Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is temporary absence from work immediately before or after the birth or adoption of a newborn. Originally, these policies were designed to support the recovery of the birth mother and allow time for the infant to bond with the mother. Currently, in the U.S., this leave of absence extends to both parents under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Planning your maternity leave includes preparing as much as possible for unexpected financial situations and allowing preferred time to enjoy your new baby. There are several ways to ensure that you will receive income during your leave. Most often, payment is generated by combining benefits available to you from your employer.

What Is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave - now referred to as Parental Leave – refers to the 12 weeks that most workers are entitled to take under the Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA]. It is important to understand what the FMLA actually provides for and what workers are covered.

  • Guarantees unpaid leave for up to 12-weeks
  • Guarantees that you may return to your job at the end of your leave
  • Allows your employer to determine which benefits – if any – are used to pay for your leave
  • Allows your employer to dictate the order in which benefits are applied to your leave status

In addition to the Federal law, your state, local area or company may have Parental Leave Policies in place. Benefits differ from state to state and company to company.

How to Find Out If You Are Entitled to Unpaid Maternity Leave?

The first step is to ask your employer what policies apply to your situation including what benefits you are eligible to use during your leave. In some companies as well as the rules under FMLA, you must be employed with them for more than 12 consecutive months and worked at least 1250 hours during that period. To be covered by the act, the company must have 50 or more employees working in a 75-mile radius from the workplace.

Approximately ¾ of American workers are covered by the federal law. This law covers both parents regardless of gender, reduction in salary or loss of benefits for both birth and adoption.

There are a few exceptions even for those protected under the Act including:

  • If you are in the top 10% of earners in your organization plus your company can prove that your absence will cause irreparable harm to the organization, the employer has the right to replace you.
  • If both prospective parents work for the same organization, the employer has the right to combine the 12-weeks as if only one parent is taking leave.
  • If your position is eliminated, your employer must offer you a equivalent job at the same rate of pay and benefits that you had prior to your leave

For those included under the protection of the FMLA, maternity leave can be taken in any way that you and your employer agree upon beginning with the duration of your pregnancy up to 12 months after your child is born.

Will Your Benefits Stay the Same During Maternity Leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act requires your employer to keep the health insurance plan in which you are enrolled prior to the pregnancy. There are stipulations to that provision such as:

  • Your employer may require that you reimburse them for any premiums paid on your behalf during your absence.
  • If your job is eliminated or you give your notice, your employer has the right to stop paying your premiums and place you on COBRA benefits.
  • If you leave your job, your employer has the right to reimbursement of monies spent on health insurance unless you can show evidence that the reason for not returning is due to a substantial medical condition or other situation out of your control such as spousal transfer to another location.
  • Employers are not required to continue your seniority clock time or to continue to accrue benefits such as vacation or sick days.
  • You will not be eligible to contribute to your 401k during your absence since there are no “pre-tax dollars” to contribute.

When and How Should You Request Maternity Leave?

The federal law mandates that you must request maternity leave a minimum of 30 days prior to the dates you seek to be absent. It is better to discuss the time you want to take leave with your boss as soon as you have determined the dates and amount of time you wish take. This approach allows your employer time to cover your duties.

For specific rules of maternity leave at your business, talk to the HR manager or your immediate supervisor. Fill out the necessary paperwork with all supporting documents and signatures in place in a timely manner.

How does Short-Term Disability Work?

The purpose of short-term disability is to cover a portion of your salary while you are absent due to childbirth, illness or injury. This is a benefit that is offered by large employers, private insurance companies and states.

It is not automatic and you must choose the coverage at the time that you enroll in healthcare under your company’s plan. If your employer or private insurer does not offer this coverage, your state may have provisions to cover you. If short-term disability is not available in any other way, there are private policies exclusively for STD.

Disability payments are proportional to your salary. Most disability coverage mandates that you are out of work for at least a week before benefits begin. Most also require that all vacation days, sick leave and other paid days off are used prior to beginning time covered.

In most cases, you will be required to pay taxes on disability income for maternity leave whether that insurance is through your employer, private insurer or the state. Short-term disability usually pays for 6-weeks.

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