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How to Receive Maternity Leave

written by: Lucinda Watrous•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 6/4/2010

In the United States, many women wonder, "How do I get on maternity leave?" Sadly, the answer isn't as clear cut for us as it is in other countries. This article will explain how to receive maternity leave even when paid benefits for this purpose are not available from your employer.

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    What is Maternity Leave?

    Pregnant Woman Wikimedia Commons Maternity leave, also referred to as parental or family leave, is the period of time, usually six weeks, a mother takes off from work after having a baby. This gives her time to heal from the delivery as well as plenty of time to bond with the new baby. There are many mothers in the United States who do not receive paid maternity leave because there is no legislation in place that requires this on a federal level. The rules and regulations around maternity leave in this country are among the worst in developed nations.

    Image Credit: Pregnant Woman / Wikimedia Commons

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    Do Your Research

    Check with your state's Department of Labor to see if the state you live in requires a maternity leave. Knowing this information will help you when you are talking to your human resources department to determine how to go about getting on maternity leave.

    Talk to your human resources department to learn more about the company policies regarding maternity leave. Some companies provide paid maternity leave as a benefit. Understanding the policies of your company will help you determine the best course of action and ensure they are operating legally under state and federal law.

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    What Can You Do if Your Job Does Not Offer Paid Maternity Leave Benefits?

    In most cases, the maternity leave you take will be a combination of short term disability benefits, paid time off, sick days, paid holidays, and unpaid leave. This is where talking to your human resources department can help you maximize the options you have to make the most of your six weeks off, while keeping money coming in.

    If your state allows it, short term disability may be taken to handle birth and post-partum recovery. During this time, you will earn 66% of your normal paycheck, after the first week, for a certain period of time, usually six weeks in the case of pregnancy and child birth. The portion of your benefits provided by your employer are taxable, so you may end up owing in April, but the additional dependent may offset the costs. The actual benefits you receive in a check will not be taxed.

    Consider using vacation time, sick time, and paid holidays offered by your company to cover any gaps in the time off not covered by short term disability.

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    Unpaid Leave Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

    Under the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, mothers and fathers are entitled to up to 12 weeks time off, unpaid with job protection, for the birth or adoption of a baby. Depending on the state regulations in your area, this may be considered part of your time off you get paid through employee benefits and short term disability, or this may be available to use in addition to that time. Speaking to your human resources department will help you learn more about how the FMLA regulations work with their policies.

    Not all employees are entitled to FMLA benefits, so be sure you qualify. In order to qualify, you must have worked 12 months and 1250 hours with an employer who employees 50 or more workers within 75 miles.

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    When to Request Leave

    Federal Law requires you provide your employer with at least a 30 day notice before you plan to start taking your leave. When to take the leave will vary on a number of factors. If there are any complications with the pregnancy, some women may have to leave before the child is born, while others are able to work right up until labor begins. You will have to speak with your employer, your doctor, and use your best judgment to determine the best time to take maternity leave.

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    What if the Request for Unpaid Leave is Denied?

    If you qualify under FMLA, or your state's regulations, first make sure you politely remind your employer of these laws and regulations so that they too understand you are inquiring on how to get on maternity leave. Be sure you have given the company ample time to cover your responsibilities while you are out. If the situation is not resolved at this point, talk to the local Department of Labor. The department will investigate on your behalf.