February 7, 2019

What Exactly is Maternity Leave?

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Maternity leave is a hot topic in the United States.  Unfortunately, we have one of the worst policies in all the world.  As ahead of the times this country is, we are far behind
in maternity leave!  For those who are not sure, I’ve cleared up some important aspects for you to know before you go on maternity leave.

First, maternity leave, specifically is the period of time when a mother stops working before having or adopting a baby.  It is also referred to as “family leave”, “family medical leave”, or “parental leave”.  Many workplaces may have an official maternity leave policies but it is not paid.  If it is paid,  this doesn’t necessarily mean its fully paid.  Some companies offer a partially paid leave or a program that requires you to use your short-term disability policy to get paid during your absence.  

Sadly, the United States does not have a standard maternity leave length and American women working in the U.S. who take maternity leave are not guaranteed any maternity leave benefit payments from the federal government.  Most of the time, this leave is unpaid!  We rely of the Family and Medial Leave Act, or FMLA, which allows women to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave after childbirth or adoption. This allows women to return to their position at work without penalty.  The FMLA only applies to companies that hire more than 50 people and you have to have worked a minimum of 1250 hours during the prior year.  This is helpful but women are still stuck with the financial burden of not receiving a paycheck.  Many women I know, have returned to the workplace before this 12 week period because they could not go that long without a paycheck.   

Now, states have begun to incorporate their own maternity policies which is about time!  Twenty-five states have supplemented FLMA protections either by extending the length of the leave or lowing the minimum employer size or even requiring private employers to pay for maternity leave, up to a capped amount.  In March 2016, New York’s legislature approved paid family medial leave for up to 12 weeks effective 2018.  When you take leave, you will get part of your salary replaced by the state. This is definitely a step in the right direction and if you want to learn more about the NY leave, you can read more here.  To read more about other state laws, read here.  

As states are moving to paid parental leave programs, this will allow mothers more flexibility and less anxiety in regards to work and motherhood.  There are also many companies that have their own policies and grant women paid or partially paid maternity leave.  When I gave birth to ChloĆ©, I worked at a company that only granted the 12 weeks of leave but no pay but now I am very fortunate to be at a company that really values family!  They offer 16 weeks of paid leave and there was no minimum time of employment that I had to fulfill.  They also allow me to extend it by four weeks of PTO time.  I was eligible for this benefit from my first day of work.  There are great companies out there that will take care of their employees, its just a matter of finding the right one.

Getting pregnant and having to worry about time off is something all of us working moms have to worry about.  There are so many details that you need to worry about and learn about but there are lots of resources out there to help you understand your rights.  Working moms should not suffer because they choose to start a family.  Hopefully, there will be a day when this country makes parental leave a priority and understands how important it is for babies to bond with their parents.

Thank you for reading,

Andrea

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