Family leave laws (also known as maternity or paternity leave laws) allow employees to take time off from work to care for a new child. Under federal law, employers are required to provide only unpaid leave to their workers. However, some states have closed this gap and now have laws granting employees paid short-term disability benefits or paid leave for pregnancy-related conditions. A few states also offer paid leave benefits for parenting. If you live in one of these states, you may use the most generous pregnancy benefits given under either state or federal law.
There are two federal laws that address the issue of pregnancy leave in the workplace. Employers who don't allow employees to take time off according to these laws can be sued in a private civil action for violations of these laws.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), an employee can take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave for their own serious health condition (including pregnancy and prenatal care) or for parenting, among other things. Parenting leave must be taken within one year of the child’s birth. You can take up to 12 weeks off for all covered reasons. So, if you use three weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you will have nine weeks left to use for parenting.
The FMLA applies to both male and female employees. You are protected under the FMLA if you meet the following conditions:
The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor investigates violations of the FMLA.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prevents employers from discriminating against pregnant women in the workplace. The PDA covers acts of discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or associated medical conditions. Basically, employers are not allowed to make employment-related decisions based on a woman’s pregnancy, such as hiring and firing, seniority, and giving benefits and sick leave. However, employers are not required to give preferential treatment to pregnant employees.
The PDA applies to businesses employing at least fifteen employees.
To make a claim under the PDA, you will need to show that your employer treated you differently than non-pregnant employees in similar situations. For instance, if your employer routinely gave time off work to employees with other temporary disabilities, like a bad back or broken leg, but didn't give time off to you or other employees who were unable to work due to pregnancy, you would have a strong claim that your employer was discriminating.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates charges of discrimination under the PDA.
Many states have passed their own version of the FMLA. The state law may provide additional benefits than the federal law, such as a longer leave of absence.
In addition, a handful of states have started offering paid short-term disability benefits to all qualified employees in the state. These short-term disability plans allow you to receive a portion of your pay if you are unable to work due to injury to illness, including pregnancy. A few states also offer paid family leave benefits, which you can use to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. The following states offer paid short-term disability benefits for pregnancy or paid family leave for the birth of a child.
California has a short-term disability insurance (SDI) program that provides eight to ten weeks of benefits for a normal pregnancy and childbirth. California's paid family leave program also provides up to six weeks of paid leave for qualified employees. Benefits under both programs are 55% of normal wages. For more information, see our article on California short-term disability.
The District of Columbia provides a varying length of paid family leave to qualified employees based on the size of the employer. Employees must have worked at least one year for the employer without a gap, and at least 1,000 hours in the past 12 months. For more information, see our article on D.C. family leave.
Hawaii provides up to 26 weeks of paid benefits, or as many benefits as the employer’s plan allows, for qualified employees. Employees must have worked at least 14 weeks for their employer, worked at least 20 hours per week, and been paid at least $400 per week. These temporary disability insurance (TDI) benefits are either 58% of your wages or as decided by the employer’s plan. For more information, see our article on Hawaii's TDI benefits.
New Jersey provides up to 26 weeks of paid benefits to qualified employees through its temporary disability insurance (TDI) program. Employees must have worked at least 20 weeks and earned at least $145 per week. Or, they must have earned at least $7,300 in the previous year. Benefits are two-thirds of your average weekly salary. For more information, see our article on New Jersey TDI Benefits.
New York provides up to 26 weeks of paid benefits to qualified employees through its disability benefits (DB) law. Employees must have worked for at least four weeks for their employer. Benefits are limited to 50% of average weekly wages. For more information, see our article on New York's short-term disability benefits (DB) program. In 2018, New York will start phasing in its paid family leave program, which will provide up to 12 weeks of paid benefits to employees who need time off to care for a new child (among other reasons). Learn more about New York's paid family leave benefits.
Rhode Island provides up to 30 weeks of paid short-term disability benefits to qualified employees through temporary disability insurance (TDI). The eligibility and benefit calculations are fairly complicated. This program also includes up to four weeks of temporary caregiver insurance, which employees can use to care for a new child. For more information, see our article on Rhode Island's temporary disability benefits program.
Washington passed a law in 2007 that would provide up to five weeks of paid leave for qualified employees. However, this program has been suspended due to lack of funding. For more information, see our article on Washington family leave.