their children. The FMLA and the ADA forbid employers from retaliating against employees for using the provisions of these laws. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) enforces these laws.

There are federal and state anti-discrimination laws for pregnant workers. Anti-discrimination laws aimed at pregnant workers protect pregnant workers from being treated differently than other employees. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination in employment based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

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Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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