Expectant mothers are often surprised to discover that there are no dedicated federal laws on maternity leave. Moreover, maternity leave laws differ from state to state.
It helps to understand the maternity leave laws before you decide to have a baby -- and certainly before you request parental leave. If you're already pregnant, this article will quickly update you on the maternity leave laws in the U.S. Your employer may provide paid leave or other benefits above and beyond what the law requires.
Federal Maternity Leave Laws
The two key federal laws on maternity leave are the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. While neither exclusively deals with maternity leave, it's important to understand both in order to protect your rights as an expectant mother.
The Family and Medical Leave Act protects the job of any worker who must take time away from work due to a serious illness, a sick family member or to care for a newborn, adopted or foster child. Under FMLA, you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. That means an employer cannot refuse to hire you, fire you or treat you differently in the workplace. If you believe your rights have been violated, you may make a pregnancy discrimination claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
State Maternity Leave Laws
Each state may provide protections above and beyond FMLA. For instance, a few states provide paid maternity leave through a temporary disability program. Others specifically provide workers with the right to take time off work for their children's educational activities.
Because of the variety of benefits provided in different states, it's worth checking with your home state to learn your rights. The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks state maternity leave laws.