Do you need time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting? If you work in Washington, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Washington’s family leave law give you the right to take unpaid leave for these reasons. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also prohibits your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy, which may give you the right to take time off work, in some cases. Washington also has a separate law requiring employers to provide pregnancy disability leave (also unpaid).
There are two types of laws that might protect you if you need pregnancy leave: laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination and laws that require pregnancy leave.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. However, it does require employers to treat employees who are unable to work due to pregnancy just as it treats other employees who are temporarily disabled for other reasons. For example, if your company lets employees take time off for other temporary disabilities, like broken bones or heart attacks, then it must allow pregnant employees to take the same time off when they are unable to work.
The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in a one-year period for serious health conditions and parenting leave (among other things). Pregnancy is considered a serious health condition under the law. If you qualify, you can use the FMLA to take time off when you are unable to work because of your pregnancy and childbirth. You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits. (Learn more about the FMLA, including eligibility requirements, in our article on FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)
Washington also has its own family leave law, which requires employers with at least 50 employees to give their employees up to 12 weeks off for certain reasons, including the employee’s own serious health condition and parenting.
Washington also has a state pregnancy disability leave law; it requires employers with at least eight employees to provide pregnancy disability leave. Employees may use this leave to take time off while they are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. There is no limit or minimum amount of leave you may take under this law: As long as you are unable to work due to pregnancy disability, you are entitled to time off. Time you take off under the state’s pregnancy disability leave law does not count against your 12 weeks of family and medical leave.
The FMLA gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or foster. This is part of your total 12-week leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you will have ten weeks left to use for parenting leave.
As noted above, Washington has its own family and medical leave law, which allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off to care for a new child. Because time off for pregnancy disability does not count towards your 12 weeks off under Washington’s family and medical leave law, you might be entitled to more than 12 weeks of total leave. For example, if you are unable to work for two weeks before giving birth and four weeks after, you could take those six weeks off under Washington’s pregnancy disability leave law and still be entitled to 12 more weeks of parental leave under the family and medical leave law.
The FMLA allows employees to take their leave intermittently, if it’s medically necessary. For example, if you have a prenatal check-up, you don’t have to take a whole day off; you can use a couple of hours of your FMLA leave, then go back to work.
For parental leave, however, the rules are different. If you want to use your parenting leave a little at a time—for example, by returning to work half-time for a while, or by taking some of your leave when the baby is born and some at a later point when your partner returns to work—your employer must agree to it. This is true under both the FMLA and Washington’s family and medical leave law. You aren’t automatically entitled to use your parenting leave intermittently.
If your employer agrees to let you use your parenting leave intermittently, you must finish your time off within one year after the baby is born.
If you are married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of leave for parenting to 12 weeks for both of you. (This is true under both the FMLA and Washington’s family and medical leave law.) However, whatever portion of your own 12 weeks of FMLA leave you don’t use for parenting will still be available to you for other reasons, including your own serious health condition.
Example: Joan and her husband Bob both work for the same employer. Joan’s doctor puts her on bed rest for the last five weeks of her pregnancy, for which she takes FMLA leave. She uses her remaining seven weeks of FMLA leave for parenting. This means Bob has only five weeks of parenting leave under the FMLA. However, if he gets sick later, or the baby develops a serious health condition, he will still have seven weeks of FMLA leave to use for these other reasons.
FMLA leave is unpaid, as is leave under Washington’s family leave law. However, you may ask—or your employer may require you—to use your accrued paid leave (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) to get paid during your time off.
Your employer may also offer maternity and paternity leave benefits, parental benefits, or short-term disability insurance. Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.