Many companies might not offer maternity leave, and if they do, you might not even be eligible for it. Here's what you need to know to understand -- and protect -- your maternity leave rights.
What is maternity leave?
Maternity leave is the time in which a mom-to-be leaves from work to give birth to her child. Commonly known as family or parental leave, women who are adopting a child can also utilize their maternity leave.
Is maternity leave paid?
The United States is the only high-income nation in the world that doesn't offer paid maternity leave. The other countries that don't offer it: Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. And while some companies do offer paid maternity leave, the majority do not. Your best bet is to schedule a meeting with your company's Human Resources department to find out which policies are in place. In order for you to continue receiving your weekly paycheck while out on maternity leave, you'll need to use your vacation, sick or personal days.
How long will my leave last for?
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, companies can provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. However, if you need to go on bed rest before the baby is born (or if you need to stay home longer to recuperate afterwards), that time counts against your 12 weeks of maternity leave.
How do I qualify for maternity leave?
Here's where maternity leave gets tricky: In order to actually qualify for maternity leave, you must have worked at least 12 months with your current company. If you're a part-time employee, the requirement is a minimum of 1,250 hours in the past year. The company must additionally employ at least 50 employees or more within a 75-mile radius.
When should I request my maternity leave?
After meeting with your boss to announce your pregnancy, (sometime after the three month mark), you should give her an approximate date of when you're planning to take your leave. This will give her ample time to temporarily hire -- and train -- someone to replace you while you're out of the office.
Will I still have health benefits while on maternity leave?
Your health benefits will continue during your maternity leave. However, depending on your company's policies, you might still have to pay for a portion of the expenses out of pocket.
Will I still have the same job when I return from maternity leave?
Under the FMLA, you should be able to return to your position. If your job has been eliminated, then you'll most likely be offered a position that is similar in scope to your previous one in terms of job duties, salary and benefits.
What if my boss denies my maternity leave request?
First, review your eligibility to make sure that you qualify for maternity leave. Then, schedule a meeting with HR to find out why your request was denied. If you meet all the requirements but maternity leave is still not being offered to you, you can contact the National Partnership for Women and Families or the Department of Labor for tips on how successfully negotiate your maternity leave.
While paid parental leave should be a given for all working moms (and dads!), be sure that you know your rights so you can have the maternity leave you deserve.
Jennifer Parris is the Career Writer for FlexJobs, an award-winning service that helps job-seekers find professional opportunities that offer work flexibility, such as telecommuting, freelance, part-time or alternative schedules. To learn more about Jennifer, visit FlexJobs.com or tweet @flexjobs.
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