Wisconsin Maternity and Parental Leave Laws

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

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 2/17/2023

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—including maternity leave and paternity leave.

If you don't qualify for FMLA or WFLMA leave, federal law prohibits your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy, which might give you the right to take time off work in some cases.

Getting Time Off During Pregnancy in Wisconsin

Two types of laws protect your right to pregnancy and maternity leave in Wisconsin, including:

  • medical leave laws, and
  • anti-discrimination laws.

Both federal and state laws offer protections if you're pregnant and work for an employer in Wisconsin.

Federal Family and Medical Leave Act

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 can use the FMLA to take time off when you're unable to work because of pregnancy and childbirth. You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits.

(Learn more about the eligibility requirements and your right to FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

Wisconsin's Family and Medical Leave Act

The WFMLA applies to Wisconsin employers with at least 50 permanent employees. The WFMLA allows you to take up to two weeks off in a calendar year if you're unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth (with more time available to bond with and care for your new baby—see below).

Your Eligibility Under Federal FMLA and WFMLA

Under the federal FMLA, you're eligible to take time off only if you've worked for your employer for at least 12 months—which don't need to be consecutive. You must also have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year.

The requirements for Wisconsin FMLA are similar to the federal leave law, but not exactly the same: Under the WFMLA, you can take time off if you've worked for your employer for more than 52 consecutive weeks and for at least 1,000 hours in the past year.

Because of the similarities in eligibility requirements, you might be eligible for pregnancy, maternity, or paternity leave under:

  • just FMLA
  • just WFMLA, or
  • both laws.

If you're eligible under both laws, your allotted leave will run simultaneously—that is, your 2 weeks of WFMLA pregnancy leave will also count against your 12 total weeks of FMLA leave. In other words, you can't take 2 weeks of pregnancy leave under Wisconsin law and then take 12 more weeks of medical or maternity leave under federal law.

How Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Laws Protect You

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects your rights as a pregnant worker. The PDA doesn't require your employer to give pregnant employees time off work. But it does require your employer to treat any employee who's unable to work due to pregnancy the same as other employees who can't work because of other temporary disabilities.

For example, if your company lets employees take time off for other medical conditions, like broken bones or heart attacks, then it must allow you to take the same time off when you can't work because of a pregnancy. And you're entitled to the same job protections too.

Many states have similar anti-discrimination laws or laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. But Wisconsin isn't one of them, making the PAD protections critical for pregnant employees in the Badger State. (The ADA, however, does require some employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women in some circumstances.)

How Long Is Parental Leave in Wisconsin?

In addition to medical leave, the federal FMLA also gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or fostered. This is part of your total 12-week FMLA leave entitlement. So, if you use 2 weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you'll have 10 weeks left to use for parental leave.

Under Wisconsin FMLA, you can take up to six weeks of parental leave in a calendar year—in addition to the two weeks of pregnancy leave discussed above. But you must start your parenting leave within 16 weeks of the child's birth or placement in your home.

Even if you don't use all of your two weeks of pregnancy leave, you can take only six weeks of parental leave. And if you're eligible for parental leave under both the FMLA and WFMLA, your entitlements will run simultaneously, as explained above.

Part-Time or Reduced Schedule Leave

The FMLA allows employees to take medical leave intermittently. For example, if you have a prenatal checkup, you can use a couple of hours of FMLA leave and then go back to work. The same is true for pregnancy-related ailments that don't last all day—like morning sickness—where 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. You can only use your FMLA parenting leave a little at a time if your employer agrees to it. And if your employer allows you to use your parenting leave intermittently, you must finish taking time off within one year after your child is born or placed in your home.

This rule doesn't apply under the Wisconsin FMLA. The WFMLA gives you the right to use your parental leave as a partial absence from employment—that is, by working part-time—as long as your leave doesn't unfairly disrupt your employer's operations.

When Parents Work for the Same Employer

If you're married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of FMLA parental leave to 12 weeks for both of you. (This restriction doesn't appear in the WFMLA.) But 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 medical leave.

For example, let's say Eden and her husband Kenny both work for the same employer. Eden's doctor orders her to take off work for six weeks to recover from childbirth. Once recovered, she uses her remaining six weeks of FMLA leave to take care of the baby.

This would leave Kenny with only six weeks of FMLA paternity leave. If he uses that six weeks of parental leave, he'd still have another six weeks of FMLA leave he can use for other reasons—like if he becomes ill or injured or if his child develops a serious health condition.

Do You Get Paid on FMLA in Wisconsin?

Maternity and paternity leave under both FMLA and Wisconsin FMLA is unpaid leave. But you might be paid for at least some of your time off if you use the paid time off you've accrued on the job, including sick days or vacation time.

Your employer might even require you to use these benefits when you take time off for pregnancy or parenting. And some employers offer benefits that will pay part of your income while you take time off for the birth of a new child, such as:

If you're expecting a new child, talk to your employer about the types of leave available to you.

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