The first few weeks/months of a child’s life are a wonderful time. The mother and father finally get to know the baby that the mother has been carrying around for 9 months. You want to spend all the time with your newborn. In order to do so, it’s necessary to understand the rules surrounding maternity leave. How long can you take off? Do you get paid? Can you be fired from you job? These are all questions that someone has asked at some point. Let’s take a look at maternity leave considerations.
Maternity leave rules and laws are largely a patchwork of state regulation. Before 1993 and passage of The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) there were essentially no national rules governing maternity leave. At that time, during the Clinton Administration, the FMLA finally guaranteed women the right to 12 weeks off of unpaid leave after delivery. However in order to qualify, a woman must be employed for at least 1250 hours over the last twelve months at the same firm. Plus the firm must have more than 50 employees. Under these circumstances, the mother is assured of having a job when she returns to work after being off twelve weeks.
However, there are many state laws that also determine the level of maternity leave benefits. The states of Washington, New Jersey and California have maternity leave laws that require private employers to provide some fraction of salary as financial assistance while the mother is on maternity leave. In other states maternity leave benefits qualify the mother for disability so that she may be able to get temporary disability benefits. This usually depends in a large part on the employer. Larger companies frequently have disability policies that individual employees can elect as part of their benefits package. If you are covered by such a policy you can use your child’s birth as a qualifying episode of disability. You can then collect benefits according to the policy.
To truly understand the particulars of the situation in your state and within your company it is a good idea to contact the person in charge of human resources at your place of employment. If you are covered by a company sponsored disability policy make sure you have a copy of it and read it. Every policy varies. Some may pay as soon as you are on maternity leave, others may not pay until you have been out for a number of weeks. You will want to know how maternity leave will affect your medical insurance premiums. If you are responsible for some of your premiums each month, how will they be paid while you are out.
Many states have now passed laws that require your employer to provide you with a private area where you can nurse your baby or pump breast milk for feeding your child at home. This is a very good idea because it makes it easier for mothers to breast feed. We know that breast feeding improves the long term health of your baby. Giving mothers the legal right to breast feed at work, along with guaranteed maternity leave, are steps in the right direction for improving the health of the nation’s children.
Because each state, company, and short term disability policies vary so much there is not a one size fits all answer to the question of maternity leave benefits. Most women will qualify for 12 weeks unpaid leave and many, depending on the state where they are employed and the company they work for, will qualify for greater maternity benefits. However make sure you talk with your company human resource officer to get a full explanation of your maternity benefits. A final good rule of thumb is that the bigger the company the more comprehensive the benefits. If you are working for a company with less than 50 employees you probably have few maternity benefits. Under these circumstances, the best thing to do is to negotiate and reach an understanding personally with your employer.
Because there are so many variables to maternity leave, state-by-state, be sure to understand your maternity leave options well before your baby is due. Talk with your employer. Even if you’ve had a child in the past, you never know if the laws and policies have changed. It’s always good to know what your options are so when the baby comes, you can focus on your new-born child.
[Image Credit: Parentables, Telegraph UK]