- Know Your FMLA Maternity Leave Rights
- Defining Maternity Leave
- How FMLA Works
- Who Is Covered by FMLA
- What Your Company Must Do Under FMLA
- Paid Maternity Leave and FMLA
- Other Maternity Leave Laws
- Maternity Leave Legal Resources
- Confusion between ‘FMLA’ and ‘maternity leave’ sends employer to trial
- FMLA and maternity leave: What you need to know
- What is FMLA?
- What determines FMLA eligibility?
- Does FMLA require my employer to pay me during maternity leave?
- How can FMLA leave be used?
- Does FMLA cover leave for your partner?
- Taking FMLA Leave for Pregnancy and Childbirth
- Taking Family Medical Leave for Pregnancy or Parenting
- Other Leave Laws
- All Your FMLA & Maternity Leave Questions Answered
- What are the maternity leave laws in the United States?
- FMLA maternity leave
- Who qualifies for FMLA?
- Is FMLA maternity leave paid?
- Does FMLA cover bed rest?
- Maternity leave laws by state
- What if my employer doesn’t offer maternity leave or is not under FMLA?
- What should I do if my employer or coworkers treat my maternity leave like a vacation?
- How to ask for and take maternity leave
- What is maternity leave?
- What are maternity leave laws?
- Questions your maternity leave policy should answer
- What Is My Company’s Maternity Leave Policy?
- Do I Pay Taxes on Maternity Leave or Short-Term Disability Payments?
- When Do I Have to Go Back to Work?
- What If I Decide Not To Go Back to Work?
- What If I Get Fired While I’m Pregnant or on Maternity Leave?
- Do I Receive Benefits While I’m on Maternity Leave?
- What if I Believe My Employer Has Violated Certain Rules or Laws?
- What if I’m Adopting a Child or Taking in a Foster Child?
- When and How Should I Request Leave?
- How Do I Decide When to Start My Leave?
- Do Fathers Get Parental Leave?
- Family & Medical Leave Act and Parental Leave Act
- Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
- Maryland’s Parental Leave Act
- Family and medical leave insurance increases labor-force participation
- Family and medical leave insurance increases employee retention
- Family and medical leave insurance has limited or positive impacts on business operations
- Family and medical leave insurance increases lifetime earnings and retirement security among workers, especially women
- Family and medical leave insurance increases the use of leave among working fathers
- Appendix: Detailed explanation of Christopher J. Ruhm’s leave model
- Your Rights Under the FMLA
- Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies
- Most supporters of paid leave say pay should come from employers rather than from state or federal government
- Most see at least some benefits for employers that provide paid leave
- About seven-in-ten fathers who take paternity leave return to work within two weeks
- Many leave takers take on debt or use savings in order to cover lost wages
- Views of gender and caregiving are related to support for paid leave for new fathers
- Other key findings
- Paid Family Leave Policies And Population Health
- KEY POINTS
- Paid Family Leave In The United States
- Mechanisms Connecting PFL And Health
- Evidence Of Labor Market And Health Impacts
- Policy Implications
- Future Research Needs
- FMLA Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know
- FMLA for pregnancy: Frequently Asked Questions
- Your Rights Under FMLA
- Using Your FMLA Leave for Different Reasons
- What is Maternity Leave and How Long is Maternity Leave?
- Can I Take Both Paid and Unpaid Maternity Leave?
- What If I Decide Not to Go Back to Work?
- Other Ways to Extend Your Leave
- Requesting More Time Off
- Further stipulations
- Preparing for Maternity Leave
- How the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family Medical Leave Act Provide Leave for Pregnant Employees
- Leave Under the PDA and FMLA
- PDA and FMLA Eligibility
- Summing It Up
- Pregnancy, the FMLA and ADA
Know Your FMLA Maternity Leave Rights
The term “maternity leave” has become so much a part of our common vocabulary that we assume it’s a fact of working life. But there is no nationwide standard or law that applies to everyone. To get time off, retain your job, and receive any pay at all, you must rely on a patchwork of federal, state, and individual company policies.
The bottom line? You could fall through the gaps of the system if you’re not prepared. That’s why it’s so important to know what you’re entitled to in your work situation long before you pack your bag for the hospital.
Defining Maternity Leave
The term “maternity leave” encompasses two types of leave:
Maternity disability or medical leave refers to the period of time (usually six weeks for a normal vaginal delivery and eight weeks for an uncomplicated cesarean delivery) after the birth, during which you are medically unable to work as you recuperate.
Family leave refers to the time you spend caring for your baby after recuperating. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 grants all parents the same 12 weeks (it’s all considered family leave for fathers and adoptive parents). You can begin the 12 weeks before you give birth, but then you’ll have less time afterward.
How FMLA Works
FMLA provides new parents — including fathers and adoptive parents — with 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.
When your leave is over, your employer must reinstate you to the same or an equivalent job. And if your employer provides health insurance, the company or organization must continue to provide it during your leave. But to qualify, you must work for a company that employs at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius. On your end, you’ll need to have worked for the company a minimum of 12 months and 1,250 hours.
Depending on your company or the state you live in, you may receive medical leave or maternity disability, which refers to the period of time (generally six weeks for a normal vaginal birth, eight weeks for an uncomplicated cesarean delivery) that you are medically unable to work as you recover from childbirth. If you’re not covered by FMLA, it’s all the time you get. If you have the coverage, this disability period is part of your 12 weeks. In other words, you can’t take 6 weeks of medical leave after your baby is born and then tack on 12 weeks of FMLA.
It’s a start. “But it still leaves out a lot of people,” says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington, DC. FMLA leaves many behind; people who are self-employed or who work in small businesses, such as a neighborhood grocery or restaurant. And even if you have both FMLA and medical or disability leave, you may still run into problems.
If you give birth to a preemie who is in the hospital for four weeks after birth, you’ll only have the remaining eight to spend with her. And if you have a complicated pregnancy that requires weeks of bed rest, you may use up all of your leave before you even give birth. Ultimately, says Ness, “We’re still a long, long way from where we need to be.”
Who Is Covered by FMLA
The FMLA covers those who meet each of the following criteria:
- They have been at their current job for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours
- They are employed by a company with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius
RELATED: Back to Work After Maternity Leave
What Your Company Must Do Under FMLA
If all of the above criteria are met, the FMLA requires a company to:
- Provide for 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child
- Continue prior health insurance coverage during time off
- Allow the employee to return to the same or an equivalent job
However, a company can require an employee to make vacation and sick days part of the 12 weeks off.
Paid Maternity Leave and FMLA
Time off is one thing; money is another. Only four states — New York, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — currently offer paid family and medical leave.
RELATED: How to Get More Paid Days During Maternity Leave
In order to get any pay while you’re on leave, your company must offer paid leave or provide temporary disability insurance as a benefit; such insurance pays about 60 percent of your wages. Unfortunately, many companies don’t do either.
If you’re lucky enough to live in New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, or Rhode Island, you may be eligible for their state-run disability plans, many of which provide about 60 percent of your pay during the first six to eight weeks postpartum that you’re medically unable to work (New York provides up to $170 per week maximum). But there’s a cap on how much pay you can receive; most states max out at $600 per week.
Law-wise, Californians are the luckiest women of all. Not only does the state boast a state-run disability plan, but it also funds family leave through a $1-per-week payroll deduction. Workers there can get six weeks of family leave insurance payments at about 55 percent of their salary, up to approximately $728 a week. That means that no woman in California has to go for 12 weeks without pay. A new mom could draw on her state disability for her first six to eight weeks postpartum. Then, she would receive family leave insurance until she gets to 12 weeks.
If none of the above situations apply to you, you may be able to use accrued vacation, sick days, or personal days to help you get by. But the option of using sick leave is simply not a reality for many. “Half the workforce has no paid sick days, and only one in six part-time workers has any paid sick leave,” says Ellen Bravo, director of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women. What’s more, some companies don’t allow employees to use their sick days to care for others, even a new baby. So for women in the workplace, it makes sense to know your company’s policy before your pregnancy so you can plan financially.
Other Maternity Leave Laws
If your employer is not bound by any leave laws, you may find help through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. If your company has 15 or more employees and held a person’s job during another type of medical disability — say, a heart attack or car accident — then it must reinstate you after medical disability due to pregnancy.
Some states also have their own state family leave laws, including California, Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, most of which have expanded either the amount of leave available or the classes of persons for whom leave may be taken.
Maternity Leave Legal Resources
If you have questions about what you’re legally entitled to, here’s where to start:
National Association of Working Women
For advice from the Job Survival Hotline, call 800-522-0925.
National Partnership for Women & Families
For information on the FMLA and various state laws, call 202-986-2600
U.S. Department of Labor
For more information on the FMLA, or if you are denied leave or reinstatement to work, call 800-827-5335
- By Amy Zintl
Confusion between ‘FMLA’ and ‘maternity leave’ sends employer to trial
A federal district court judge has refused to dismiss an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) suit and has instead determined that a jury should hear hear how she was fired after confusion about how much leave she had available (Rengan v. FX Direct Dealer, LLC, No. 1:15-cv-04137 (S.D.N.Y)).
The employer’s handbook had two separate sections: one discussed employees’ entitlements to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave, while the other offered workers eight weeks of paid maternity leave, with the option to take four more weeks unpaid.
The suing employee didn’t realize that the employer considered the leaves to run concurrently and was fired when she didn’t return to work after 12 weeks. The judge said a jury will have to determine whether the employer interfered with her FMLA rights, including her right to reinstatement.
This case is a perfect example of why both formal and informal communication is key to FMLA compliance. First, the law requires that employers provide an employee with very specific notices (within very specific timeframes) to designate leave as counting against her statutory allotment. When the employee submitted a formal request for time off, she titled the email “Maternity leave,” and requested that she be able to use her accrued vacation followed by the maternity leave spelled out in the employer’s handbook. It is undisputed that the employer approved the leave and never provided FMLA eligibility and designation notices.
Second, employers need to ensure that all parties involved understand the benefits to which employees are entitled. The HR manager testified that, based on experience at previous jobs, she assumed the leaves would run concurrently. Her boss, a VP, told the court she believed they would run consecutively.
The fact pattern of course includes some allegations that the employee was informed verbally that she would have to return to work after 12 weeks’ leave. But it also includes allegations that she repeatedly emailed and called the employer to clarify the situation and request more time off, but never heard back.
Finally, employers may want to ensure that communication around FMLA is up-to-par even before a request comes in. Businesses are free to include a note in their handbooks that any employer-provided leaves will run concurrently with FMLA, if eligible. Many employers exercise this option as it cuts down on the time employees can be out of work each year.
FMLA and maternity leave: What you need to know
Our Ob/Gyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine offices process dozens of FMLA forms every month. These forms are important for new parents who want to take time off work after their babies are born. This time is vital for moms to recover from labor and delivery and for the family to bond with the new addition.
If you’re not entirely certain what FMLA does – and doesn’t – cover, you’re in good company. Many Texans – and many Americans, for that matter – don’t fully understand it. In fact, I sat down with Beth Aubry, supervisor of the Workers’ Compensation & Leave Administration at UT Southwestern Medical Center, to clarify some of the law’s nuances. And I’m a medical professional!
Time-off policies after a new baby vary widely by company. Some provide voluntary paid family leave, while others offer only the minimum of what is required by law. Talk to the human resources department at your job to understand your benefits and have your spouse or partner do the same so there are no unwelcome surprises.
In the meantime, here is some basic information about FMLA to help as you plan time away from work after the delivery of your child.
What is FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows an employee 12 weeks off to care for themselves or a family member with a serious medical condition. FMLA guarantees the employee’s job and insurance benefits during this time. This includes care related to pregnancy – either for prenatal care visits, illness prior to delivery, or for recovery and bonding time after you have your baby.
What determines FMLA eligibility?
There are a few requirements to be eligible for FMLA:
- Your employer must have at least 50 employees. That means small employers are exempt from this program.
- You must have worked at least 12 months in the past seven years for your employer, AND;
- You must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. When counting up your hours, sick days and vacation time do not count – just the hours that you physically worked.
If you are ineligible for leave under FMLA, check with your HR department to see if there are other parental leave programs that you may qualify for. This leave may not come with the same insurance entitlement, but can protect your job. For instance, state employees in Texas are eligible for parental leave if they haven’t met the last two requirements listed above. Unlike leave under FMLA, this leave will only begin after the birth of your child.
If you are terminated before starting your leave, you won’t quality for FMLA. Likewise, if your employer institutes “reduction-in-force” layoffs, your job may not be waiting for you.
Does FMLA require my employer to pay me during maternity leave?
No, it does not. FMLA only requires that your job be available when you return and that your benefits continue. Whether you will be paid and how much you may be paid during this time varies from employer to employer. For example, your company may offer short-term disability, which may pay your salary or a portion of it during medical leave, including childbirth and post-partum recovery time – but doesn’t cover bonding time with your child.
You may be required to use your sick leave and vacation hours to cover time off if you want to continue to receive a paycheck. If you don’t have enough hours to cover the entire time off, the balance of the leave may be unpaid.
How can FMLA leave be used?
Typically, FMLA time is used as a single chunk of time. So for the birth of a child, it would start with delivery and continue for 12 weeks. The assumption is that roughly half of the time is considered recuperation from childbirth, while the remainder is bonding time with your child.
The FMLA form you submit to your employer will have a start date for the period of time you are “incapacitated,” typically the day of delivery. The exact dates of your leave will be adjusted once proof of birth is given to your employer. Don’t worry if you use your due date for the form, but your little one shows up a few days late – you will get credited for those days that you weren’t out on leave!
FMLA doesn’t usually include time off before the birth. That requires your doctor to certify a medical reason for you to stop working before the delivery. Common reasons that necessitate starting leave early include threatened premature labor or increased blood pressure. If your doctor orders you to stop working after you have submitted your form stating you expect to work until delivery, you will update the request, reflecting the new date that your leave began.
Many women come to our office with a request to start FMLA before they have the baby. Unless there is a medical indication, this typically isn’t approved. If you want to ensure a week off before birth, think about using some of your vacation time for those days – you can always decrease your leave after delivery a little to make up for the time taken before delivery, but still are eligible for 12 weeks off after the birth of your child. Check with your obstetrician about the way they handle requests for starting maternity leave.
Intermittent FMLA can also help cover time off for prenatal visits or even some days when morning sickness cause you to be late or miss a few days. This might be useful if your employer has strict policies about absences and late arrivals. You cannot be penalized if you use intermittent FMLA for these absences. However, this time away from work will be included in the total 12 weeks of leave. Again, I recommend checking with your human resources department about your employer’s specific policies around pregnancy-related late arrivals or absences.
Does FMLA cover leave for your partner?
Spouses and partners are eligible for FMLA after becoming a parent to help the mother recover and to bond with the new baby.
There are a few important nuances to understand related to time off for a spouse or partner. First of all, spouses and partners are not treated exactly the same under the Family and Medical Leave Act. So the critical first step is to call or meet with human resources at their place of employment so he or she understands what is available for them.
Your child’s other parent will be eligible to take time off to bond with the baby – but if you aren’t legally married, the entire 12 weeks will be considered “bonding” time. If you are married, the leave will split and some of the time allocated toward helping you recover with the remainder designated as “bonding” time. In both scenarios you are eligible to take 12 weeks, but employers may have different policies on what type of accrual (for example sick days versus vacation leave) can be used for each type of leave following the birth of a child.
If you and your spouse work for the same employer, you may have to share the 12 weeks. We see this often with our patients since we are a state institution. They may work for different sectors or in different offices, but they are both under the umbrella of the same employer. If your spouse wants to stay home for two weeks immediately after the birth, you will only get 10 weeks of FMLA leave. The time off can overlap so you can both be home at the same time, but there can only be 12 weeks total between the two of you.
I admit, I don’t think this is fair. To compare, if you both needed time off to address a “serious health condition” other than the birth of a child, you each would be eligible for 12 weeks off. Adding a new member to your family is a big deal, and should be given equal consideration. But check with your employer – some may have a more lenient stance on this rule.
Typically leave under FMLA isn’t intermittent so your spouse or partner may not be able to break up his or her time off. This means they might not be able to go back to work while someone else stays to help you care for the baby, and then take another period of time off later. The employer can agree to allow leave to be used like this, but they aren’t required to allow it. Make sure your partner asks their employer in advance about their policy on this issue so you can plan your post-partum time appropriately.
As you can see, there are many variables when it comes to taking maternity leave. Talk to your and your partner’s human resources departments about whether you qualify for FMLA leave and about any other family leave benefits eligibility. More information about the Family and Medical Leave Act is also available from the U.S. Department of Labor.
One last piece of advice: Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your FMLA paperwork. It may take a couple weeks for the office to complete it – remember, yours isn’t the only form they’re working on!
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Taking FMLA Leave for Pregnancy and Childbirth
Most employees plan to take some time off from work after having a child. And, even if you have a normal pregnancy without complications, you will likely need some time off during your pregnancy for medical reasons, such as prenatal check-ups or morning sickness. This article explains your right to take time off work for pregnancy and for parental leave after the baby is born.
Taking Family Medical Leave for Pregnancy or Parenting
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that gives certain employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work per year for specified health and caregiving reasons, including pregnancy disability and caring for a new child. FMLA leave is unpaid, but you can use your accrued paid leave (like sick time or vacation) during FMLA leave to get paid for at least some of that time.
While you’re on FMLA leave, you can continue your group health benefits (although you’ll have to pay your usual share of the cost, if any). When your leave ends, the FMLA gives you the right to return to your former position, with restoration of all of your pay, benefits, and other job perks. (See Returning to Work After FMLA Leave to learn more.)
The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for the employer for at least a year, for at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave. Employees must also work at a job site where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius to use the FMLA. (Learn more about your right to take FMLA leave.)
If your employer denies you leave for before or after childbirth, or refuses to give you your job back when your FMLA is over, you have the right to sue to take the leave, be “reinstated,” and/or get money damages. For more information, see our article on what you can win in an FMLA case.
Using the FMLA for Pregnancy Disability
The FMLA defines incapacity due to pregnancy as a serious health condition that qualifies for leave. If you are unable to work or to perform other regular, daily activities because of your pregnancy, you can take FMLA leave. If, for example, you have serious morning sickness or pregnancy-related migraines, your doctor orders you to spend part of your pregnancy on bed rest, or you have a pregnancy-related disability such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, the FMLA protects your right to take time off.
You can take as much of your FMLA leave as you need for pregnancy disability, before giving birth. If you have a brief bout of severe morning sickness but recover quickly, for example, you may need only a couple of days off during your pregnancy. On the other hand, if your doctor puts you on bed rest halfway through your seventh month of pregnancy, you might need to take six weeks of FMLA leave before giving birth. Your employer may require you to get a medical certification from your doctor stating that your leave is medically necessary.
The FMLA also covers prenatal care, even if you are not incapacitated. This means you can use FMLA leave for regular doctor visits during your pregnancy, including routine check-ups.
Once you have a child, you will likely still be incapacitated for a period of time, while you recover from childbirth. This is also a serious health condition, for which you may use the FMLA.
Parenting Leave Under the FMLA
Once you have a child and have recovered physically from childbirth, you may use the FMLA for parenting leave: caring for and bonding with your new child. This type of leave is available to both parents, whether they are mothers or fathers (and for biological, adopted, or foster children).
You have the right to take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave in a 12-month period. The 12-week limit applies to all types of FMLA leave. So, if you use three weeks of FMLA leave for pregnancy disability and another two weeks to recover from childbirth, you will have seven weeks left to use for parenting leave.
Even though you may use all of your FMLA leave for both purposes in one continuous block of time off, the reason for leave is important because the rules are a bit different for each. You use FMLA leave for a serious health condition (including pregnancy and childbirth) when you need it. You may use this type of leave intermittently—a little at a time, rather than all at once—if necessary. For example, if you are too ill to work for several mornings in a row, but feel better in the afternoons, you may use three hours of FMLA leave each morning and save the rest of your time off until you need it.
These rules are different for parenting leave. First, you may use parenting leave intermittently (for instance, by returning to work part-time for a while) only if your employer agrees. Second, you may take parenting leave any time during the first year of the baby’s life. For example, if you used up only six weeks of FMLA leave for pregnancy and childbirth, then returned to work, you would still have six weeks of parenting leave to use during that year.
If both you and your spouse work for the same employer, you may have to combine your parenting leave. Employers can require married spouses to take a combined total of 12 weeks of parenting leave. Note that this rule applies only to married couples (whether same-sex or opposite-sex), not to unmarried couples.
This rule applies only to parenting leave. Each spouse still has the remainder of his or her 12 weeks to use for most other types of FMLA leave. For example, if an employee takes two weeks of FMLA leave during her pregnancy, then two more weeks for childbirth, she has eight weeks of FMLA leave left for parenting leave. If she uses it all, her spouse may take only four weeks of FMLA leave for parenting. However, the spouse still has eight weeks of leave for other purposes, including his or her own serious health condition.
Other Leave Laws
In addition to the FMLA, other federal and state laws may give you the right to take time off for pregnancy and parenting:
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a federal law, requires employers to give the same time off to employees who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy as they give to employees with other temporary disabilities. For example, if your employer gives employees time off to recover from surgery, it must provide the same leave rights to pregnant employees.
- State pregnancy disability laws. Some states, including California, give employees the right to take time off while they are unable to work due to pregnancy and childbirth.
- State family and medical leave laws. Some states, including New Jersey, have their own FMLA-type laws, which give employees leave rights for pregnancy and parenting.
- State temporary disability laws. A handful of states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have insurance programs that pay employees a portion of their usual salary while they are temporarily unable to work because of a disability, including pregnancy and childbirth. A few states extend these rights to parenting leave as well.
All Your FMLA & Maternity Leave Questions Answered
You’re about to have a baby or adopt a child, and you’re going to need to take some time away from work. If you’ve given birth, your body will need that time to heal. If you’ve welcomed a child by birth, by adoption, or through foster care, that time away from work will be valuable time your family needs to bond and rest.
In this guide, we’ll discuss in detail maternity leave laws in the United States and maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). We’ll also answer all your questions about maternity leave.
What are the maternity leave laws in the United States?
The United States is the only developed country, and one of the only countries in the world, that has no federal law that guarantees parental leave to its workers. If you live in the United States, there are a couple of ways you may be able to get maternity leave.
FMLA (which we’ll discuss below) may protect your job if you need to go on maternity leave, but it doesn’t apply to everyone, and it does not provide pay during your absence from work.
Some states provide forms of maternity leave to some residents. Leave varies in length and can be either paid or unpaid. We’ll detail all of that below.
Read more: The Top 20 Companies for Maternity & Adoptive Leave
FMLA maternity leave
FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
Who qualifies for FMLA?
Employees at companies with 50 or more employees who work within 75 miles of the primary work site.
Employees must have worked at the company for at least 12 months (for at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months) before they can take leave under FMLA.
Is FMLA maternity leave paid?
No, FMLA is not paid, though your employer may provide some sort of paid leave, and some states provide paid options. Some mothers use short-term disability insurance to bring in a portion of their normal wages while on leave.
Does FMLA cover bed rest?
Yes, FMLA does cover doctor-ordered bed rest. If you qualify for FMLA, you can take job-protected time away from work as a part of your 12 weeks, so if you’re on bed rest for two weeks before you give birth, you will have only 10 weeks remaining after the birth of your child.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevent an employer from treating a pregnant woman on bed rest any differently than they would another employee on bed rest for any other reason.
Read more: This Is What Pregnancy Discrimination Looks Like
Maternity leave laws by state
There are some states that provide maternity leave beyond FMLA.
The state of California offers employees at private companies and all public employees the option to combine the 12-week unpaid FMLA leave with four months maternity disability.
The California Paid Family Leave Act allows employees who have worked at a company for at least a year to take six weeks paid leave (at roughly 55 percent of their normal pay).
Some cities like San Francisco require some employers to provide paid leave.
Workers get up to 16 weeks unpaid leave in two years’ time. To qualify, your employer must have 75 or more employees (with the exception of private or parochial elementary schools), and you must have worked at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to leave being taken.
In the nation’s capital, workers get up to 16 weeks unpaid family leave plus 16 weeks medical leave for a serious medical condition. All public- and private-sector employees qualify provided they have worked at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to leave being taken.
In addition to FMLA, workers in Hawaii get up to four weeks of unpaid leave each year. This does not apply to public-sector employees, but it does apply to those in the private sector who work for a company with at least 100 employees and have worked for their employer for six consecutive months.
In the state of Maine, workers employed by companies with at least 15 workers, by the state government, and by local government agencies with at least 25 employees are provided up to 10 weeks unpaid leave every two years for the birth or adoption of a child age 16 or younger.
Minnesota provides up to six weeks unpaid maternity leave to workers whose employer has 21 or more employees. To qualify, you must have worked at the company for a minimum of 12 months at an average of half of full-time hours.
New Jersey offers six weeks of additional unpaid leave every 12 months to workers at companies with 50 or more employees. To qualify you must have been at the company for at least one year and have worked for at least 1,000 hours in that time.
Additionally, New Jersey does offer paid leave (up to two-thirds of wages, capped at $524/week) for six weeks provided that any paid leave is taken concurrently with FMLA or state unpaid leave. This applies to employees who have worked for an employer for at least 20 calendar weeks or have earned at least 1,000 times the state minimum wage during the 12 months prior to leave.
New York state has instituted a leave program that expands each year from 2018 to 2022. Beginning in 2019, the maximum leave is 10 weeks in a one-year period and, in 2021, it expands to 12 weeks. In 2019, pay is 55 percent of an employee’s wages and, in 2022, pay expands to 67 percent.
This applies to employees at all private-sector companies who have worked full- or part-time at a company for 26 consecutive weeks. Public employers have the option to opt in.
As of September 1, 2019, most mothers who work for the state of North Carolina will get eight weeks of fully paid leave after giving birth to a child. Eligible workers are those who have been with the state for one year.
Oregon offers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per year plus an additional 12 to care for a sick or injured child who requires home care. To qualify, you must work for a company with 25 or more employees and have worked for at least 25 hours a week in the last 180 days.
Rhode Island offers 13 weeks of unpaid leave every two years after the birth or adoption of a child 16 years old or younger. This is offered to those working for the state government, local government agencies with 30-plus employees, or working for a private employer. To be eligible, you must have been a full-time employee (30-plus hours / week) for 12 consecutive months.
The state does offer some paid leave as well: The Rhode Island Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program provides four weeks of paid maternity leave to care for a child, and up to 30 weeks for an employee’s own disability. The program applies to all private- and public-sector employers who opt into the program.
Workers are provided up to 12 weeks (unpaid) every 12 months. Eligible workers are those who work for employers with 10 or more employees and have worked for the employer for an average of at least 30 hours per week for one year.
Washington state offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave every 12 months through the Washington Family Leave Act. This applies to workers at all employers. Eligible employees will have worked for at least 680 hours during their qualifying year.
Wisconsin offers up to six additional weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child to workers at companies with at least 50 permanent employees, in both the private sector and state government agency. Eligible employees are those who have worked for a company for at least 1,000 hours over 52 consecutive weeks.
Read more: Guide to Paternity Leave: Your Rights, How to Ask & The Future of Leave
What if my employer doesn’t offer maternity leave or is not under FMLA?
This is the reality for many women in the United States. If you don’t qualify for FMLA and your employer does not provide maternity leave—paid or unpaid—you may have some options.
Use sick leave and paid time off
In order to take paid time away from work, you can take all of the paid sick leave and paid time off that your company offers.
Request a leave of absence
Many companies will have provisions that allow employees to take a leave of absence for things like medical issues or family emergencies. You may be able to request a leave of absence to welcome your new child.
Use short-term disability insurance
Giving birth to a child qualifies as a disability under short-term disability insurance in most states and allows you to take up to six weeks of partially paid leave after the birth of a child. Welcoming a child by adoption does not qualify for short-term disability. For more information on how to use short-term disability as a means of taking maternity leave, check out our guide: A Quick Guide to Pregnancy, Leave & Short-Term Disability.
Read more: How to Ask for Maternity Leave When Your Job Doesn’t Offer It
What should I do if my employer or coworkers treat my maternity leave like a vacation?
If there were a screaming baby in my hotel room needing to be fed every two hours, I’d ask for my money back. The last time I checked, caring for a child (especially a newborn) required a lot more work than most full-time paid jobs. Maternity leave is not a vacation, it’s never been a vacation, it will never be a vacation. Not even close. Full stop.
For many women, they do face this kind of discrimination at work, and it’s wrong. Here are some things you might say if your coworkers ask you if you’re looking forward to “vacation.”
I am looking forward to welcoming a new child, but I’m not going on vacation. Taking care of children, especially newborns, is work. Work I don’t get compensated for financially.
Maternity leave does look different for mothers adopting older children than it does for mothers who give birth or adopt infants, but it’s still the work of raising children. Hard work. I’m going to be a mother and I’m excited about it. A simple ‘congratulations’ is in order.
Nope. Not a vacation, Herb. I’m going to be giving birth. If you knew someone who was going in to the hospital for a life-altering, life-threatening procedure, would you ask them if they’re looking forward to their vacation?
Or, you could go with a simple:
Maternity leave is not vacation.
How to ask for and take maternity leave
You’ve learned that you’re pregnant (congratulations!), and you need to let your boss know that you’ll be taking maternity leave. Here’s how to tell your boss you’re pregnant and ask for mat leave.
Prepare—Before you go into the conversation, you should familiarize yourself with your company’s maternity leave, sick leave, paid time off, and leave of absence policies. Even if you qualify for FMLA, you may be able to take additional time off using sick days or PTO.
Tell your boss you’re expecting—If you’re nervous, that’s understandable—36 percent of women we polled say they would be nervous too. But we’ve got you covered. Check out our guide to telling your boss you’re pregnant.
Negotiate your leave—Summarize your understanding of the company’s maternity leave policy or the policy for a leave of absence. Let them know your due date and the number of weeks you expect to take following the birth or adoption of your child.
Create a plan for your absence—Once you’ve worked out the terms of your leave, discuss creating a plan for your responsibilities during your absence. Be explicit about how tasks will be documented and passed off. Here’s a guide to planning for your maternity leave at work.
Take the time away from work—While on FMLA, take the time to be mentally absent from work. This is valuable time for you and your child. If your employer tries to communicate with you while on leave—to discuss tasks or make requests, for example—that can bee seen as a violation of FMLA.
Return from leave—After an extended leave of absence, coming back to work can feel overwhelming. We’ve created a guide to help with the transition: A step-by-step guide to your first day back after maternity leave.
Curious about how other women have navigated their maternity leave? The Ovia Pregnancy app is a great resource for all things pregnancy, and with their Ovia Community, you can ask questions anonymously in a safe, supportive community of moms and moms-to-be. Need advice or support before your meeting with your manager? Want to know how others have split up their leave? Ask all of your FMLA and maternity leave questions to women who have been there before.
In Partnership With Ovia Health is the most trusted and loved companion for women and families. Since 2012, Ovia Health has helped over 12 million women and families on their journeys to parenthood with Ovia Fertility, Ovia Pregnancy, and Ovia Parenting. Download the Ovia apps today: https://www.oviahealth.com/apps.
At some point, one of your employees may need to take time off before and after giving birth. You must create and implement a maternity leave policy before that happens.
But before you can establish your policy, familiarize yourself with and comply with maternity leave laws.
What is maternity leave?
Maternity leave is time off that new mothers can use to care for their newborns. Most businesses refer to maternity leave as parental leave. Parental leave allows both mothers and fathers to take time off following the birth or adoption of a child.
Maternity leave can be paid or unpaid, depending on state laws and your business’s policy.
Do you have to provide employees with maternity leave? For many employers, the answer is yes. If maternity leave laws apply to your business, you must offer time off.
What are maternity leave laws?
There are both federal and state maternity rights at work laws. Here are three laws you need to know about:
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978: Federal
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Federal
- Paid Family and Medical Leave programs: State
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
As the name suggests, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects employees who are pregnant.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers cannot discriminate against employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
To comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, follow these Department of Labor guidelines:
- Don’t exclude candidates who are pregnant or recently gave birth from your hiring process
- Allow a pregnant employee to continue performing her job as long as she is able to
- Do not terminate or deny promotions to an employee due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition
- Keep your employee’s job open when they go on leave
- Don’t set a rule prohibiting an employee from returning to work after maternity leave for a specified amount of time
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects all employees from discrimination before and after childbirth.
Federal maternity rights at work: Unpaid
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to offer employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for parental and medical-related leave.
Although FMLA is a federal law, it doesn’t apply to all businesses. Businesses with more than 50 employees are required to follow the FMLA. Some businesses with fewer than 50 employees may also need to offer FMLA leave (e.g., joint employers).
Not all employees are eligible for FMLA coverage. Employees must work for FMLA-covered employers for at least 12 months and work 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before the leave.
Employers governed by the FMLA must allow eligible employees to take maternity leave.
State laws on paid maternity leave
Recently, more and more states have started implementing Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) programs.
Like the FMLA, states with Paid Family Leave require employers to offer employees time off for parental and medical-related leave. Unlike the FMLA, employees can take paid time off through PFML programs.
The following currently have state leave laws:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Employees can take paid maternity leave if they or their employer pay into the program. There are also certain requirements employees must meet, like working a certain number of hours, to be eligible for PFML.
Each state sets its own contribution rates and distribution amounts. Check with your state for more information.
Employers governed by state PFML programs must contribute or withhold money from employee wages so employees can take paid maternity leave.
Other states, like Maryland, allow employees to use state-mandated paid sick leave for maternity leave.
Questions your maternity leave policy should answer
Now that you’re familiar with maternity leave laws, you can put your maternity leave policy into writing.
Your maternity leave policy should address common employee questions, like whether it’s paid, how long it is, who can take it, and any work accommodations.
1. Is maternity leave paid?
Your maternity leave policy should answer whether you provide paid or unpaid maternity leave.
If you live in a state that requires paid time off, you must offer paid maternity leave. Include how much employees should expect to receive while on leave. For example, California employees receive approximately 60-70% of their regular wages while on leave.
You can decide to offer paid maternity leave even if you aren’t required to. According to one report, more than one in three employers offer paid maternity leave beyond what’s required by law.
However, only 11% of workers in businesses with under 50 employees have access to paid family leave, according to the BLS. If you want to stand out as an employer, consider voluntarily offering paid maternity leave.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what you should detail in this section of your policy:
- Whether maternity leave is paid vs. unpaid
- Information on your state’s PFML, if applicable
- Percentage of regular weekly wages employees will earn if paid
2. How long is maternity leave?
Your maternity leave policy should also detail the length of time employees can take off from work.
When adding how long employees can take off for maternity leave, remember federal and state laws.
FMLA provides up to 12 weeks per year for unpaid family and medical leave. States provide anywhere from 6-12 weeks of paid time off.
If you’re not subject to FMLA or state PFML laws, you might be unsure of how much time to provide.
So, what’s the average maternity leave time? One source found that the average maternity leave is 10 weeks long.
You may decide to offer both paid and unpaid maternity leave. Include the length of time for both in your policy.
This section of your policy should include:
- How long unpaid maternity leave is
- How long you provide for paid maternity leave, if applicable
- The total length of maternity leave
3. Who can take maternity leave?
Again, not all employees are covered by federal and state parental leave laws. Be sure to discuss when employees become eligible for paid leave, unpaid leave, or both.
Remember that under FMLA rules, employees must work for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours to be eligible for leave.
Most states require that employees work for a certain number of weeks or hours before taking leave. And, some states restrict which employees can take paid family leave based on earnings.
If you voluntarily offer paid or protected unpaid maternity leave, summarize information about who is eligible.
Be sure to include:
- How many months employees must work before taking leave
- How many hours employees must work before taking leave
- Any other restrictions (e.g., wage minimum)
4. Will I offer flexible work schedules?
For many employees, returning to work after maternity leave is difficult. According to SHRM, 81% of employers allow at least some employees to come back to work gradually after childbirth.
If you have the ability, you may consider offering employees a flexible work arrangement. This may include the option to work remotely or to work flexible schedules before or after maternity leave.
This section of your maternity leave policy should detail:
- Work accommodations employees can receive before and after maternity leave
After creating your maternity leave policy, make sure your employees can read it! Patriot’s HR Software add-on to our payroll software makes it easy for employees to access important files online. Start your self-guided demo today!
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This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please
You’ve heard the term, of course, but what exactly is it?
Unless you’ve already been through maternity leave, the specifics might be a little hazy. We’re here to help clear things up.
Maternity leave is the period of time when a mother stops working because she is about to have — or has just had (or adopted) — a baby. While we most commonly hear the term “maternity leave,” sometimes, it’s called:
- Family leave
- Family medical leave
- Pregnancy leave (or parental leave or paternity leave, because it may apply to not only birth mothers, but also to adoptive mothers, fathers or domestic partners)
Your workplace may or may not have an official maternity leave policy, and even if it does, it unfortunately may not be paid. If it is paid, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fully paid; some companies offer partially paid leave or a program that may technically be a sick leave or short-term disability policy that pays you during your leave of absence.
How Long is Maternity Leave?
The U.S. does not have a standard maternity leave length. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 60% of employers give 12 weeks of maternity leave; 33% give more than 12 weeks. However, that includes paid and unpaid leave. Only 58% of companies pay a salary or wage during some or all of maternity leave, according to the study.
What Maternity Leave Rights Do I Have?
Getting informed about your maternity leave rights is particularly important if you live in the United States and are a pregnant employee. Why? Unlike women in virtually all other developed countries in the world, American women working in the U.S. who take maternity leave are not guaranteed any maternity leave benefit payments from the federal government.
In fact, most American women receive no pay during their maternity leave and instead rely on federal parental leave law (called the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA) to protect their job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. This essentially means that the woman is entitled to return to her position after a period of medical leave or absence without penalty in pay or position.
To be clear, FMLA does not guarantee a woman paid leave, and it doesn’t apply to every person. FMLA protects you if you work at a company with more than 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace and you have worked there for a minimum of 1,250 hours during the prior year. If you have a spouse working at the same company, and he or she also tries to qualify for leave under FMLA, things are more complex. You’ll want to read up on FMLA rules and exceptions.
In addition to checking out whether you are an eligible employee for FMLA maternity leave, see whether you live in one of the 25 states that have supplemented FMLA protections either by extending the length of maternity leave (up to 16 weeks), lowering the minimum employer size to below 50, or even requiring private employers to pay for maternity leave (up to some cap).
Still, with the exception of three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — state maternity leave, or more accurately, state-protected parental leave is still unpaid leave. Four states have disability laws that cover a woman’s pregnancy and the birth of a child, and you can learn about those states’ laws here: New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and Rhode Island.
While the specifics vary by state, these disability laws typically protect an employee’s salary (usually partially, and up to a certain maximum cap) by requiring employers to take out short-term disability insurance policies that cover a woman’s wages during her leave of absence. If you want more detail on your state’s maternity leave laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures’ state family and medical leave laws is a good place to look.
What Is My Company’s Maternity Leave Policy?
If you’re lucky, you may be employed by one of the private employers that funds paid maternity or family leave programs (meaning they send you a paycheck during your maternity leave just as they do during your vacations and paid holidays). However, according to a report by Families and Work Institute in 2008, only 16% of companies offered fully paid maternity leave; in 2016, in a survey of employers with 50 or more employees, only 6% offered full pay during maternity leave.
Fairygodboss has crowdsourced maternity leave policies for thousands of companies, using information that our members provide. The majority of women who have left tips on our site say they get between 6-12 weeks of full pay. But some companies pay less, and others pay up to 18 weeks of your full salary and benefits.
Maternity leave policies typically apply equally to all female employees across the company, though some unionized or contract employees may not receive these benefits.
If you’re unhappy with your employer’s maternity leave policy, you can always try to negotiate for more leave. It doesn’t hurt to ask for more time off or for some pay during your leave, even if you’re requesting something that’s not part of your company’s official policy. When you make your case, it may help to arm yourself with facts: do some research in advance to show your employer what others offer.
What is the Difference Between Maternity Leave and Short-Term Disability?
In case these details surrounding maternity leave law and rights aren’t enough of a jumbled mess, don’t worry! It gets even more confusing (sorry). But stay calm — we’ll help you sort through it. As we mentioned above, some companies and employees say they offer (or receive) paid leave when they are technically offering (or receiving) Short Term Disability insurance payments that define “disability” to include pregnancy disability covering childbirth and postpartum recovery. This confusion of terms is understandable.
Some STD insurance policies pay for 100% of a woman’s salary during maternity leave and are paid through insurance premiums covered by the employer. But other STD policies require the employee to foot the bill and/or to purchase those policies before the employee becomes pregnant. And, of course, it’s not unusual for an STD policy to cover only a portion of an employee’s salary during their leave.
Many unions and large employers offer STD insurance policies, and some feel that it is not appropriate to call even fully employer-funded policies “maternity leave,” because pregnancy is not a “disability” and thus doesn’t necessitate a disability leave. Practically speaking, there are additional hoops an employee must jump through to take advantage of STD-based policy benefits.
Unlike company-provided maternity leave, STD policies require you to get a medical diagnosis or medical certification from a healthcare provider; you’ll probably need to provide your company with certain documentation from your physician before you will start to receive STD payments. And once you apply for these benefits, there may be a waiting period before you’ll start to receive payments.
How Long and How Much Does Short-Term Disability Pay?
Many STD insurance policies cover 50-100% of your salary for approximately 6 weeks of postpartum absence, though some may pay out longer if you experience medical complications or have had a C-section. The amount of STD pay you receive depends on your company’s specific policy and is typically based on your tenure at the company and is a completely separate issue from your healthcare benefits and coverage.
If your company pays less than 100% of your salary for STD, the only way you may receive 100% salary coverage is to personally supplement your employer’s insurance premium payments (which some employer insurance plans allow). If this is not possible via your employer’s insurance company, you may have to purchase a supplemental policy from another insurance company.
Usually, though, you’ll have to start paying for STD insurance before getting pregnant. STD insurance policies are as varied as any insurance policy, and some require you to use your sick time or vacation days before you can start receiving payouts. STD plans often demand that you be physically absent from your workplace for a week before you can begin receiving benefits.
In short, all of this stuff can be pretty damn confusing. If you’re feeling like everything from the language to the fine print is daunting, you’re not alone — and you should ask your company’s HR and benefits department for all the details. Don’t be afraid to include all your nitty gritty questions!
If you’re lucky enough to receive paid maternity leave, your paid leave and FMLA run concurrently — meaning that the time you take off for paid maternity leave counts toward your 12-week FMLA protection. We’ve already mentioned that federal and state laws may protect your job with unpaid maternity leave. But some companies offer unpaid leave policies on top of their paid leave or STD-supported maternity leave.
This corporate unpaid leave may even extend beyond the 12-week minimum protected under FMLA. Even if your company doesn’t offer you additional unpaid leave, you might still qualify for additional unpaid leave under federal or state law. Under certain state law provisions, you may take additional time off regardless of how much paid corporate maternity leave you’ve taken.
Do I Pay Taxes on Maternity Leave or Short-Term Disability Payments?
Yup. Maternity leave pay funded by your employer is no different than your paycheck — so you will have to pay taxes on it just as you would on your regular salary. Similarly, if you receive disability benefits from your employer who has been paying insurance premiums, that is a taxable benefit. But if you’ve been paying for the disability insurance yourself, the benefits you receive are tax-free.
When Do I Have to Go Back to Work?
In case it’s not already obvious, here’s the deal: every woman faces a patchwork of applicable laws and policies that may pay for (a) none, (b) some of, or (c) all of her maternity leave for (a) none, (b) some of, or (c) all of the time she wants to take off for the birth of her child. Moreover, some women may choose to be a part-time worker on a paid basis instead of as a full-time employee which complicates the calculation of what she is paid. If you choose to work part-time, voluntarily in an uncompensated way during your leave, this is your choice and should not affect any maternity payments you receive from your employer. However, if you work “officially” in any way, this may impact your short-term disability payments since those funds received are predicated on your being unable to work.
That means there’s no easy answer; your return-to-work timing depends on your finances, personal choices, and the leave policies and laws that you’re subject to. It also depends on the demands of your job and what kind of work-life balance you seek. If you want to extend the time you’re on maternity leave, you should consider saving up personal, sick days and vacation or Paid Time Off (PTO) allowances you’ve built up prior to having your baby.
What If I Decide Not To Go Back to Work?
Some of you might choose not to return to work after your maternity or short-term disability leave — which is totally understandable! In some cases, you may have to pay back a portion of your benefits, so just make sure you ask your HR department for the fine print before you make this decision.
What If I Get Fired While I’m Pregnant or on Maternity Leave?
Being fired sucks under any circumstances, but it’s particularly challenging when you are pregnant or on maternity leave. If you think a law may have been broken and that you have experienced pregnancy discrimination, be sure to consult an attorney about your options.
For reading and research on your rights, you may want to start with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) website. It describes your protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and other applicable federal laws and also provides resources and contact information.
Do I Receive Benefits While I’m on Maternity Leave?
If you qualify for FMLA leave, yes — your company must continue to keep you on its health insurance plan while you’re on leave. But the company has the legal right to ask for the reimbursement of your health insurance premium payments if you do not return after your FMLA leave.
Also, keep in mind that FMLA doesn’t require employers to allow you to accrue benefits or time toward seniority when you’re out on leave. That means the clock may stop on things like vacation accrual and the amount of time you can say you’ve been with the company in order to qualify for things like raises based on seniority, participation in your company’s 401k plan or the vesting of your company’s matching investment, or stock options.
Finally, you won’t be able to contribute to your 401k or flexible spending account while you’re on leave because you’re not receiving a paycheck from your employer — which means you can’t contribute pre-tax dollars.
Most companies that offer fully-paid maternity leave (not through STD policies) also pay to cover your other employment benefits during this period.
What if I Believe My Employer Has Violated Certain Rules or Laws?
We can’t give legal advice, but we can tell you that it depends on which rules you believe your company has broken and which laws have been violated. There are also nonprofits — like Equal Rights Advocates, 9to5.org, and National Partnership for Women & Families — that may give you guidance and more information about your rights.
You might also want to consult with an attorney before making any decisions. If your issue is regarding FMLA leave, you may file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.
What if I’m Adopting a Child or Taking in a Foster Child?
Some employers offer adoptive parents policies identical or similar to those given to birth parents. But one big difference may come with companies that pay for maternity leave through STD policies — because adoption will not typically qualify under the definition of those insurance policies. Under FMLA, you’re allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. And again, certain states do provide a parental leave policy.
When and How Should I Request Leave?
This is largely a personal decision. Under FMLA, you are required to request maternity leave with at least 30 days of advance notice. Realistically, though, most women become visibly pregnant after just a few months, so many decide to tell their employer after their first trimester, when the risks of miscarriage are significantly reduced.
Need some advice on spilling the beans to your boss and co-workers? Check out our tips on how to tell your boss you’re pregnant.
How Do I Decide When to Start My Leave?
For most women, this is a personal decision. Legally, if you are using FMLA leave, you may take time off at any time during your pregnancy or even after childbirth (within 1 year of your child’s birth). Some women work right up until they go into labor — but if the thought of having your water break at work terrifies you, you’re not alone. Many women decide to start maternity leave before giving birth!
You’ll also want to consider your finances and the amount of physical labor or stress your job entails. If you decide to take an early maternity leave due to medical complications or because of your doctor’s advice, you will typically be able to receive short-term disability payments starting at that point.
Do Fathers Get Parental Leave?
Under FMLA, both men and women are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off due to the birth of a child, or when adopting or taking in a child from foster care. Parents — both men and women — are eligible for this leave within one year of welcoming a new child.
Some companies might offer more extensive paternity or family leave for expecting fathers, but these policies vary by company.
We hope this helps! But we know this stuff is confusing, so if you have questions about anything we covered — or didn’t cover — don’t be shy. Email us at [email protected], or post your question on our maternity leave discussion board page, where the Fairygodboss community will be able to chime in with advice!
Family & Medical Leave Act and Parental Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (29 U.S.C. § 2601), entitles certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons. This article contains an overview of the FMLA and the Maryland’s Parental Leave Act (MPLA).
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601
If you have further questions about your rights under the FMLA, you should consult with an attorney or your employer. More information on the FMLA is also available of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) website. The DOL has also issued a helpful FMLA guide for employees.
Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:
- Work for a covered employer;
- Have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months;
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months; and
- Work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.
When can you take leave?
You can take up to 12 weeks of leave during any twelve month period for one or more of the following reasons.
- Due to the birth of your child and your need to provide care for the child. (Must be taken within 12 months of birth)
- Due to the placement of an adopted or foster child with you. (Must be taken within 12 months of placement)
- To care for a spouse, son, daughter or parent with a serious health condition.
- If you, have a serious health condition that makes you unable to perform the duties of your job.
The term “serious health condition” means an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves:
- inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility; or
- continuing treatment by a health care provider.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612, § 2611(11)
Military Family Leave
The FMLA also allows employees to take up to 26 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12‑month period to care for a spouse, child, or parent who is a servicemember, if that servicemember has a serious injury or illness. (https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm#14)
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(3)
Do you have to take all of the leave at once?
You can take leave intermittently when medically necessary to care for yourself or a seriously ill spouse, son, daughter, or parent. You will not lose the unused leave by taking the leave in segments.
However, leave for the birth or care of a child can be taken intermittently only with your employer’s approval.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b)(1)
Can my employer ask me to switch positions within the company?
If you are taking leave for medical reasons, or to take care of a seriously ill family member, and your leave is foreseeable due to planned medical treatment, then your employer may require you to temporarily transfer to another position if:
- you are qualified for the position,
- the position has the same pay and benefits; and
- the position is better suited for taking periodic leave then your regular position.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b)(2)
Will I have to use any of my vacation time that I have accrued?
If an employer provides paid leave (i.e., vacation, sick leave, or personal leave) to an eligible employee, the employer can require the eligible employee–or the eligible employee may elect– to substitute the paid leave for any part of or all of the period of parental leave.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(d)(2)(A)
Do I get paid for the time I am on leave?
Your employer may not pay you for the time that you are on FMLA leave. Additionally, if your employer provides less than 12 weeks of paid leave (such as vacation, personal leave, etc.) then they are not required to pay you the difference.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(d)(1)
When do you have to let your boss know that you are taking leave?
To take FMLA leave, you must provide your employer with the appropriate notice.
- If you are planning to take leave due to a birth, or child placement, then you must give your employer 30 days of notice before the leave starts.
- If the birth or child placement occurs sooner than expected, or will occur in less than 30 days, you will have to give your employers notice as soon as practical.
- If you need FMLA leave unexpectedly, you must inform your employer as soon as you can.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(e)
What if both spouses work for the same employer?
If you and your spouse are taking leave for the birth, or placement of a child, or in order to take care of a sick parent, then your employer may only allow you and your spouse together a total of 12 weeks of leave.
Read the law: 29 U.S.C. § 2612(f)(1)
For information about the FMLA, see the United States Department of Labor website at http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/
Read the entire law: Family and Medical Leave Act
Maryland’s Parental Leave Act
Maryland’s Parental Leave Act (“MPLA”) requires any employer in the State of Maryland that has between 15 to 49 employees to provide eligible employees with 6 weeks of unpaid parental leave benefits for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.
Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Lab.& Employ., §§ 3-1201 – 3-1211
Who is an eligible employee?
An “eligible employee” is one who has asked that the employer provide parental leave and who, as of the date that the requested parental leave begins, will have:
- been employed by that employer for at least 12 months and
- worked at least 1250 hours during the previous 12 months.
The term “eligible employee” does not include independent contractors or someone who is employed at a work site where the employer employs less than 15 employees within 75 miles of the work site.
The notice you have to give your employer
Like the FMLA, you must give your employer 30 days notice before the leave starts.
Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Lab.& Employ., § 3-1203
Exceptions to your notice requirement
The MPLA makes exceptions to this notice requirement for a premature birth, unexpected adoption, or unexpected foster placements.
Like FMLA, if an employer provides paid leave (i.e., vacation, personal leave, or sick leave) to an eligible employee, the employer may require the eligible employee–or the eligible employee may elect to–substitute the paid leave for any part of or all of the period of parental leave.
Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Lab.& Employ., § 3-1202(c)
Insurance coverage requirements
During any period that an eligible employee takes parental leave, an employer must maintain coverage of a group health plan for the duration of the parental leave and in the same manner that coverage would have been provided if the employee had continued in employment continuously for the duration of the parental leave. An employer may recover the premium that the employer paid for maintaining coverage for an eligible employee under a group health plan during the period of parental leave if the employee fails to return to employment with the employer after the period of parental leave to which the employee is entitled has expired.
Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Employ., § 3-1205
When the employer can deny the leave
Under the MPLA, an employer may deny unpaid parental leave to an eligible employee if:
- the denial is necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer; and
- the employer notifies the employee of the denial before the employee begins taking the leave.
Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Lab.& Employ., § 3-1202(b)
Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF and Scribd versions.
- Family and medical leave insurance increases labor-force participation.
- Family and medical leave insurance increases employee retention.
- Family and medical leave insurance has limited or positive impacts on business operations.
- Family and medical leave insurance increases lifetime earnings and retirement security among workers, especially women.
- Family and medical leave insurance increases the use of leave among working fathers.
- If your company has fewer than 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace, your company is exempt from the FMLA and you are not entitled to its benefits.
- If you have worked for your employer for fewer than 25 hours per week for 50 weeks, your company is exempt from the FMLA and you are not entitled to its benefits.
- If you’re in the highest 10 percent of wage earners at your company and your employer can prove that your absence would cause them significant financial harm, your employer isn’t required to allow you 12 weeks of unpaid leave or keep your job open for you.
- If you and your partner are employed by the same company, you’re entitled to 12 weeks total time combined, not 12 weeks each.
- If you’re eligible for the FMLA, you may need to “use up” all your vacation days, sick leave, and personal days, and this time will be deducted from your 12 weeks of maternity leave.
- If you’re offered a paid maternity leave, your employer may require that the time period of paid maternity leave count toward the 12 weeks allotted under the FMLA. (Though some companies let employees take the full 12 weeks of FMLA in addition to whatever paid leave they are given.)
- FMLA lets you use your 12-week maternity leave whenever you want during the first year after your child’s birth or adoption — as long as your employer agrees. So if your employer is willing, you don’t have to use all 12 weeks at once — you could choose to spread them out over your child’s first year by taking a few weeks at a time or by reducing your normal weekly hours. Also, keep in mind that you’re entitled to use your FMLA benefits during your pregnancy (say your practitioner has put you on bed rest) — it’s not just reserved for after the birth of your baby.
- Americans express some concern that paid family and medical leave benefits can be abused. Some 55% think it is at least somewhat common for workers who have access to this benefit to abuse it by taking time off from work when they don’t need to; 44% say this isn’t particularly common.
- Most workers are at least somewhat satisfied with the benefits their employer provides (69%) and believe their employer cares a great deal or a fair amount about the personal well-being of their employees (66%). These assessments vary considerably by income, however; only about half of workers with household incomes under $30,000 express some satisfaction with their benefits and say their employer cares about their employees’ well-being, compared with majorities of those with higher incomes.
- Three-in-ten leave takers say it was difficult for them to learn about what leave benefits, if any, were available to them when they needed to take time off from work for parental, family or medical reasons, and this is particularly the case among those with a high school diploma or less and with lower incomes. Leave takers with lower incomes and those without a bachelor’s degree are also less likely to say their supervisor and co-workers were very supportive when they took leave from work.
- Among those who took time off from work to care for a family member with a serious health condition in the past two years, women (65%) are far more likely than men (44%) to say they were the primary caregiver. Family-leave takers ages 65 and older were more likely than those who are younger to say they were caring for their spouse or partner during this time, while those ages 50 to 64 were particularly likely to be caring for one of their parents.
The United States is the only advanced industrialized nation without a federal law providing workers access to paid maternity leave and one of only a handful of nations that does not offer broader family and medical leave insurance. Family and medical leave insurance, often referred to as paid family and medical leave or paid leave, provides wage replacement to workers taking temporary leave to recover from a serious illness, care for an ill family member, or care for a newborn or a newly adopted or fostered child.
The lack of family and medical leave insurance poses challenges for families because most caregivers work outside the home. Today, the majority of families do not have a stay-at-home parent to provide care. Seventy-one percent of children live in a family with either two working parents or a single parent. The percentage of adult children providing care for a parent has tripled over the past 15 years. Among workers who were employed at some time while caregiving, one in five reported that they took a leave of absence from work in order to address caregiving responsibilities. Family and medical leave insurance would help all American workers be less economically vulnerable when balancing work, illness, and family care.
Yet only a small percentage of workers have access to paid leave or temporary disability insurance, which can be used to recover from a serious illness or pregnancy. Only four states have passed legislation to provide workers with family and medical leave insurance, two of which have implemented family leave programs—California in 2004 and New Jersey in 2009. Rhode Island will enact its leave program in January 2014. In the three states that have—or soon will have—family and medical leave insurance, they added the family leave program to their temporary disability insurance programs. Access to temporary disability insurance is also limited. Only four out of 10 private-sector workers have access to employer-provided temporary disability insurance.
More than half—59 percent—of American workers have access to unpaid, job-protected leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, passed in 1993. The FMLA allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to recover from a serious illness, to care for an ill family member, to care for a newborn or a newly adopted or fostered child, or for certain military purposes. Since its passage, the FMLA has been used more than 100 million times by American workers to help balance the demands of the workplace and home.
Workers who need to take leave, however, often cannot afford to take unpaid time off; nearly half—46 percent—of workers who needed leave but did not take it said that they could not afford to take it without pay. In 2001, 25 percent of dual-income families and 13 percent of single-parent families who filed for bankruptcy did so after missing two or more weeks of work due to their own illness or the illness of a family member.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act of 2013—also known as the FAMILY Act—introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would establish a national family and medical leave insurance program, expanding access to paid leave. This program would relieve the financial burden of taking unpaid time off for many families, particularly low-income families, who are significantly less likely to already have access to paid leave through their employers.
The program, first proposed by the Center for American Progress and as outlined in the FAMILY Act, would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave. The program is modeled after successful family and medical leave programs in New Jersey and California. Workers would receive benefits equal to 66 percent of their typical wages—up to a capped amount—while taking leave to recover from a serious illness; care for an ill or injured family member, including a domestic partner; care for a newborn or a newly adopted child; or care for a service-member relative following their recent deployment.
The family and medical leave insurance program would be administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration. Benefits would be paid through a newly created insurance fund, funded by employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1 percent of a worker’s wages, or 2 cents for every $10 in wages.
There is extensive research on the benefits of family and medical leave insurance programs in other nations with comparable economies to America’s and in U.S. states that have implemented these programs, particularly California. One branch of this body of research looks at the health impacts. Many studies find that parental leave enhances children’s health and development and is associated with increases in the duration of breastfeeding and reductions in infant deaths and behavioral issues. Similarly, increasing the length of maternity leave is associated with reductions in symptoms of postpartum depression among mothers.
In addition to the health benefits of family and medical leave, research indicates that paid leave benefits workers and employers and is good for the economy. The economic benefits of family and medical leave insurance can be summarized in the following five arguments, which are discussed in more detail later in this brief:
Family and medical leave insurance increases labor-force participation
Family and medical leave insurance would grow the labor force and economy. Research indicates that paid leave programs provide workers with flexible options to remain in the labor force while taking care of a loved one or recovering from an illness or pregnancy. A 2013 study by Cornell University economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn finds that one reason why the United States fell from having the sixth-highest female labor-force participation rate among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries in 1990 to having the 17th-highest rate in 2010 was because it failed to keep up with other nations and adopt family-friendly policies such as parental leave.
Economist Christopher J. Ruhm lays out a simple model to show how family and medical leave insurance—specifically, parental leave—affects labor demand and labor supply. He states that leave policies would mean that more workers likely to take leave will choose to be in the labor market, relative to workers less likely to take leave. Ruhm’s model is explained in greater detail in the appendix. A paper by Ruhm and Jackqueline L. Teague uses a similar framework to examine parental leave policies in European and North American countries. They find that paid parental leave policies are associated with higher employment-to-population ratios and decreased unemployment for all workers. Likewise, the authors find that moderate leaves—10 weeks to 25 weeks—are associated with higher labor-force participation rates for women.
Historically, women are more likely than men to take family leave, whether to care for a newborn or an ill family member. As a result, many studies focus on the effects of family leave policies solely on women’s labor-force attachment. Studies find that family leave reduces the amount of time that women spend out of the labor force since it reduces the likelihood that women will quit their jobs in order to take time off from work. In a study examining the effects of the FMLA and unpaid maternity leave policies, sociologist Sandra L. Hofferth and statistician Sally C. Curtin find that women who had a child post-FMLA returned back to work more quickly than those who had a child pre-FMLA.
Although workers may take leave from work in the short term, family and medical leave insurance helps workers stay in the labor force, increasing labor-force participation and growing the economy in the long term. In his study of paid parental leave in European countries, Ruhm finds that leave legislation increases the female employment-to-population ratio by 3 percent to 4 percent—and even more for women of childbearing age. Similarly, a study of paid maternity leave in OECD countries notes that an added week of paid maternity leave raises labor-force participation rates of young women ages 20 to 34 an average of 0.6 percentage points to 0.75 percentage points. The positive effect of paid leave on labor-force participation seems to be greater with shorter to moderate leaves. A recent study found, for example, that the expansion of paid leave in Norway from a moderate leave of 18 weeks to a longer leave of 35 weeks had little effect on labor-force participation.
Family and medical leave insurance increases employee retention
Family and medical leave insurance would help reduce employee turnover and limit employment disruptions for workers. Results from Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman’s 2009 and 2010 surveys of California employees and employers provide evidence of this: Workers with low-quality jobs who used family leave insurance while on leave were more likely to return to their pre-leave employer—82.7 percent—than those with low-quality jobs who did not—73 percent.
Similarly, recent studies on unpaid leave suggest that family and medical leave insurance would increase the likelihood that workers will return to their pre-leave jobs. A 2012 survey of family and medical leave by Abt Associates for the U.S. Department of Labor found that 94 percent of FMLA-eligible employees who took leave returned back to their previous employer. Less than 1 percent—0.2 percent—of these employees returned to work for a different employer, and 5 percent of these employees did not return back to work. These results are similar to the results from the 1995 and 2000 FMLA surveys.
Hofferth and Curtin’s study of the effects of the FMLA and unpaid maternity leave policies finds parallel results. Women who had a child post-FMLA returned back to work more quickly than those who had a child pre-FMLA and were more likely to return to the same employer. Economist Charles L. Baum II notes a similar pattern in his study of the effects of FMLA and pre-FMLA maternity leave policies on mothers’ labor supply. Baum finds that leave policies significantly increase the probability—between 10 percentage points and 17 percentage points—of eligible mothers returning to their pre-childbirth jobs.
Employers benefit when workers return to their pre-leave jobs. Edward Zigler, Susan Muenchow, and Christopher J. Ruhm note in their 2012 book on paid leave that continuity of employment among workers taking leave could help protect specific human capital. The authors define “specific human capital,” as outlined by economist Walter Y. Oi, as the “investments in training and skill development that are specific to the employer, industry, or occupation.” Workers already possess the needed skillset and training for their current occupation. If workers quit their jobs in order to take leave, employers need to hire and train new employees, which is costly. The median cost to employers of worker turnover is approximately 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary. In addition to added costs to the employers, workers need to spend time looking for a new job and might have difficulty finding a position that is a good match.
Family leave insurance in California has reduced employee turnover and employer turnover costs. In 2009 and 2010, 93 percent of employers surveyed by Appelbaum and Milkman reported that family leave insurance had “a positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on employee turnover. Furthermore, economists Arindrajit Dube and Ethan Kaplan estimated that California’s family leave insurance program would save employers $89 million per year in turnover reduction.
Family and medical leave insurance has limited or positive impacts on business operations
There is evidence that family and medical leave insurance can increase employer profitability. A study of companies listed in Working Mother magazine’s “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” finds that the availability and usage of work-family programs and policies has a positive impact on company profits. The authors explain that employers providing work-family programs can attract higher-quality workers, reduce absenteeism and tardiness among employees, and reduce employee turnover. As a result, these programs increase employee productivity, which in turn increases employer profitability.
Another study finds that work-family policies positively affect firms’ value. Using data collected from Fortune 500 companies, Professors Michelle M. Arthur and Alison Cook found that announcements in The Wall Street Journal of a company instituting work-family policies increased the share price of the firm the same day. The authors explain that investors believe that the benefits of the work-family policies will outweigh the costs of the program, thereby increasing the expected profitability of the company.
With regard to cost, family and medical leave programs have limited—or even positive—impacts on employers’ business-operation costs. Family leave insurance programs in California and New Jersey are extended provisions of the states’ temporary disability insurance programs and are fully funded by employees, with no direct costs to employers. New Jersey’s temporary disability insurance program is funded by both employee and employer contributions, as are Hawaii’s and New York’s.
Furthermore, family and medical leave insurance can generate cost savings for employers, since it can be coordinated with employer-provided benefits and reduce employee-turnover costs. California employers report that the state’s family leave program has had no effect or a positive effect on business operations: 87 percent of employers surveyed by Appelbaum and Milkman in 2009 and 2010 noted that family leave did not result in any cost increases, and 60 percent of employers reported that they coordinated their benefits with the family leave program.49 Herb Greenberg, founder and CEO of Caliper, a human-resources consulting firm in New Jersey, has observed similar reductions in turnover costs:
Family Leave Insurance … has been a huge positive for Caliper. When you think about the cost of individuals leaving, the cost of seeking new employees, the cost of maybe hiring the wrong person training them, etc., and you compare that to the pennies that Family Leave costs you—there is just no comparison in terms of the pure balance sheet.
With potential increases in employee productivity and reduced turnover costs, family and medical leave insurance can benefit rather than disrupt business operations. Ninety-one percent of employers in California, for example, reported “a positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on business profitability and performance upon instituting family leave.
Family and medical leave insurance increases lifetime earnings and retirement security among workers, especially women
Family and medical leave insurance gives workers a way to remain in the labor force while taking leave, thereby increasing their lifetime earnings and retirement savings. A recent study on U.S. caregiving costs calculated that women lose a total of $274,044 and men lose a total of $233,716 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits by leaving the labor force early due to caregiving responsibilities.
Family and medical leave increases the likelihood that workers—especially women—will return to their pre-leave jobs and therefore continue to earn their pre-leave wages. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that of the 80.4 percent of working mothers who returned to their pre-first-birth employer, 69 percent had the same hours, pay, and skill level as before they had children. Conversely, only 25.3 percent of working mothers who returned to a different employer had the same hours, pay, and skill level as before they had their first child. Some of these declines in wages could be due to mothers choosing to reduce their work hours in order to spend time with their newborns. These declines in wages could also be due to women having to find new employment after taking leave. As Joyce P. Jacobsen and Laurence M. Levin find, women who exit the labor force to take leave often return to wages that are lower than those of women who remain in the labor force.
Research by Columbia University Professor Jane Waldfogel suggests that family and medical leave insurance could help close the wage gap between workers who provide care and those who do not. In her study of maternity leave policies in the United States pre-FMLA and Britain, Waldfogel finds that the so-called family gap—the wage gap between mothers and other working women—is mostly eliminated for mothers who have access to unpaid or paid, job-protected maternity leave. Women who had access to such leave were more likely to return to their original employer and experienced a positive wage effect that offset the family wage gap. Similarly, a study by Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Work found that working mothers who took family leave for 30 or more days for the birth of their child are 54 percent more likely to report wage increases in the year following their child’s birth, relative to mothers who did not take family leave.
Family and medical leave insurance could help protect families from suffering financial setbacks due to working parents taking unpaid leave or leaving the labor force in order to provide care. Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Work study found that women who took family leave after their child’s birth were 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance in the year following their child’s birth, compared to mothers who returned to work but did not take any leave.
Family and medical leave insurance increases the use of leave among working fathers
Family and medical leave insurance would incentivize men and women to share care responsibilities. Although women make up almost half of the labor force and two-thirds of families now rely on mothers’ earnings for financial stability, women, rather than men, often take on the role of caregiver. Zigler, Muenchow, and Ruhm note that although leave in the United States and in other OECD countries is available to both parents, mothers are its primary users. Men’s use of unpaid leave did not increase after the implementation of the FMLA or under state unpaid parental leave laws. Approximately 5 percent of working men take caregiving or child-bonding leave under the FMLA, compared to more than 7 percent of working women.
When family and medical leave insurance is offered, however, the take-up rate among men is much higher. The percentage of leave taken by men in California has increased since the institution of its family leave program: Men’s share of parent-bonding family leave—as a percentage of all parent-bonding family leave claims—increased from 17 percent in the period from 2004 to 2005 to 29.2 percent in the period from 2011 to 2012. In addition, men in California are taking longer leaves than they did before family leave insurance was available. Studies of international family leave programs find similar results. Child-bonding or caregiving family leave—specifically set aside for fathers—significantly increases the length and take-up of leave among men.
Family and medical leave insurance could help counteract the cultural norm that caregiving is within the woman’s realm. Even though women today are playing a larger role as breadwinners in the majority of American families, they are more likely than men to pick up the “second shift” of caregiving and housework. Family and medical leave insurance would provide the opportunity to balance care between men and women, resulting in fewer disruptions in employment and earnings for women.
Today’s workforce needs access to family and medical leave insurance. The FAMILY Act’s leave program would provide workers with the flexibility to address their caregiving responsibilities while remaining in the labor force, benefiting both their families and the economy.
Research indicates that family and medical leave has myriad economic benefits for both workers and employers. Family and medical leave will grow our labor force and economy in the long run. It increases the likelihood that workers will return to their original employer after taking leave, which ensures employment and earnings continuity for the employee, as well as unchanged business operations, reduced worker-turnover costs, and a potential of increased profitability for the employer. Furthermore, family and medical leave insurance could close the wage gap between workers who provide care and those who do not. Specifically, family and medical leave could help alleviate the wage gap of working mothers and make the majority of families relying on women’s contributions to family income less financially vulnerable. Although more women take leave than men, research suggests that family and medical leave insurance versus unpaid leave significantly increases the leave take-up rates among working fathers, promoting better gender equity in the workplace and the home.
The United States cannot afford to remain one of the few industrialized countries that does not offer family and medical leave insurance. As evidenced by recent research, the benefits of family and medical leave insurance certainly outweigh the costs. There is every reason to provide this critical protection to America’s workforce by passing and implementing the FAMILY Act—and no reason to delay.
Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary are Senior Fellows at the Center for American Progress. Alexandra Mitukiewicz is a Research Assistant for Economic Policy at the Center.
The authors would like to thank Angela Clements for her research assistance, which she conducted when she was a research fellow at University of California, Berkeley’s, Center on Health, Economic & Family Security in 2010. The authors also wish to thank Eileen Appelbaum, Jane Farrell, Jocelyn Frye, Sarah Jane Glynn, and Jane Waldfogel for their suggestions, reviews, and edits. Finally, the authors would like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Georgetown University’s Workplace Flexibility 2010 campaign, and UC Berkeley School of Law for their support in conducting this initial literature review, as well as the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Family Fund for their generous support of this work.
Appendix: Detailed explanation of Christopher J. Ruhm’s leave model
Economist Christopher J. Ruhm lays out a simple model to show how family and medical leave insurance—specifically, parental leave—affects labor demand and labor supply in his paper titled “The Economic Consequences of Parental Leave Mandates: Lessons from Europe.” He states that leave policies would mean that more workers likely to take leave will choose to be in the labor market, relative to workers less likely to take leave. The labor supply curve of workers likely to take leave will shift to the right. That is, these workers will be willing to work at slightly lower wages with this benefit. If leave benefits are paid primarily by worker-financed social insurance, as they are in most European countries and in California and New Jersey, the demand curve would shift only slightly leftward, based on the amount that nonwage costs increase for providing paid leave.
As findings from Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman’s 2009 and 2010 surveys of California employees and employers suggest, family leave insurance has little to no noticeable effect on employer costs. One would therefore expect that the shift in labor supply would be larger than the shift in demand, resulting in increased labor supply and a fall in relative wages. While workers might end up being paid less, their net welfare will increase if the subjective value of family and medical leave insurance—in addition to the actual monetary value of paid leave—exceeds the costs of the employer providing leave.
Your Rights Under the FMLA
Are you a working mom-to-be? While a few forward-thinking, family-friendly companies voluntarily provide generous maternity-leave policies, many still stick to what they’re required to offer. The legal requirements vary depending on the company’s size, the mom’s employment status, and more, so if you’re expecting — or you’ve already given birth — it pays to become familiar with the maternity-leave rights you’re entitled to by law at your workplace.
Will it be paid or unpaid? How long will it be? Even if your employer doesn’t dole out the really great stuff (several months of leave at full pay), you may be among the many new moms who can expect some pay during their maternity leave thanks to their company’s short-term disability benefits. Not entitled to paid leave? You may still be able to snag some guaranteed time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law requires most (but not all) employers to allow their employees 12 weeks of unpaid maternity (or paternity) leave for up to one year after the birth or adoption of a child.
Enacted in 1993 as a way to guarantee parents time with their new children without having to worry about losing their jobs, FMLA also requires your employer to allow you to return to your position or a similar position with the same benefits at the end of your 12-week leave. In other words, they can’t fire you because you’ve taken off time to be a mom.
When Does FMLA Kick In?
In theory, the FMLA is a good maternity leave option for new parents (though far from as good as the options offered parents in some other countries). In practice, however, it doesn’t apply to everybody. That’s because not all companies are required to give new moms and dads time off, and not all new moms and dads are eligible for FMLA benefits. Here’s how it works:
Ask your boss and someone at human resources whether your company and/or you qualify for FMLA benefits and what other maternity-leave benefits you may be entitled to. (If your boss doesn’t know and your company doesn’t have a human-resources department, go to the US Department of Labor’s FMLA page.) If you qualify for FMLA maternity leave, you’ll be able to continue to collect all on-the-job benefits (including health insurance), but that may also mean that you’ll have to continue making weekly (or bimonthly) contributions to your company’s plan. And remember, unfortunately FMLA entitles you to maternity leave, but not paid maternity leave.
Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies
March 23, 2017
Personal experiences with leave vary sharply by income
By Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Kim Parker, Nikki Graf and Gretchen Livingston
Jump to a section of this report:
A growing share of working parents and an aging population have put pressure on more American workers as they balance family caregiving responsibilities and work obligations. Amid these changes, the issue of paid family and medical leave has captured the attention of policymakers and advocates across the political and ideological spectrum.
A new study conducted by Pew Research Center finds that Americans largely support paid leave, and most supporters say employers, rather than the federal or state government, should cover the costs. Still, the public is sharply divided over whether the government should require employers to provide this benefit or let employers decide for themselves, and relatively few see expanding paid leave as a top policy priority.
While majorities of adults express support for paid leave for mothers and fathers after the birth or adoption of their child, as well as for workers who need to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to deal with their own medical issues, support is greater in some cases than in others. About eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say mothers should have paid maternity leave, while fewer (69%) support paid paternity leave. And those who favor paid maternity and paternity leave say mothers should receive considerably more time off than fathers (a median of 8.6 weeks off for mothers vs. 4.3 weeks for fathers).
There is also broader support for paid leave for workers dealing with their own serious health condition (85% say workers should be paid in these situations) than there is for those caring for a family member who is seriously ill (67% favor paid leave for these workers).
The wide-ranging study of public attitudes about paid family and medical leave also included nearly 6,000 interviews with Americans who have recently taken leave (or were unable to take leave when they needed or wanted to do so), in order to reflect direct personal experiences as well as policy views. The survey finds that 64% of those who took leave in the past two years say they received at least some pay during their time off. A large majority of them (79%) say that some or part of that pay came from vacation days, sick leave or paid time off (PTO) they had accrued prior to their leave. Only 20% of those who got paid – or 13% of all “leave takers” – say they had access to family and medical leave benefits paid by their employer.
Note on terminology
Throughout this report, when referring to attitudes toward paid leave policies, the terms “family and medical leave” or leave from work for “family or medical reasons” refer to time off following the birth or adoption of one’s child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to deal with one’s serious health condition.
In order to distinguish between the experiences of those who took time off from work (or who needed or wanted to take time off but were unable to do so) under different circumstances, the term “parental leave” refers to taking time off from work following the birth or adoption of a child; “family leave” refers to taking at least five days off from work to care for a family member with a serious health condition; and “medical leave” refers to taking at least five days off from work to deal with one’s own serious health condition.
The study reveals a sharp income divide in the way workers navigate these situations. Middle- and higher-income leave takers are much more likely than their lower-income counterparts to have access to paid time off – whether through a specific employer-provided paid leave benefit or by using accrued time off. Six-in-ten leave takers with household incomes between $30,000 and $74,999, and an even higher share (74%) of those with incomes of $75,000 or more, say they received at least some pay when they took time off from work for family or medical reasons. In contrast, only 37% of leave takers with annual household incomes under $30,000 say they received pay. Many lower-income leave takers say they faced difficult financial tradeoffs during their time away from work, including 48% among those who took unpaid or partially paid parental leave who say they went on public assistance in order to cover lost wages or salary.
The need for family and medical leave – whether paid or unpaid – is broadly felt across the United States. Roughly six-in-ten Americans (62%) say they have taken or are very likely to take time off from work for family or medical reasons at some point. Among adults who have been employed in the past two years, about a quarter (27%) say that they took time off during this period following the birth or adoption of their child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to deal with their own serious health condition. In addition, 16% of Americans who were employed in the past two years report that there was a time during this period when they needed or wanted to take time off from work but were unable to do so.
Those who weren’t able to take leave when they needed or wanted to tend to be among the nation’s lower-income workers. Among adults employed in the past two years with annual household incomes under $30,000, three-in-ten say they were unable to take leave when they needed or wanted to at some point in the past two years. By comparison, only 14% of those with incomes of $30,000 or more fall into this category. Across income groups, those who didn’t take time off when they needed or wanted to cite financial concerns more than any other reason when asked why they didn’t take time off from work when they needed or wanted to; about seven-in-ten (72%) say they couldn’t afford to lose wages or salary. This is also the reason cited most often by those who were able to take some time off but wish they had taken more.
These findings are based on two nationally representative online surveys conducted by Pew Research Center with support from Pivotal Ventures: one a survey of 2,029 randomly selected U.S. adults conducted Nov. 17-Dec. 1, 2016, and the other a survey of 5,934 randomly selected U.S. adults ages 18 to 70 who have taken – or who needed or wanted but were unable to take – parental, family or medical leave in the past two years, conducted Nov.17-Dec.14, 2016. 1
The study also finds that adults who are employed or looking for work value flexibility as much as they value having paid family or medical leave. When asked what benefits or work arrangements help them most or would help most personally, about as many cite being able to choose when they work their hours (28%) as cite having paid family or medical leave (27%); about one-in-five (22%) say having flexibility to work from home would help them the most.
However, among those who have taken leave in the past two years or have needed or wanted to do so, having paid leave for family or medical reasons is cited as being the most helpful more than any other benefits or work arrangements. About four-in-ten (38%) in this group point to paid family or medical leave, while the second-most cited item – having flexibility to choose their schedule – is seen as most helpful by 24% of those who have taken leave or needed or wanted to do so in recent years.
The changing demographic landscape in the U.S.
The long-term rise in U.S. women’s labor force participation, particularly among mothers, has led to an increasing share of infants living in homes where all parents are working. In 2016, 50% of children younger than 1 year of age were living in such an arrangement – 40% with two working parents and 10% with a single working parent. Thirty years earlier, this share was 39%; and in 1976, just 20% of infants were living in a home where all parents were working.
Meanwhile, as the elderly population in the U.S. continues to grow, the number of people involved in informal caregiving of older adults is expected to rise. About 15% of the population was ages 65 or older in 2015, and projections suggest that by 2050 about one-in-five (22%) Americans will fall into this category. These older people are more likely to be employed than in the past; in 2016 almost one-in-five people ages 65 or older were still working, up from 12% in 1980, according to Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data.
In recent years, 25 million working people reported that they provided unpaid care to someone with an aging-related condition in the previous three to four months – 16% of the employed civilian population in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) American Time Use Survey data. And for some people family caregiving is a multigenerational endeavor. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that about half (47%) of adults ages 40 to 59 had at least one parent ages 65 or older, and were also either raising a child younger than 18, or had given financial support to an adult child in the past year.
More than ever, caregiving responsibilities extend to both women and men. While in 1965 married fathers living with their children spent about 2.5 hours a week on child care, that number rose to seven hours a week by 2015. In comparison, moms spent about 15 hours a week caring for their child in 2015. And when it comes to providing care for older adults, men and women are similarly likely to have done so in the prior three to four months. Among the employed civilian population, about 15% of men say as much, as do 18% of women, according to the BLS.
Most supporters of paid leave say pay should come from employers rather than from state or federal government
About three-quarters of Americans who support paid leave for mothers (74%) or fathers (76%) following the birth or adoption of a child say pay for time off should come from employers, and a similar share (72%) of those who favor paid medical leave for workers with a serious health condition say the same. When it comes to who should cover the cost of paid leave for workers when they take time off to care for a family member with a serious health condition, a smaller majority (59%) of paid-leave supporters say pay should come from employers, while about two-in-ten say it should come from federal (22%) or state (20%) government.
The majority of paid-leave supporters across the political spectrum are more likely to look to employers rather than to government to cover the costs of providing this benefit, although Democrats express more support for government-paid family and medical leave than do Republicans. For example, about a third (32%) of Democrats who say workers should have paid leave from work to deal with their own serious health condition say pay should come from either the federal or state government, compared with 21% of Republican supporters of paid medical leave. And while 45% of Democrats who support paid leave for workers who take time off to care for a seriously ill family member say the government should pay for this benefit, 31% of Republicans who support paid leave for this reason say the same. More modest but still significant partisan differences are also evident on views of who should pay when mothers and fathers take leave.
Overall, Democrats are more supportive of paid leave than are Republicans and independents, though at least three-quarters of each group say mothers should have access to paid maternity leave and that workers should be able to take paid leave to deal with their own serious health condition. Democrats, Republicans and independents are less supportive of paid leave for fathers and for workers who need to care for a family member with a serious health condition than they are of paid maternity and medical leave. Still, most Democrats and independents – and just over half of Republicans – express support for paid leave in each of these two situations.
Women and young adults also generally express more support for paid leave than do men and those ages 30 and older. For example, 82% of adults ages 18 to 29 say fathers should be able to take paid leave following the birth or adoption of their child, compared with 76% of those ages 30 to 49, 61% of those 50 to 64, and 55% of adults 65 and older.
Despite the broad support for paid leave, a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 4-9, 2017, about the public’s policy priorities for President Donald Trump and Congress in the coming year finds that relatively few Americans (35%) see expanding access to paid family and medical leave as a top policy priority. In fact, expanding access to paid family and medical leave ranks at the bottom of a list of 21 policy items, along with improving transportation and dealing with drug addiction.
Most see at least some benefits for employers that provide paid leave
While Americans tend to favor employer-paid over government-paid leave for family or medical reasons, there is no consensus when it comes to a federal government mandate: About as many say the government should require employers to provide paid leave (51%) as say employers should be able to decide for themselves (48%). Opposition to a federal mandate is highest among those who oppose paid leave; among those who support paid family or medical leave, including those who say employers should pay, more say the government should require employers to offer this benefit than say it should be the employers’ decision.
Still, regardless of whether they support a federal government mandate, most Americans think employers stand to benefit from providing paid family and medical leave. About three-quarters (74%) of the public says employers that provide paid leave are more likely than those that don’t to attract and keep good workers; 78% of those who favor a government mandate and 70% of those who say employers should decide for themselves share this view.
Assessments of the overall impact of paid family and medical leave on employers are more mixed: 53% say universal access to paid leave would have a positive impact on employers, while 46% say the overall impact would be negative. When asked specifically about the impact on small businesses, the balance of opinion is decidedly negative. Roughly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say that universal access to paid leave would have a very or somewhat negative impact on small businesses, while 41% think the impact would be generally positive. By comparison, there is significant consensus around the potential benefits to women and families, with about six-in-ten Americans expecting “very positive” results. Overall, about two-thirds or more say the impact of universal paid leave on families (94%), women (93%), men (88%) and the economy (65%) would be at least somewhat positive.
The public also makes a distinction between employers in general and small businesses in assessments of the trade-offs they may need to make in order to provide paid family and medical leave. About six-in-ten (59%) say most employers that provide paid leave can afford to do so without reducing salaries or other benefits. In contrast, a majority (69%) say most small businesses that offer paid leave have to cut back on salaries and other benefits in order to do so.
There’s no public consensus on the best policy approach for providing paid family and medical leave. In general, the public has a more positive view of policies that incentivize employers or employees rather than those that create a new government fund to finance and administer the benefit.
Some 45% of Americans say they would strongly favor the government providing tax credits to any employer that provides paid leave. And roughly four-in-ten (39%) express strong support for allowing workers to set aside monthly pretax contributions into a personal account that can be withdrawn if they need to take leave from work.
There is less support for a program where the government would provide paid leave to any worker who needs it using funding from new or higher taxes on wealthy people or corporations – 28% strongly favor this approach. Similarly, 24% strongly favor the establishment of a government fund for all employers and employees to pay into through payroll contributions that would provide paid leave to any worker who needed it.
Support for new government programs that would provide paid family and medical leave to all workers that need it is far stronger among Democrats than among Republicans or independents. Some 44% of Democrats say they would strongly support a government paid leave program funded by new or higher taxes on wealthy people or corporations, compared with about a quarter (24%) of independents and just 11% of Republicans. And while about a third (34%) of Democrats express strong support for a government paid leave fund that all employers and employees would pay into through payroll contributions, smaller shares of independents (20%) and of Republicans (15%) say they would strongly favor this approach.
Democrats are also more likely than Republicans or independents to say they would strongly support the government providing tax credits to employers that provide paid family and medical leave: About half (53%) of Democrats express strong support for this approach, compared with about four-in-ten Republicans (37%) and independents (41%).
The vast majority of Americans (85%) say that, if the government were to provide paid family and medical leave, the benefit should be available to all workers, regardless of their income, rather than being more narrowly targeted to those with low incomes. When it comes to paid parental leave specifically, about three-quarters (73%) believe that if the government were to provide this benefit, it should be available to both mothers and fathers.
About seven-in-ten fathers who take paternity leave return to work within two weeks
Most Americans (63%) believe that mothers generally want to take more time off from work than fathers after the birth or adoption of their child, and more say employers put greater pressure on fathers to return to work quickly (49%) than say mothers face more pressure (18%) or that both face about the same amount of pressure (33%) from employers.
The survey of adults who took leave or who needed or wanted to take leave but weren’t able to do so finds that among fathers who took at least some time off from work following the birth or adoption of their child in the past two years, the median length of leave was one week; about seven-in-ten (72%) say they took two weeks or less off from work. In contrast, the median length of maternity leave was 11 weeks. Among mothers with household incomes under $30,000, however, the median length of leave was six weeks, compared with 10 weeks for those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999 and 12 weeks for mothers with household incomes of $75,000 or more.
For the most part, mothers and fathers who took parental leave in the past two years say taking time off did not have much of an impact – either positive or negative – on their job or career; 60% say this is the case. Still, women are about twice as likely as men to say taking time off following the birth or adoption of their child had a negative impact (25% vs. 13%, respectively).
Just over half (56%) of parental-leave takers say they took less time off from work following the birth or adoption of their child than they needed or wanted to, while 7% say they took more time off and 36% say they took about as much time off as they needed or wanted to. Some 59% of fathers and 53% of mothers say they wish they had taken more time off from work than they did following the birth or adoption of their child.
Smaller but substantial shares of those who took time off from work to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to deal with their own health issue also say they took less time off from work than they needed or wanted to take (40% and 38%, respectively).
Financial concerns top the list of reasons why those who took leave for parental, family or medical reasons say they took less time off than they needed or wanted to. About seven-in-ten (69%) leave takers who returned to work more quickly than they would have liked to say they couldn’t afford to lose more wages or salary. About half (47%) say they thought they might risk losing their job, while 41% say they felt badly about co-workers taking on additional work. About a third thought taking more time off might hurt their chances for job advancement (34%) or felt that no one else was capable of doing their job (33%). And about a quarter (23%) of those who took less time off than they had needed or wanted to say their employer denied their request for more time off.
Many leave takers take on debt or use savings in order to cover lost wages
Most Americans who took time off from work in the past two years for parental, family or medical reasons report that they received at least some pay during this time, with about half (47%) saying they received full pay; 16% say they received only some of their regular pay and 36% say they received no pay at all. Lower-income leave takers, as well as those without a bachelor’s degree, are particularly likely to say they received only some or no pay. For example, among leave takers with household incomes of $75,000 or more, roughly six-in-ten (58%) say they received the same amount as their regular pay, while 15% received partial pay and about a quarter (26%) were not paid. In contrast, just 22% of those with incomes under $30,000 report that they received full pay, while 14% received only some of their regular pay and a majority (62%) received no pay during their time off from work.
Leave takers who did not receive their full wages or salary when they took parental, family or medical leave say they had to make sacrifices, such as cutting back on spending, dipping into savings, or cutting their leave short, to compensate for the loss of income. Some, particularly those with lower incomes, took more consequential measures, such as taking on debt, putting off paying their bills, and going on public assistance.
Roughly six-in-ten (57%) parental-leave takers with household incomes under $30,000 who did not receive their full pay when they took time off from work following the birth or adoption of their child say they took on debt to deal with the loss of wages or salary; about half say they went on public assistance (48%) or put off paying their bills (46%).
While most Americans are supportive of mothers and fathers taking leave from work – and receiving pay – following the birth or adoption of a child, many see mothers, and women in general, as more apt caregivers. The survey finds that a majority (71%) of Americans think it’s important for new babies to have equal time to bond with their mothers and their fathers, while about a quarter (27%) think it’s more important to bond with their mothers and just 2% say it’s more important for them to bond with their fathers. But when it comes to caring for a new baby, more say that, aside from breast-feeding, mothers do a better job than say both mothers and fathers do about an equally good job (53% vs. 45%); only 1% say fathers do a better job than mothers in caring for a new baby.
The public offers more gender-balanced views when asked who would do a better job caring for a family member with serious health condition – 59% say men and women would do an equally good job. Still, four-in-ten say women would do a better job in this situation (1% say men would).
Older adults and Republicans – especially those who describe their political views as conservative – are particularly likely to say that it’s more important for new babies to have more time to bond with their mothers than with their fathers and that mothers do a better job caring for a new baby.
Attitudes about gender roles and caregiving are linked, at least in part, to views about the impact of paid leave on men, as well as to support for paid paternity leave. Generally, adults with more gender-balanced views about mothers and fathers as caregivers for new babies are far more supportive of paid paternity leave than are those who say mothers are better caregivers. Those with more gender-balanced views are also more likely to say universal paid leave would have a very positive impact on men.
For example, among those who say mothers and fathers do about an equally good job caring for a new baby, 78% express support for paid paternity leave and half say universal paid leave would have a very positive impact on men. By comparison, among adults who say mothers do a better job, these shares are 61% and 37%, respectively. Significant differences remain when controlling for factors such as gender, age and political ideology, which are associated with support of paid leave for fathers and the impact of universal paid leave on men in general as well as with attitudes about gender and caregiving.
The remainder of this report examines in greater detail the public’s views about paid leave as well as the experiences of workers who have taken parental, family or medical leave in the past two years. Chapters 1-4 focus on findings from the survey of the general public. Chapter 1 looks at the public’s evaluations of different paid leave policies, including who Americans think should be covered as well as who should pay. Chapter 2 explores assessments of the impact of paid leave on families, the economy, employers and employees. Chapter 3 looks at workers’ assessments of the benefits they receive from their employers and how family and medical leave fits in to the broader benefits landscape. Chapter 4 explores views of gender and caregiving.
Chapter 5 examines the experiences of those who took leave and those who weren’t able to take leave when they needed or wanted to do so. It looks at whether or not those who were able to take leave received any pay during this time and how they coped with the loss of income if they did not receive full pay. It also explores reasons why some people return to work sooner than they wish to after taking parental, family or medical leave, and why some aren’t able to take time off from work at all when they need or want to do so. Finally, Chapter 6 provides some quotes from eight focus groups of recent parental- and family-leave takers to illustrate the diverse and complex experiences of leave takers.
Other key findings
- For more details about how the surveys were conducted, see the Methodology section of the report. ↩
Paid Family Leave Policies And Population Health
- The US has no federal paid family leave (PFL) legislation. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act provides unpaid leave, but only about 60 percent of private-sector workers are eligible, and of those, 46 percent report struggling to afford unpaid time off.
- Six states and the District of Columbia have passed PFL policies, and the issue has been receiving attention at both state and federal levels in recent years.
- Research suggests that when leave is paid, take-up rates are higher among low-income and disadvantaged families than when it is unpaid, which enables more families to benefit from it.
- Studies on PFL in the US and other developed countries indicate short- and long-term health benefits of leave taking for children and mothers, such as a decreased incidence of low birthweight and preterm births, increased breast-feeding, reduced rates of hospitalizations among infants, and improved maternal health.
- Research on PFL in Canada and Europe suggests decreasing marginal health benefits from increasing paid leave entitlements beyond 6–12 months.
A large body of evidence documents that the early life environment affects people’s health and economic outcomes throughout the life cycle. Coupled with the fact that the US has relatively poor infant health ratings, particularly for preterm births and infant mortality, this research suggests that early childhood interventions may be beneficial for population health and the economy as a whole. One such intervention is paid family leave (PFL), which allows workers to take time off to care for newborn children or ill family members.
The US is the only one of the thirty-five Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries that does not offer paid leave to new mothers, and one of the eight OECD countries that do not provide paid leave to fathers. While there is currently no federal PFL, policy maker support for such leave has been growing: Six states and the District of Columbia have passed PFL legislation, and from December 2017 to December 2019, the federal Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave (Section 45S of the Internal Revenue Code) provides a tax credit to employers offering PFL. In the 2016 election campaigns, for the first time in history, both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates endorsed some form of PFL.
This brief outlines the PFL policy landscape in the US and the ways in which PFL may affect population health. It discusses empirical research on the effects of PFL on child and parental health, both in the US and in other countries. It concludes by exploring the policy implications of this research and commenting on additional research that is needed to better understand the health effects of PFL.
Paid Family Leave In The United States
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 provides twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with continued health insurance coverage to attend to a newborn or adopted child, a family member, or an employee’s own serious health condition. There are strict eligibility requirements for FMLA, such as needing to have worked at least 1,250 hours for an employer with fifty or more employees during the twelve months before the start of the leave. The most recent data indicate that only about 60 percent of private-sector workers are eligible for FMLA, and 46 percent of those eligible report not being able to afford taking unpaid time off work.
With no federal law to support it, the provision of paid family leave is therefore a matter of state and employer policy. Four states (California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have implemented PFL policies, and two more (Washington and Massachusetts), as well as the District of Columbia, have enacted PFL measures that are set to take effect in 2020 or 2021. These policies vary in specifics, such as statutory leave duration, benefit amount, and job protection (that is, the right to return to the same or a near-identical job after taking leave) (see exhibit 1).
EXHIBIT 1: Features of state paid family leave policies
In addition, about 13 percent of civilian employees access PFL through their employers, but such access is limited and unequal. Employer-provided PFL is more prevalent among high-paying, professional occupations and within large companies. In 2017, 6 percent of workers in the lowest-paying quartile of jobs had access to PFL, compared to 24 percent of workers in the highest-paying quartile. Additionally, only 6 percent of service workers had employer-provided PFL.
Five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) and Puerto Rico have State Disability Insurance (SDI), which provides partial wage-replaced leave for workers with temporary disabilities and for mothers preparing for and recovering from childbirth. These policies offer up to six weeks of leave postpartum for vaginal deliveries and eight weeks for cesarean section deliveries, but mothers may be eligible for longer leaves if they experience delivery complications. Birth mothers in states that have both PFL and SDI programs (California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) can take additional leave through PFL after completing their SDI leave. For example, mothers in California with an uncomplicated vaginal delivery can take a total of twelve weeks of partially paid postpartum leave through SDI and PFL.
Mechanisms Connecting PFL And Health
Paid family leave may affect population health through multiple channels. First, children of parents who take leave may receive more parental care and breast-feeding, if parents are able to stay home longer after birth instead of returning to work immediately. Similarly, children may receive more immunizations and more consistent medical care, if parents can go to doctor appointments more easily while on leave.
Second, child health may improve from the extra resources parents get from PFL benefits, especially when the parents may otherwise take unpaid leave or quit their jobs. Families may be able to afford more nutritious food, for example.
Third, infant and long-term health outcomes may be better if PFL access lowers maternal stress during pregnancy, perhaps due to increased financial and job security. Maternal stress during pregnancy has been shown to adversely affect both infant and long-term child well-being.
Fourth, access to PFL may have beneficial effects on parental health. In addition to potentially lowering prenatal and postpartum stress, taking time off work to recover from childbirth and to bond with the new child may improve maternal mental and physical health. Fathers may also benefit from bonding with the baby.
Finally, taking leave to care for a sick child or family member may improve recovery and prevent the spread of disease, conveying additional health benefits of PFL.
Evidence Of Labor Market And Health Impacts
Most research on PFL has focused on women’s (and to a lesser extent men’s) leave use and labor market outcomes (Maya Rossin-Slater as well as Claudia Olivetti and Barbara Petrongolo provide recent overviews). Paid leave, in contrast to unpaid leave, increases leave usage, especially among disadvantaged mothers. Additionally, there is some evidence that PFL may increase employment and job continuity of mothers after their children turn one. Studies on leaves earmarked specifically for fathers in European countries (colloquially referred to as “daddy months” or “daddy quotas”) suggest that there is no detrimental impact of such policies on fathers’ future earnings or employment, though fathers substantially increase leave taking. Research on the effect of PFL on firms is sparse, but existing work suggests no detrimental effects on wage costs or employee turnover.
The majority of existing research on the health effects of PFL focuses on children’s outcomes. Earlier work on the impacts of unpaid leave provided through the FMLA shows that it led to small increases in birthweight and large reductions in infant mortality rates. However, these health benefits were apparent only for children of relatively advantaged mothers, which is consistent with prior evidence that such mothers were most likely to be eligible for, and able to afford to use, unpaid leave.
In contrast, mothers and children from less advantaged backgrounds particularly benefit from access to paid leave. One study shows that the introduction of paid maternity leave through the SDI system in five states led to a reduction in the share of low birthweight and preterm births, especially for unmarried and black mothers.
Researchers have also examined the impacts of California’s PFL policy (CA-PFL) on child health. Studies have shown that the introduction of CA-PFL increased breast-feeding rates among new mothers and reduced infant hospitalizations. Other researchers have found evidence of longer-term health effects, especially among disadvantaged children. Specifically, the implementation of CA-PFL was associated with reduced rates of overweight, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and hearing-related problems among elementary school–age children. These health issues are inversely related to breast-feeding and prompt medical checkups during infancy and positively associated with prenatal stress and nonparental care, which are all plausibly affected through the availability of PFL.
The evidence from Canada and Europe on the child health effects of PFL is more mixed. Early research that compared PFL programs across European countries found that policies that provided longer leaves were associated with lower child mortality rates, but other differences between countries with more and less generous policies could confound these correlations. Two studies on the introduction of PFL policies in Norway found benefits for children: One showed that the implementation of paid maternity leave in 1977 led to a decline in children’s future high school dropout rates and an increase in children’s future wages at age thirty, while the other found that the 1993 introduction of leave earmarked specifically for fathers improved school performance at age sixteen for children whose fathers were more educated than their mothers were. In contrast to the research on the introduction of PFL, numerous studies have found little to no effect on child health outcomes of extending preexisting PFL in Canada and Europe. However, these findings are not necessarily informative for policy in the United States. First, the effect of expanding already generous PFL entitlements may be very different from the effect of introducing paid leave for the first time. Second, the social safety net and other programs in those countries tend to be more generous. Thus, the potential gains to be had in the US may be greater than these studies suggest.
Much less research has focused on the maternal and paternal health effects of access to PFL. To date, this research suggests that the introduction of PFL may have health benefits for mothers, whereas the extension of existing leave has less effect. A study on the introduction of paid maternity leave in Norway in 1977 found that it had beneficial medium- and long-term health effects for mothers, including improvements in body mass index, blood pressure, pain, and mental health, and that it increased healthy behaviors such as exercise and not smoking. The authors also studied subsequent reforms that lengthened the paid leave entitlement and found diminishing maternal health returns as leave length increased. Research using Canadian data found that an increase in PFL length from six months to one year had no effect on self-reported maternal health.
One study provided correlational evidence of negative maternal health outcomes related to mothers’ return to work during their children’s infancy. The authors found that in the US, among mothers of six-month-old infants, maternal work hours were positively associated with depressive symptoms and self-reported parenting stress and negatively associated with self-rated overall health. Another study showed that for mothers who worked before childbirth and returned to work in the first year, having less than twelve weeks of maternity leave and having less than eight weeks of paid maternity leave were both associated with increases in depressive symptoms, and having less than eight weeks of paid leave was associated with a reduction in overall health status.
To our knowledge, there has been no research using natural experiment or policy reform designs on the effect that taking leave has on fathers’ health. Correlational studies using Swedish data found a negative association between taking parental leave in the first 30–135 days of an infant’s life and all-cause mortality as well as alcohol-related deaths for new fathers, but other differences between fathers who did and those who did not take leave might have confounded the relationship.
Several policy takeaways are evident from the research to date. Paid leave, in contrast to unpaid leave, increases leave usage and duration, especially among disadvantaged parents who are least able to afford unpaid time off. But even in states with nearly universal PFL eligibility, leave use is not equal across workers. One study found that in California, workers with low earnings and who were employed in small firms were less likely to use CA-PFL, compared to their counterparts with higher wages and in larger firms. This evidence suggests that higher wage replacement rates and universal access to job protection (which is currently provided only to workers in larger firms who qualify for the FMLA) may be important for increasing leave take-up.
Moreover, the available evidence suggests that the introduction of leave of up to six months to one year may yield child and maternal health benefits in the short and long run. Studies on leave expansions in other countries suggest decreasing marginal benefits to leave beyond this length.
In 2017 and 2018, the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution convened two working groups of experts to discuss the costs and benefits of PFL and to develop a plan for a federal PFL program for policy makers’ consideration. They released two reports, one with a plan for a proposed PFL program and another highlighting disagreements within the group regarding a plan for family care leave.
Various PFL programs have also been proposed by policy makers. More than twenty states have pending PFL legislation. At the federal level, the Democratic-sponsored Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act was put before Congress for the fourth time in February 2019. The FAMILY Act would create a paid leave program, funded by a new payroll tax, within the Social Security Administration and would cover all family-related caregiving for up to twelve weeks. Other current federal proposals include six weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers, funded by the Unemployment Insurance system, as requested in the 2019 budget of President Donald Trump. Additionally, in August 2018, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced in Congress the Economic Security for New Parents Act, which would allow parents to delay retirement and use their future Social Security benefits for two months of parental leave to care for newborns.
Future Research Needs
Despite the wealth of existing research on PFL, important knowledge gaps remain. First, as discussed above, we know little about the health effects of PFL on parents—especially fathers.
Second, nearly all of the current research focuses on leave surrounding the birth of a child. There is almost no evidence on how leave taken to care for an ill family member affects population health.
Third, more research is needed to understand how PFL legislation affects employers. We know little about how employers deal with work interruptions due to employees’ taking leave or whether employers respond to PFL mandates by changing their own benefit packages, hiring practices, or other aspects of jobs.
Finally, there is little evidence of the health effects of specific PFL features—the length of leave, the level of wage replacement, or whether employees get job protection while on leave. One study shows that a higher weekly benefit amount for CA-PFL did not increase leave duration, but might promote job continuity and future program participation (or paid leave taking) among high-earning mothers. Similar research on the health effects of different leave features might help inform PFL policy structure. This type of research may be possible as the newly enacted state PFL laws take effect in the coming years or as additional states pass their own PFL programs.
FMLA Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know
FMLA for pregnancy: Frequently Asked Questions
When a person takes time off from work when they give birth to a child, it is called “Maternity Leave.”
While some companies have policies that give expecting mothers and their partners paid time off, most often those individuals have to use short-term disability, sick leave, vacation, personal days, and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to spend time with their new baby. There are many frequently asked questions about FMLA.
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act? FMLA is a requirement that larger employers give their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with serious health conditions either for themselves or for an ill family member. This leave is dictated by FMLA.
Can I use the FMLA for pregnancy leave? Because giving birth to a child or dealing with the complications surrounding the birth is considered a serious health condition according to FMLA, then yes, you can use FMLA for pregnancy leave.
There are three different types of leave under FMLA: adoption, postpartum conditions, and parental leave for child care. If a doctor decides that additional leave is required for the patient, then those employees will be allowed to use FMLA.
With parental leave under FMLA, parents who have adopted a child may also use FMLA. This can be used at any time within the first year after the child is adopted.
Another type of leave it intermittent parental leave. Sometimes new parents want to only work part-time after they have their child, or they may want to take time off immediately following the birth or adoption of their child.
Do I qualify for FMLA leave? FMLA applies to employees if they have worked for a company that has more than 50 employees.
FMLA also applies to Federal, state, and local government workers. In this case, employees must have worked for the government entity for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours in the previous year.
Is my leave paid when I take FMLA for pregnancy? There are few employers who offer paid pregnancy or parental leave, so you may or may not have paid leave available to you.
Can I be denied FMLA for pregnancy? Mothers and fathers cannot be denied FMLA unpaid leave under the Act. The law requires that employers allow employees under FMLA to return to the job they left or to a similar job with the same salary, benefits and working conditions as they had before.
Your Rights Under FMLA
FMLA requirements can vary based on a company’s size, the mother’s employment status, and other aspects. Therefore, if you are going to be having a child — or you’ve already given birth — it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the maternity leave rights at your job.
Some companies don’t pay their employees much, or at all while on FMLA leave, it’s nice to be able to get some continuing compensation while you’re not at work because you had a child.
While you may not think you are entitled to paid time off, you do have some guaranteed time off through FMLA.
Using Your FMLA Leave for Different Reasons
You could potentially have seven weeks off from work for pregnancy. You could take three weeks of FMLA leave, and then another two weeks of paid time off or sick time after you give birth. While you may use all of your FMLA leave all at once, the reason for the leave is important because the rules are a bit different for each.
First, you can intermittently use FMLA parenting leave (like if you return to work part-time), but your employer has to agree. You can also take FMLA leave until the baby is one-year old. For example, if you use only six weeks of FMLA leave for the actual birth/recovery and then returned to work, you would still have six weeks of parenting leave to use during that year.
Regarding spouses, employers can tell spouses that they may take 12 weeks of time off. Note that this rule is only for same-sex or opposite-sex couples – not unmarried couples.
In addition to the FMLA, there are other federal and state laws that allow you to have time off work for pregnancy and parenting.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, temporary disability due to pregnancy has the same benefits as any other temporary disability.
What is Maternity Leave and How Long is Maternity Leave?
Maternity leave is the period of time when a mother stops working because she is about to have — or has just had (or adopted) — a baby.
Some companies offer partially paid leave or a program that may technically be a sick leave or short-term disability policy that pays you during your leave of absence.
Some companies offer partially paid leave or a program that may technically be a sick leave or short-term disability policy that pays you during your leave of absence.
Can I Take Both Paid and Unpaid Maternity Leave?
If you’re fortunate enough to receive paid maternity leave, your paid leave and FMLA run concurrently — meaning that the time you take off for paid maternity leave counts toward your 12-week FMLA protection
The federal and state laws may protect your job with unpaid maternity leave.
Some companies offer unpaid leave policies on top of their paid leave or STD-supported maternity leave
Due to varying situations, some people may choose to work part-time initially, which affects how much they are paid and how many benefits they receive.
If you work officially in any way, however, this can also change what short-term disability payments you receive, since those funds are determined based on your inability to work. Therefore, if you need to be on maternity leave for a loner time, you should save up any personal, sick, and vacation days that you have available to you before you give birth.
What If I Decide Not to Go Back to Work?
If you decide to not go back to work after having your baby, which some people choose and which is a personal choice that you are entitled to, then you may have to pay back part of whatever benefits you were paid. Ensure that you discuss this option with your HR department before you make a choice.
While being fired is less than desirable under any circumstance, it is particularly challenging when you are expecting or after you have a new baby. You do have certain rights to defend, though, so if you think that your employer is wrong for firing you, or that you experienced any pregnancy discrimination, be sure to consult an attorney about your options
If you qualify for FMLA leave, then your company must continue your health insurance benefits while you are on leave. However, the company does have the right request reimbursement of insurance or other benefit premium payments if you choose to not come back to work after your FMLA leave.
Regarding PTO and other accrued benefits, FMLA doesn’t require employers apply accruals while you are on FMLA leave. This goes for any seniority calculations as well.
This may include vacation time or sick time accrual or the amount of seniority time if it means you qualify for raises or other improvements based on seniority. It can include participation in the 401(k) plan or stock vesting policies as well.
Most companies that offer fully-paid maternity leave (not through STD policies) also pay to cover your other employment benefits during this period.
You should request leave as soon as you are ready to tell your boss that you are expecting. Usually, this happens when it becomes visible that you are pregnant.
The day you start your leave is up to you. Sometimes people only start their leave on the day they go into labor, while others plan to stop working on their due date if they haven’t gone into labor yet.
Other times, expectant mothers decide to start their leave before their due date and before they go into labor. This helps them have more time to prepare.
You may also be able to use short-term disability payments to take leave if your doctor says you need to stop working early.
Other Ways to Extend Your Leave
You can also try to extend your leave using vacation time, sick leave, and other types of personal days.
Requesting More Time Off
If you need more time off, you should discuss it with human resources to see if you can take an unpaid leave of absence or unpaid disability leave. You may even be able to work from home for a while.
Some additional things to understand about FMLA include knowing that if you and your spouse both work at the same company, then the FMLA will only cover one of you. This means that you might need to reserve FMLA for the last option for leave. Be sure to give your boss notice when you plan to take FMLA for childbirth.
While the regulations are fairly clear, there is always a possibility that your employer could disagree with your request for leave.
Preparing for Maternity Leave
If you are planning on taking maternity leave, get everything ready at work before you go. Be flexible when things don’t go exactly as planned. In fact, you will want to be flexible even with the day you start your maternity leave just in case you are early or late on delivery. Also, you should be the one making decisions. If you will have a temporary replacement or someone taking over your duties while you’re gone, then train them appropriately. Keep in contact with your boss as well, and don’t be afraid to communicate via email when you can, just to make sure you have as much information as you need to keep things running smoothly at work in your absence.
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How the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family Medical Leave Act Provide Leave for Pregnant Employees
Family, Medical, and Other Leave Discrimination, FMLA, Pregnancy Discrimination
If you’re an employee who is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you’ve probably wondered whether you’ll be able to take the necessary time off from work for the care and birth of your child. You might already know that there are several laws that deal with pregnancy and leave, but you may not be quite sure exactly how they relate to each other or affect you.
This blog post aims to discuss some of these laws, in particular how the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) compares to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) with respect to your right to leave as a pregnant employee.
Leave Under the PDA and FMLA
The PDA makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of the employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PDA’s purpose is to stop discrimination.
On the other hand, the purpose of the FMLA is to allow employees to take time off from work to care for themselves or a family member without worrying about losing their job. The FMLA requires a certain amount of unpaid leave for eligible employees due to that employee’s or family member’s serious health condition.
On their face, the PDA and FMLA are unrelated and have no effect on each other; one deals with employee leave, and the other with discrimination. However, the PDA can require leave for pregnant employees in certain situations.
For example, if an employer provides leave (whether paid or unpaid) for sick or temporarily disabled employees, the employer will be hard pressed to deny the same amount of leave to a pregnant employee without violating the PDA. Of course, if the employer doesn’t provide any leave to employees, it won’t need to provide leave to a pregnant employee, at least with respect to PDA compliance.
Contrast this with the FMLA, which requires that an employer provide unpaid leave to a pregnant employee for any pregnancy-related medical reason that creates any period of incapacity. Examples include prenatal doctor visits and the birth of a child.
PDA and FMLA Eligibility
Unless an employer provides generous leave to its pregnant, sick, or temporarily disabled employees, the FMLA is more likely than the PDA to give pregnant employees leave. However, the requirements to become eligible under the FMLA are stricter than the PDA.
The PDA applies to employers that have 15 or more employees, while the FMLA only applies if there are 50 or more employees. Additionally, the FMLA requires that the employee have worked with the employer for at least 12 months with 1,250 worked hours within the last 12 months. The PDA has no time requirements to become eligible for its protections.
More information on FMLA eligibility and PDA requirements can be found at the United States Department of Labor’s “Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act” and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s “Fact Sheet for Small Businesses: Pregnancy Discrimination.”
Summing It Up
The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, while the FMLA provides leave to eligible employees for their or a family member’s serious health conditions, including pregnancy-related medical care.
The PDA can require leave for pregnant employees, but only if leave is offered to other employees similarly situated, such as sick or temporarily disabled employees. The FMLA requires leave for all employees who are eligible.
To be eligible for leave under the FMLA, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months with 1,250 hours worked within the last 12 months. The employer must also have at least 50 employees. The PDA does not have a time worked requirement and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
Pregnancy, the FMLA and ADA
Posted on October 6, 2015 By Randy C. Gepp Posted In Americans With Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the primary statute affording pregnant employees the right to leave. The FMLA provides for up to 12 workweeks of unpaid job-protected leave to qualifying employees for pregnancy. Many employers may not be aware that in addition to rights under the FMLA, pregnant employees may also have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA provides for pregnancy-related leave in limited circumstances. Specifically, a pregnant employee experiencing complications that limit a major life activity may be considered disabled under the ADA and entitled to its protections, including reasonable accommodations.
While the ADA does not automatically provide for pregnancy leave, employers should be aware of its protections and their obligations. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating in all aspects of employment against qualified individuals because of disability and requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabilities if they can do so without suffering undue hardship.
To determine whether a pregnant employee is entitled to ADA protection, an employer must determine both (1) whether the individual is qualified and (2) whether she has a covered disability. Employers may have a duty to provide an accommodation such as providing additional leave, making facilities more accessible, restructuring the applicable job, or allowing a change in a work schedule.
A reasonable accommodation may include allowing an employee to telecommute. Employers that terminate employees after 12 weeks of FMLA leave may be violating the ADA as extended leave is a possible accommodation. This raises difficult issues because an employer may not know that a pregnant employee has a disability and there are no guidelines on the amount of additional leave an employer must give to a pregnant employee under the ADA.
Employers should review their policies and practices for granting leave and alternative work schedules to pregnant employees, especially when they take leave due to complications. Policies that require termination of a pregnant employee after a set period of time may violate the ADA.