Maternity and Parental Leave Laws in Wisconsin

Some Wisconsin employees have the right to pregnancy and parenting leave under a mix of federal and state laws.

By , J.D.
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Do you need time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting? If you work in Wisconsin, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Wisconsin's Family and Medical Leave Act (WFMLA) allow employees 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.

Unpaid Time Off During Pregnancy in Wisconsin

There are two types of laws that might protect you if you need pregnancy leave: laws that require pregnancy leave and laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Family and Medical Leave

The federal FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work during a one-year period for serious health conditions, including pregnancy. The FMLA applies only to employers with at least 50 employees. If you qualify, you may use the FMLA to take time off when you are unable to work because of your pregnancy and childbirth. You may 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.)

Wisconsin's WFMLA applies to employers with at least 50 permanent employees. The WFMLA allows employees to take up to two weeks off in a calendar year if they are unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth (with more time available to take care of the child—see below).

Under the federal FMLA, you are eligible to take time off only if you have worked for the employer for at least 12 months—which need not be consecutive—and at least 1,250 hours in the past year for your employer. The requirements for Wisconsin's FMLA are similar but not exactly the same: Under the WFMLA, employees are eligible for time off under the if they have worked for their employer for more than 52 consecutive weeks and have worked for at least 1,000 hours in the past year for their employer. Because the eligibility requirements are not precisely the same under the FMLA and the WFMLA, you may be eligible for leave under both laws or under only one. If you are eligible under both, your leave entitlement will run simultaneously—that is, your two weeks of WFMLA pregnancy leave will also count against your 12 total weeks of FMLA leave.

Pregnancy Discrimination

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require employers to give pregnant employees time off work, but it does require employers to treat employees who are unable to work due to pregnancy just as it treats 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.

Many states have similar anti-discrimination laws or laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Wisconsin is not one of them, however.

Unpaid Parenting Leave in Wisconsin

The federal FMLA also 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.

Under Wisconsin's WFMLA, you may take up to six weeks of parenting leave in a calendar year, in addition to the two weeks of pregnancy leave discussed above. You must start your parenting leave within 16 weeks of the child's arrival. Even if you don't use all of your two weeks of pregnancy leave, you can take only six weeks of parental leave. If you are eligible for leave under both the FMLA and WFMLA, your entitlement will run simultaneously, as explained above.

Part-Time or Reduced Schedule Leave

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. The same is true for pregnancy-related ailments that don't last all day. If, for instance, you have morning sickness that lives up to its name, you might need a few hours off in the morning, but be able to come to work by lunchtime.

For parental leave, however, the rules are different. If you want to use your FMLA parenting leave a little at a time, your employer must agree to it. 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.

This rule does not apply under the WFMLA, which gives employees the right to use their parental leave as a partial absence from employment (that is, by working part time), as long as they schedule their leave so as not to unduly disrupt employer operations.

Parents Who Work for the Same Employer

If you are married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of FMLA leave for parenting to 12 weeks for both of you. (This restriction does not appear in the WFMLA.) 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.

Getting Paid During Your Time Off in Wisconsin

FMLA leave and WFMLA leave is unpaid. 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.

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