A Beginners Guide to Maternity Leave Laws

Get the answers to the top maternity leave law questions

Pregnant businesswoman working in office
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In the United States, maternity leave laws can be confusing. Some states have awesome maternity leave laws and some do not. Some companies offer outstanding maternity leave and other offer nothing.If you're pregnant you need answers in a jiffy because there is much to plan! Let's address your top maternity leave law questions.

How Long Can You Legally Take Maternity Leave?

The short answer is that, according to U.S. law, you can take 12 weeks of leave.

Here's the long answer with the facts. In 1993 President Bill Clinton passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects the job of any worker who takes time away from work due to a serious illness, a sick family member, or to care for a newborn, adopted or foster child.

The law says that if you have worked for your company for 12-months and have worked at least 1,250 hours and the company has 50 or more employees within 75-miles you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period under certain circumstances.  For more information on FMLA check out the U.S. Department of Labor FMLA page.

How Long Is the Average Maternity Leave?

Your doctor will say your body needs six weeks to recover from childbirth and eight weeks if you had a c-section. FMLA will protect your job for 12 weeks, but (and that's a big "but") it is unpaid. So, the real question is how long can you afford to take an unpaid leave?

Your choice may come down to money. If your company allows you to use sick time, vacation time, personal time and also offers short-term disability, you may be paid for some of your leave. Now would be a good time to start crunching the numbers.

Just like there is no average pregnancy, there is no average maternity leave. You have many options you need to investigate. Then you'll decide the right length of time you can afford.

How Does Short Term Disability (STD) Work for Maternity Leave?

Short-term disability will offer you six weeks pay for a normal childbirth and eight weeks for a c-section. The rest of your maternity leave will be unpaid and job-protected with FMLA. Short-term disability won't cover your entire paycheck, but it will cover a good chunk of it (check your HR manager for the details).

STD doesn't start paying out right away. You need to wait for an "elimination period", in which the insurance company confirms your disability. Your disability is that you gave birth to a child. You'll need to account for this in your budget if you have bills due during this time period.

Which States Offer Paid Maternity (Family) Leave?

Out of the 50 United States, only three offer a paid maternity leave. They are California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island and on January 1, 2018, New York will join this list.

Do You Get Paid When You Are on Maternity Leave?

If you live in the USA, you do not get paid by the federal government while on maternity leave. Hopefully one day the USA will join the rest of the world and offer a paid family leave. Our government is working on it. 

This law has not been passed by it's good to be in the know.  The Family and Medical Insurance leave (FMLI) or FAMILY Act was introduced to the US House of Representatives in 2013.  The Act proposes paid maternity leave.  With FMLA, it's not guaranteed paid so the FAMILY Act proposes to support US families by offering something that almost all other nations are paid leave. Click here to read the bill and its status.

Which States Have Their Own Maternity Leave Laws?

14 of the 50 of the states in the US offer their own maternity laws. This is a small number but the good news is that many states are working on some family-friendly workplace laws. If you want to check out what your state is offering their residents check out The National Conference of State Legislatures site which keeps an updated list of state maternity leave laws.

Consider this article a beginners guide to maternity leave. There are many elements that can predict what your maternity leave will be like. They are what your company is like, what their maternity leave policy is, and if they offer Short Term Disability. Then you need to find out what your state offers you (although your HR department will know this information). Next, what your finances look like. Once you have all of this information you'll be able to decide.


U.S. Labor Department

The National Conference of State Legislatures.