A Guide to Maternity Leave Laws by State: Know Your Rights
While the United States has come a long way in terms of maternity leave, the country is still behind compared to other nations in laws requiring time off and lack of nationally mandated paid leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act dictates the rules in place for taking a leave from and returning to work amid pregnancy, birth, and postpartum stages. Unlike many other nations, in the U.S., there is no requirement for paid time off following a birth, though twelve weeks of unpaid leave are required by law for the majority of workplaces. And while you are away, you cannot be replaced or overlooked for pay raises and other promotions.
Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant people still face a great amount of inequity in the workforce. It's crucial to be aware of both national and local laws when planning to take leave from a job during pregnancy and after having a child. Having paid maternity leave gives you more time to bond with your new child and recover, though not all companies offer this. If you will have to take unpaid leave, it's a good idea to plan and budget accordingly to be able to take time to bond with your newborn, but temporary disability is available in some places to help cover the loss of income.
To get ready for maternity leave or parental leave, find how much employee leave time you are able to take and decide how you will use it. Research the laws in your state and company in terms of time off, a disability insurance plan, and pay during your leave. You'll need to gather paperwork and have meetings with your human resources department to complete the process as well, and other workers who have been through the process may be able to offer thoughts and advice.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Passed in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits job discrimination and gives pregnant women the same rights as others with "medical conditions." This law applies to companies employing 15 or more people. Stipulations include:
- Your employer cannot fire you because you are pregnant.
- Your employer cannot force you to take mandatory maternity leave.
- You must be granted the same health, disability, and sick-leave benefits as any other employee who has a medical condition.
- You must be given modified tasks, alternate assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay as needed (this depends on company policy).
- You are allowed to work as long as you can perform your job.
- During your leave, you are guaranteed job security.
- While on leave, you continue to accrue seniority and remain eligible for pay increases and benefits.
This discrimination law protects you from being treated differently than other employees due to pregnancy. While this is generally good, it also means that if your company doesn't provide job security or benefits to other employees with disabilities, it doesn't have to provide them to you either.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) under the U.S. Department of Labor was put in place to ensure employers offer workers leave after having a child. Passed in 1993, this act covers companies with 50 or more people. Under this law, people who give birth can take twelve weeks of unpaid time off. Companies and individual states may have their own rules in place about pay. During this time, however, health insurance must still be made available, even if someone takes advantage of short-term disability leave. This law also applies to fathers and non-birthing parents.
However, there is a caveat to being able to take advantage of this benefit. In order to qualify for the 12 weeks of time off, eligible employees must have worked at their company for a minimum of a 12-month period, according to The Family and Medical Leave Act. Dads are also entitled to paternity leave. Fathers who have worked for a company for a year also have eligibility for 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. And for both parents, this time can either be taken all at once or broken up within your baby's first year.
Your rights to maternity leave begin as soon as your doctor rules that you are no longer able to work, which can be up until you start going into labor. A health condition may make this happen earlier. To find out details about your company's leave policy, get in touch with your human resources department.
See the FMLA website for full stipulations.
State Laws on Family Leave
While FMLA is a federal law on paid family and medical leave that applies to employee rights everywhere in the United States, some areas and workplaces offer additional benefits to new parents. State laws for new parents vary, and in some regions, more time and protections are available to mothers, fathers, and parents following the birth of a child or an adoption.
Nine states in America currently have pay mandates for new parents under Paid Family Medical Leave:
- Massachusetts is known to have the best leave policies in place for new parents. The state gives up to 12 weeks of paid time off following the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child.
- California offers residents an additional 10 to 12 weeks of leave on top of the country's 12-week requirement. Eight of those weeks will be paid.
- Colorado currently offers 12 weeks of unpaid time-off, but starting in 2024, parents can apply for the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, which provides up to 12 weeks paid time off for qualifying parents.
- New Jersey has a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program as well, and it gives parents 12 weeks of paid time off to bond with their new child. You can apply to this program online.
- Connecticut offers both unpaid leave and paid leave insurance. Under the state's new law that went into effect in January 2022, mothers can take advantage of Connecticut Family and Medical Leave and also apply for CT Paid Leave Appeals to cover up to 12 weeks of paid time off from work following the birth of a child.
- New York gives new birthing or adoptive parents the chance to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off at 67 percent of their pay to bond with their child.
- Oregon has separate laws in place in addition to FMLA for parents who work at smaller companies of up to 25 employees in comparison to workplaces with 50 or more people, and workers only have to work 180 days before eligibility for this benefit.
- Rhode Island offers 13 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but mothers and new parents who apply for Temporary Disability can get up to five weeks paid time off to bond with their newborn.
- Washington workers who have worked at least 820 hours in a qualifying period can apply for paid leave under the state's new legislation. This coverage includes full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees.
All other states offer 12 weeks of FMLA leave, but currently do not provide any additional benefits to parents.
Maternity Leave for Part-time and Contract Workers
Part-time maternity leave varies depending on a few factors. Similar to the situation full-time workers face, the size of your company and the length of time you've been working there play a part. If you've worked 24 hours a week for at least a year, as a part-time worker, you are eligible for the same benefits as full-timers.
While temporary employees can utilize FMLA under the same requirements of part-time and full-time workers, there are no federal laws in place for contract workers to take leave following the birth of a child. Companies may still be willing to work with you or have their own policy for this situation, so contact your organization's human resources representative for more information.
Temporary Disability Insurance
Taking time after the birth of a child to recover and get to know your new family member is very important, but despite the laws put in place to guarantee respite from work, some companies will only pay you for a portion — if any — of your time off. New expenses come from having a baby, and shortly after, medical bills will start rolling in, so unpaid time off is not always practical for everyone. Many companies require new mothers to use accrued paid time off prior to being able to get disability leave after using the company's allotted paid leave, but once that amount is up, you're not out of options.
This is where disability insurance comes into play. Following giving birth, mothers and new parents can take temporary disability leave, which will cover a portion of their pay as they recover and bond with their newborn. Short-term or long-term disability benefits for pregnant mothers vary by state and cover from 50 to 100 percent of pay in the time taken off. Depending on the type of birth and any complications, this may be covered for longer.
Returning to Work After Leave
The Family Medical Leave Act requires companies to restore employees who have taken leave due to the birth of a child to be restored to an equivalent role with the same benefits upon coming back to work. Work with human resources ahead of time to keep them informed on the amount of time off you want to take and get any questions you have answered. If there are other new mothers in your department who had a child, asking them what the process to set up FMLA was like for them can be helpful as well.
When it's time to go back to the workplace, get in touch with human resources as well as your direct manager in regard to your return. It will be a transition after time away. Get your childcare set up squared away, and make a pumping plan if you wish to continue breastfeeding. Legally, workplaces are required to give mothers breaks and a private space to express milk for their child through the Federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law.
Maternity Leave and Pregnancy Rights Violations
There are many ways an employer can violate your maternity leave rights, so it's important to know what's not acceptable treatment of pregnant people. If your employer refuses to offer you lighter, alternative work following a temporary disability caused by pregnancy as they would with any other employee who had a disability, they are violating your rights. If coworkers or managers harass or bully you in regards to your pregnancy, frequently contact you regarding work while are on leave, or pressure you in any way to return to work or leave early, this is a violation of your maternity leave rights and protections. If when you return to work, you are not given a private space for pumping breast milk, this is also a violation of your rights.
Violations of maternity leave rights, as well as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, are illegal. If you have been mistreated and believe your rights have been violated, contact the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for help with the next steps. Contacting a lawyer may be an option depending on the severity of the violation. If you have been discriminated against for pregnancy, you can file a job discrimination complaint against your employer with EEOC, and they cannot legally retaliate against you for it.
For more details on planning your maternity leave and the laws set to protect you, check out Managing Your Maternity Leave.