Despite many developed countries having standard policies requiring companies to pay salaries to women on maternity leave, the United States lacks a law requiring employers to fund maternity pay. This leaves many pregnant women in a financial bind when it comes to planning for maternity leave.
If your company doesn't offer maternity pay, there are other avenues to pursue, such as short-term disability pay. When you're contemplating becoming pregnant, you should familiarize yourself with the different options for maternity pay available through your company, as well as the state in which you live. Also, read up on federal and state laws regarding maternity leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act While up to 12 weeks of family or parental leave is allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was instituted in 1993, there's no provision that this time off from work must be paid. FMLA essentially only allows you to take time off from work for birth or adoption purposes, and protects you from losing your job for doing so.
Some states, like California, have enacted legislation that requires paid maternity leave. In addition, some states allow for short-term disability leave in lieu of a paid maternity leave. You'll want to check your state's laws regarding the maternity pay you may be able to claim.
Your Company's Maternity Leave Policy It's wise to make an appointment with your company's human resource department or check your employee handbook before becoming pregnant, as you may have to budget for unpaid maternity leave under FMLA. Many women who desire to take time off from work after giving birth will use a combination of short-term disability and sick leave, maternity leave offered by the company and vacation time to care for a newborn baby before returning to work. If your employer provides maternity leave pay, you'll want to clarify whether it's full or partial pay.
If maternity pay is available through your employer, and you desire to take advantage of FMLA, you'll need to learn whether the six-week paid leave will run concurrently with the FMLA weeks. In other words, will your employer pay you for six weeks, and then only allow an additional six weeks off unpaid, not another 12 weeks? FMLA also doesn't state that you have to take your maternity leave in consecutive weeks or immediately after the birth of your child. You can take FMLA in full weeks or individual days -- such as every Friday to shorten your work week -- if your employer agrees.
Short-Term Disability Pay If you aren't offered maternity pay but want to take advantage of short-term disability, learn about the percentage of your salary you're entitled to under state law, and the length of payment for childbirth. If you belong to a union in your industry, check its policy on short-term disability, which may allow for partial or full maternity pay for a certain number of weeks.
There may be more than one avenue for you to pursue. If both the state in which you live and your employer offer short-term disability pay, you may be able to tap into both, especially if your employer only offers partial pay.
Length of Maternity Leave While there isn't a standard required by physicians for the length of maternity leave, many employers will offer six weeks of maternity pay. For this reason, many mothers feel it's necessary to take these six weeks off after giving birth to care for the baby, adjust to motherhood and recuperate after giving birth. You may especially desire to take at least six weeks off if you had a Cesarean birth, experienced post partum depression, or encountered complications during childbirth or pregnancy.
Talk to your friends and co-workers you trust about their experiences with maternity leave. How did they manage maternity pay? Did they feel they took enough time, too much, or too little? Read our stories of other moms' maternity leaves to gain more insight. And above all, leave your options open, since it's hard to know in advance exactly what you'll need.