Maternity Leave

Maternity leave refers to the period of time that a new mother takes off from work following the birth of her baby. Many companies have similar policies for fathers, which allow for paternity leave. Maternity leave is usually created from various benefits that include sick leave, vacation, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability, and unpaid family leave time.

It is important to plan your maternity leave so that you and your family do not experience any unexpected financial challenges and you can make the most of your time with your baby.

What is Short-Term Disability?

Short-term disability is a type of coverage that pays your salary, or at least a portion of it, for a certain number of weeks because of medically related needs. Larger companies frequently include this benefit, and some states have mandates requiring that it is included in your benefits.

You may also purchase this type of coverage from your local insurance provider. The percentages paid and the lengths of time of coverage vary. The coverage time may also be affected by complicated births (i.e. cesarean delivery), so it is important to confirm what your policy covers.

It is possible that you may have coverage from multiple avenues, so it is important to confirm what the policies are with your company. It is also important to ensure that coverage begins before you conceive because you would become ineligible after conception. Any monies paid to you from your employer are taxable, but it is possible that this may be offset by the new deduction that comes with your new baby.

How long is maternity leave?

Most companies allow you to use your sick, vacation, and holiday time towards your maternity leave. Some companies require that you use these benefits first before using any disability or unpaid time. It is important to check with your human resources department to confirm the policies related to using your sick, vacation, and holiday time in relation to your maternity leave.

Also, question any restrictions on how it is used with disability and/or unpaid leave time.

How does unpaid leave work?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA applies to both men and women and is also available for those that adopt a child.
If the parents work for the same company, the 12 weeks is then divided between the two of them and is an accumulation of both of their time (i.e., each could take 6 weeks off, or one could take 4 weeks while the other takes 8 weeks).
There are exceptions to the FMLA which release a business from the obligation of allowing unpaid time off. These exceptions include the size of the company (less than 50 employees), the time of employment (less than 12 months), and level of wages (top 10%).
Employees with incomes that account for the top 10% of wages for the business may not have access to the unpaid benefit if the company can show with evidence that your absence creates significant financial harm to the organization. Some states have family leave acts that are broader than the federal mandate.
Check with your human resource department regarding your family leave time:

  • Determine if there is a state family leave mandate.
  • Find the policies and restrictions on using vacation, sick, and unpaid time together.
  • Check with your boss about any concerns related to your time away.
  • Inquire about what happens to your benefits while you are on leave, whether or not anything changes, and who pays your premiums while you are on leave.

For families who can afford it, unpaid family leave is an excellent opportunity to further bond with your baby, establish the baby’s routine, get rest, and organize things around the house. It is even more important to plan your maternity leave when you are using unpaid leave because there is a greater probability of experiencing financial challenges.

When should I take my maternity leave?

Some women begin taking their leave a week to a month before the expected birth because of discomfort or the desire for time to prepare. Others wait until the last moment so they can maximize their time with the baby once it arrives.
The FMLA requires that you provide your employer with at least a 30-day notice of your intentions to take unpaid family time. Your boss will appreciate any additional advance notice to plan around the time you are absent.

Recommendations for Maternity Leave:

There are a number of things you can do to make your maternity leave the best possible for both you and your employer:

  • Check-in with your human resources department to find out the details about your maternity leave options. This will help you plan for your best maternity leave options.
  • Sit down with your partner and evaluate what time you can afford to take. It is better for you and your employer to know the plan ahead of schedule.
  • After completing your first trimester, start the communication with human resources and those affected by your leave to help all parties prepare. Some employers are less friendly to pregnancy than others. You may need to evaluate the best time to share the news based on previous experiences you have witnessed in the office.
  • Provide your boss with suggestions and strategies to address your duties while you are gone, insights on what projects you are working on, and suggested co-workers to meet your responsibilities while on leave. This can help overcome the potential concerns noted above.

For Additional Information:
U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division 200 Constitution Ave, NW Washington, DC 20210 1-866-487-9243

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. U.S. Department of Labor

2. U.S. Government Publishing Office