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How Much Maternity Leave is Required?

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 5/18/2011

Federal laws do not require employees to offer paid maternity leaves. The shortest maternity leave required depends on the federal PDA and FMLA acts, some state laws, and individual company policies. Read on to find out more.

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    Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978

    Shortest Maternity Leave Required The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 is a pregnancy discrimination law that forbade employers from discriminating against pregnant women and requires employers to consider pregnant workers as employees with temporary medical disabilities. The law also mandates employers to extend to pregnant employees the same pay, fringe benefits, paid sick days, health insurance coverage, temporary disability insurance, and other work conditions offered to employees with temporary medical disabilities.

    The PDA, however, does not require employers to offer any paid leave for maternity or temporary disability, and only mandates employers to include maternity as a condition eligible for leave if the company institutes any policies that offer paid or unpaid leaves for a temporary medical disability. The same law, however, also prevents employers from forcing employees to take pregnancy leave.

    The PDA is applicable to firms employing 15 or more workers.

    Image Credit: NOAA Photo Library

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    Family and Medical Leave Act 1993

    The federal maternity leave law is outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period for one of the following:

    • For the birth of a child and to care for the newborn
    • To care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition
    • When a child is placed with the employee for adoption or foster care, within one year of placement
    • When the employee suffers from a serious health condition, which may include a maternity-related disability

    The employee may avail such leave either all at once or intermittently, and either for part of or all of a day. The employee also remains entitled to receive any health insurance benefits normally provided by the employer, and return to the same or an equivalent job after the leave.

    The FMLA only covers establishments with more than 50 employees, and an employee becomes eligible to avail leave only after working in the firm of a minimum of 1,250 hours and for at least 12 months before starting the leave. Furthermore, employers may require employees to use accrued sick leave or vacation time to cover some or all FMLA leave. Employers may also deny leave to a “key" employee, defined as being among the highest paid ten percent of the work force, if the employer perceives that allowing leave to such key employee would create problems for the firm.

    The shortest maternity leave required as per federal laws depend primarily on company policies and individual circumstances, and many pregnant employees use a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation, personal days, and unpaid family leave to cover their maternity period.

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    State Laws

    Shortest Maternity Leave Required Statues similar to the FMLA exist in 20 states including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, besides Washington DC. The length of maternity leave offered by such state laws varies from 4 to 18 weeks, with varying coverage.

    California, New Jersey, and Washington are three states that allow employees paid maternity leave.

    California's Paid Family Leave (PFL) program of 2002 allows employees to take up to six weeks maternity leave at 55 percent salary, subject to a maximum of $728 per week, to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, or sick family member. Unlike the FMLA, this act covers the entire workforce, and not just companies with 50 employees or more.

    The New Jersey Family Leave Act allows employees to receive up to two-thirds of their salary for six weeks for the care of new born or adopted children, and parents, but have a coverage policy similar to that of the FMLA, with minor changes.

    Washington State’s 2007 Family Leave Insurance Law allows residents up to $250 per week in disability payments for five weeks for conditions including maternity.

    Such state initiatives do not place the burden of funding the employees leave on companies, and rather expand the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system or the state Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) funds. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island and Puerto Rico have mandatory TDI funds with both the employer and employee contributing, while other states make such contributions optional. TDI provides for paid leave for pregnancy, but provides no guaranteed right to return to work.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/Tom

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    Actual Practice

    The shortest maternity leave required is ultimately company-centric, depending on factors such as the size of the company, location of the company, the tenure of the employee in the company, and the employee benefits offered.

    Even though laws do not require employers to pay employees during their maternity leave, a 2008 survey by the Families and Work Institute indicates that 16 percent of companies with at least 100 employees provide full pay during maternity leave as part of employee benefits. The Institute of Women’s policy reveals that 24 percent of employers provide up to four weeks of such paid maternity leave, and 52 percent of employers provide up to six weeks of such paid maternity leave.

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    References

    1. United States Department of Labor. “Family and Medical Leave Act." Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm on 12 December 2010.
    2. “FamilyLeave in the United States." http://www.catalyst.org/publication/240/family-leave-us-canada-and-global. Retrieved 12 December 2010
    3. Kamerman, Sheila, and Gatenio, Shirley. "Mother's Day: More Than Candy And Flowers, Working Parents Need Paid Time-Off"
      http://www.childpolicyintl.org/issuebrief/issuebrief5.htm. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
    4. Institute for Womens Policy Research. Fact Sheet. “Maternity Leave in the United States."http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/parentalleaveA131.pdf. Retrieved 12 December 2010
    5. Brown, Heidi. "U.S. Maternity Leave Benefits Are Still Dismal" http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/04/maternity-leave-laws-forbes-woman-wellbeing-pregnancy.html. Retrieved 12 December 2010
    6. NJ Division on Civil Rights. "The New Jersey Family Leave Act." http://www.state.nj.us/lps/dcr/downloads/flafactsheet.pdf.
      Retrieved on 12 December 2010.