When a woman takes time off work to have a baby, it’s called maternity leave. In today’s modern age, it’s often referred to as parental or family leave. And despite the fact that it sounds like something only a pregnant woman would be given, both a mother and a father can use maternity leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
Actual paid maternity leave is unusual in the United States, although some companies do offer new parents paid time off, sometimes up to six weeks. Most commonly, however, a combination of short-term disability, or STD, paid personal days, vacation time, or unpaid family leave is used in the event of a birth or adoption. However, not all states let women take short-term disability leave to cover the time during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery.
In the United States, there is a federal law called Family and Medical Leave Act that allows a woman to take 12 weeks off of work and still retain her job or an equally paid position if she has worked for the same company for 12 months or 1,250 hours consecutively. This law was passed in 1993, but it doesn’t cover those employees who work for a smaller company, nor does it promise any paid time off of work. You are among the 60 percent of American workers eligible for FMLA if you work for the federal government, a state or local government, or any company that has more than 50 employees working within 75 miles of your workplace and if you’ve worked an average of 25 hours per week for 50 weeks. Your employer is not required to keep your job open if you are in the highest 10 percent of earners at your company, or if your employer can prove that your absence would cause substantial economic harm to the company or organization. If a husband and wife work for the same company, they may only be entitled to a combined 12 weeks of maternity or parental leave between the two of them.
Maternity leave generally lasts for six weeks, the standard amount of time covered by pregnancy, while some plans allow for more time in the case of complications, cesarean delivery, or bed rest before birth. Depending on which state a person lives in will determine the length of time that will be allowed off work. For example, California paved the way for paid maternity leave in 2002, and Massachusetts and New Jersey are also making considerations to do the same. Because the laws vary so much state to state, it is best to know your rights and the policies of your employer well in advance to taking the time off for maternity leave.
Typically, state short-term disability benefits cover from half up to two-thirds of your salary, and the coverage for pregnancy usually lasts four to six weeks, although it can last up to 12 weeks. For example, in California, you’ll receive 55 percent of your usual salary for up to six weeks in a 12-month period. It may be possible to get coverage for eight weeks or longer after the birth if you’ve had a c-section or medical complications, but your doctor, midwife, or care practitioner must certify it.
If both the state and the company you work for offer short-term disability, you could be required to use the full state benefits and have your employer’s coverage make up the rest. You will still get the same amount of pay as if you were getting your employer’s full benefit, but you’ll get it in two checks: one from the state and another from your company’s provider.
Many maternity leave programs require that you be out of work for up to a week before you can start to collect disability benefits. You may be required by your employer or your state’s program to use up any accrued sick days or vacation days before the disability benefits kick in; those days are paid at your full salary. The best way to find out what you are eligible for in the way of maternity leave is to sit down with your company’s human resources department. You should be able to take your unpaid leave in any way you’d like during your pregnancy or the year after your child is born, as long as your employer agrees to the schedule.