Companies offer maternity leave, but not all maternity leave is the same. Policies can vary based on where you live, your company’s policies, and your savings. We’ll walk through the basics of this vital policy so you can see how your company stacks up.
What is maternity leave?
Maternity leave occurs after a mother either gives birth or adopts a baby. This period is crucial for several reasons:
- Mothers need time to recover from childbirth.
- The time following birth is a chance for moms and babies to bond.
- Maternity leave is statistically linked to lower infant and child mortality rates.
- Mothers have time to successfully breastfeed their babies.
- This time together lowers the likelihood of the mom developing postpartum depression.
- Mothers who have maternity leave are less likely to quit their jobs.
Is maternity leave required by law?
Your employer is not required to give paid maternity leave. But the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does provide job-protected leave for workers in the event of a birth or placement of a child in adoptive care.
Maternity laws at a glance
There are a variety of laws that relate to maternal leave, and there are a lot of nuances.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off while pregnant or immediately following the birth of their child. FMLA also applies to cases of adoptions and it allows time off for same-sex couples as well.
However, you must meet these two requirements in order to qualify:
- Companies with fewer than 50 employees do not have to comply with FMLA.
- You must have worked a total of 1,250 hours for the employer within the past year.
Additionally, FMLA is unpaid, so you must be able to afford to take twelve weeks off your job.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act. It states that discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth is prohibited.
Here are a few policies that relate to maternal leave:
- When an employee goes on maternity leave, the job must be kept open for the same amount of time as any disability.
- There is no minimum maternity leave requirement.
- Employees have rights under FMLA that need to be recognized.
- You can’t discriminate in hiring practices when a candidate is pregnant.
- Pregnant individuals do not have to pay for higher insurance deductibles.
State laws on paid maternity leave
Under separate state laws, many states have opted for paid maternity leave. Paid leave functions much like FMLA, except the employee gets paid time off.
There are six states with paid maternity leave:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Each state is slightly different, so check in with specific states for practices.
How long is maternity leave?
Under FMLA, maternity leave lasts for 12 weeks in total. Individual leave can vary based on different employers’ benefits and programs.
Is maternity leave paid or unpaid?
For most people, maternity is usually unpaid. But if you live in any of the states listed above, you can actually take advantage of paid leave. You can also use any accrued paid time off (PTO) while on maternity leave to receive a paycheck.
What is a maternity leave letter and when is it required?
A maternity leave letter explains when you will be out and how your work responsibilities will be handled while you are gone. Though these letters are not required by law, maternity leave letters are a good courtesy in the workplace.
Importance of maternity leave
Maternity leave is an essential part of being a working parent. It gives a transition period as you welcome a new member into your family. It is essential to give your body time to heal after childbirth. Leave also helps new parents stay established in their jobs, so they don’t create setbacks in the workforce. All parents and non-parents bring an essential perspective to the workplace.
Tips for planning maternity leave
Maternity leave will be here before you know it. Here are a few things to consider before your maternity leave begins.
- Have a plan. Examine all of your options for maternity leave, and then determine what is best for you. Talk with your partner about their leave plans. Look at your budget to determine how much time you can afford to take off.
- Make it official at work. Make it official at work once you feel comfortable telling your boss and colleagues. Make sure you set a meeting with HR to get everything in order. Talk with colleagues who have recently gone on leave to get their perspective.
- Complete any necessary paperwork. There are many HR documents that you will need to fill out due to your maternity leave. This can include forms for FMLA, short-term disability insurance, and letters from your doctor.
- Have a work plan. This one is more of a professional courtesy, but develop a work plan for your absence. Discuss it with your colleagues because it will affect them.
Maternity leave doesn’t have to be a puzzle
Don’t lose sleep about maternity leave. Your sleepless nights are coming with your baby. Instead, take this time to develop a plan for your maternity leave. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself. Take time to enjoy the time before your baby comes.