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Know Your Maternity Leave Rights

"Maternity leave" is such a common term that we believe all working women are entitled to it. The truth is, most companies don't provide paid maternity leave -- and don't have to. Many women technically aren't even eligible for unpaid time off under family leave laws, either because they haven't been at a job long enough or because their company is too small. Read the answers to these frequently asked questions about maternity leave laws.

The term "maternity leave" encompasses two types of leave.

  • Maternity disability or medical leave refers to the period of time (usually six weeks for a normal vaginal delivery and eight weeks for an uncomplicated cesarean delivery) after the birth, during which you are medically unable to work as you recuperate.
  • Family leave refers to the time you spend caring for your baby after recuperating. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 grants all parents the same 12 weeks (it's all considered family leave for fathers and adoptive parents). You can begin the 12 weeks before you give birth, but then you'll have less time afterward.

The FMLA covers those who meet each of the following criteria:

  • They have been at their current job for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours
  • They are employed by a company with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius

If all of the above criteria are met, the FMLA requires a company to:

  • Provide for 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child
  • Continue prior health insurance coverage during time off
  • Allow the employee to return to the same or an equivalent job

However, a company can require an employee to make vacation and sick days part of the 12 weeks off.

If your employer is not bound by any leave laws, you may find help through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. If your company has 15 or more employees and held a person's job during another type of medical disability -- say, a heart attack or car accident -- then it must reinstate you after medical disability due to pregnancy.

Another option for wage replacement is temporary disability insurance. Only five states (New York, New Jersey, California, Rhode Island, and Hawaii, as well as Puerto Rico) have state-run temporary disability plans. These only cover those weeks during which you're medically unable to work, and it excludes fathers and adoptive parents.

If you have questions about what you're legally entitled to, contact:

9to5, National Association of Working Women For advice from the Job Survival Hotline, call 800-522-0925.

National Partnership for Women & Families For information on the FMLA and various state laws, call 202-986-2600 or their Web site.

 

U.S. Department of Labor For more information on the FMLA, or if you are denied leave or reinstatement to work, call 800-827-5335 or visit their Web site.

 

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.