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Maternity leave 101: What is it & how long does it last?

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Many businesses consider maternity leave to be an added expense, and they don’t offer it to their employees if they’re not required to do so. They may not realize that it could cost them more in the long run by not offering it.

Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that states with paid maternity leave policies experienced a 20% reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs within a year of giving birth. It’s apparent that paid maternity leave boosts employee retention and company loyalty.

Do you know what your company’s policy is on maternity leave? Do you know what your state’s laws are concerning maternity leave? This guide will help you understand your rights and options concerning maternity leave so you can be sure that you’re receiving the benefits and treatment you’re entitled to.

Maternity leave definition

Maternity leave is the period of time when a new mother leaves her job following the birth of a child. The mother may request maternity leave to begin before the child’s birth.

Maternity leave is often referred to as “parental leave” as parents of all genders may need time to care for a newborn or recently adopted child. Your company’s policy and state laws will determine if your maternity leave must be paid or if it can be unpaid.

How long is maternity leave?

Whether your employer must offer parental leave depends on the size of the company and the state in which it operates. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), all employees of companies having 50 or more employees are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the birth of a child, serious illness, or caring for a family member.

The policies of the state you reside in may differ from other states on eligibility, length of leave, and if the leave is paid or unpaid. Many states allow pregnancy and childbirth to qualify someone for short-term disability benefits.

There are three forms of maternity leave your employer can offer:

  • Intermittent: This covers one-time occurrences like doctor appointments and minor emergencies
  • Reduced Schedule: your employer can reduce your schedule or workload if your normal workload becomes too much
  • Block of Time: This is an extended period of time off that is usually granted after an employee has given birth or if there are health complications for the mother or the baby preceding birth that requires the employee to take time off.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA provides all new parents – including fathers and parents who’ve adopted a child – with 12 weeks of unpaid leave. FMLA is independent of a company’s maternity leave policy, which typically is six to eight weeks and can be either paid or unpaid.

If your company offers parental leave, in addition to the FMLA’s twelve weeks, it’s important to know that the company time off is subtracted from the FMLA’s twelve weeks. In other words, you can’t take eight weeks of maternity leave from your company and then begin the 12 weeks of FMLA.

FMLA applies to employees of any business that has 50+ employees and who have been employed there for a minimum of twelve months. Under the FMLA, a company must:

  • Provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child
  • Continue the employee’s health insurance coverage
  • Allow the employee to return to their same job or a job with equivalent salary and benefits

Learn More: What is FMLA?

Maternity leave laws by state

There are currently six states, and Washington D.C., that offer paid family and medical leave:

  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Washington

In these states, it is required that employers adhere to all of the provisions of the FMLA and that this leave be paid time off. There are eligibility requirements that will vary by state to qualify for paid FMLA, such as working a certain number of hours. And, each state has its own contribution rates and distribution amounts.

Employers in the six states and D.C. that have paid FMLA must contribute or withhold money from their employees’ wages to allow for paid maternity leave. In other words, depending upon your employer, you may be contributing to your own paid FMLA.

A comprehensive breakdown of maternity leave laws by state can be found below:

StateUnpaid Leave Beyond FMLAWho Qualifies for Paid Leave?How Long Is Paid Leave?Benefits
CACompanies with 5+ employees: Up to 4 months unpaid pregnancy-disability leave if employee is unable to work. Companies with 20+ employees: 12 weeks unpaid leave for new parentsNew parents who earned $300+ in the previous year. If unable to work due to pregnancy, employees can also claim Temporary Disability Insurance8 weeks60-70% of wages up to $1,300 per week. Funded by employee wage deductions
CTAll pregnant employees entitled to 16 weeks unpaid in rolling 24 month period. Companies with 3+ employees must also offer “reasonable” leave for disability due to pregnancyN/AN/AN/A
HINoAll working womenDuration spent physically disabled due to pregnancy/childbirth (usually 6-8 weeks. Up to 6 months)58% of average wages. Employers are required to maintain private coverage or self-insure
IACompanies with 4+ employees must offer 8 weeks unpaid leave, with no minimum tenure requirementN/AN/AN/A
KSCompanies with 4+ employees must offer employees a “reasonable” period of leave when unable to work due to pregnancyN/AN/AN/A
KY6 weeks of unpaid leave available to all employees who adopt a child under the age of 7N/AN/AN/A
LACompanies with 25+ employees must provide 6 weeks of leave (+ 4 months for a pregnancy-related disability)N/AN/AN/A
MACompanies with 6+ employees must offer 8 weeks unpaid leave for birth or adoptionN/AN/AN/A
MECompanies with 15+ employees must offer 10 weeks unpaid leaveN/AN/AN/A
MDCompanies with 15-49 employees must offer 6 weeks unpaid parental leaveN/AN/AN/A
MNCompanies with 21+ employees must provide 12 weeks unpaid leaveN/AN/AN/A
MTAll female employees are entitled to a “reasonable leave of absence for pregnancy”N/AN/AN/A
NHEmployers must grant unpaid leave for temporary disability due to pregnancyN/AN/AN/A
NJCompanies with 30+ employees must offer 12 weeks unpaid leaveAll employeesTypically 4 weeks prior to birth and 6 weeks after for temporary disability, plus 12 (or 8, if taken non-consecutively) further weeks for parental leave85% of average wage (up to $881 per week). Temporarily Disability is funded by employee + employer contributions; Family Leave is funded by payroll deductions
NYAll private sector employers must offer 10 weeks unpaid leaveAll private sector employeesTypically 6-8 weeks for disability due to pregnancy and a further 10 weeks of parental leave once for new parentsTemporary Disability: Up to 50% of salary (up to $170 per week). Funded by employee + employer contributions. Parental Leave: Up to 60% of average salary (up to $840.70 per week). Funded by payroll deductions
OHMost companies must provide 12 weeks unpaid leaveN/AN/AN/A
ORCompanies with 25+ employees must offer 12 weeks unpaid leave for both pregnancy disability and parental leaveN/AN/AN/A
RICompanies with 50+ employees must offer 13 weeks unpaid leaveAll employeesTemporary Disability Insurance for the duration of disability due to pregnancy, followed by 4 additional weeks for new mothersUp to $887 per week. Funded by employee wage deductions
TNCompanies with 100+ employees must offer 4 months unpaid leaveN/AN/AN/A
VTCompanies with 10+ employees must offer 12 weeks unpaid leaveN/AN/AN/A
WAAll employers must offer paid leave but only those with 50+ employees must offer job protectionAll employees (with minimum 820 hours worked)12 weeks (or more in the case of complicationsUp to $1,000 per week. Funded by employee + employer contributions
WISlightly different eligibility requirements than FMLAN/AN/AN/A
DCCompanies with 20+ employees must offer 16 weeks unpaid leaveEmployees who have worked 1,000+ hours in the past year for companies with 20+ employees8 weeksUp to $1,000 per week. Funded by employer tax
PRWhen medically necessary, employee can qualify for 12 weeks unpaid leave (in addition to paid leave)YesGenerally 8 weeks: 4 weeks before and 4 weeks after birthUp to $113 per week. Funded by Employee + employer contributions

Paid maternity leave

Though the FMLA doesn’t require employers to offer paid leave, it’s proven to help retain valuable employees. For many job seekers, it can make a difference with where they decide to work.

There are several ways that employers can offer paid leave:

  • Employer-paid leave: If this option is chosen, the employer pays your entire salary while you’re out on leave. If this proves to be too costly to an employer, they can offer a portion of your pay while you’re away from work.
  • Disability leave: Disability insurance is an option that many employers offer as part of their benefits package. By providing this coverage, an employee can get paid, if they qualify, by the insurance company, which saves the employer from having to pay.
  • Vacation/sick leave: Some employers let their employees use their Paid Time Off (PTO) for parental leave.

Unpaid maternity leave

The chances are good that your employer doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. If you’re currently pregnant or expect to be in the near future, it’s important to confirm the situation where you work.

In case your maternity leave is going to be unpaid, here are three strategies that can help ease some of your financial pressure:

Look into short-term disability insurance

Whether you’re employed full-time, or you’re self-employed, examine this option. Most short-term disability insurance policies cover pregnancy and the postpartum period. Take time to read the fine print to be sure you’ll be satisfied with the coverage you’re receiving.

Apply for short-term disability with family medical leave benefits!

Take on temporary part-time work or ask for more hours at work

If your schedule allows for it, look for some part-time work to save up some money, or ask your employer if you can put in some additional hours working remotely.

Crowdfund it

If you don’t have family members or friends who can help financially, consider starting a crowdfunding campaign for your maternity leave on a site like GoFundMe.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Published May 26, 2021