Planning for Maternity Leave
It's never too early to start planning for time off after your child is born. In fact, the sooner you can make plans, the better. You may find that your company or state regulations are more complicated then you previously thought. For example, your employer may have strict provisions on the specific order in which you can use your available leave. Additionally, maternity leave can be especially complicated in the United States. Unlike other developed countries, the U.S. does not guarantee paid maternity or family leave, and you may find yourself designing your own family leave by combining vacation, sick leave, and short term disability leave. This, of course, all depends on the company you work for and the state you live in.
A little research can go a long way…
Know Your Rights
In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed. This entitles most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected medical leave for the birth and care of a newborn, adoption placement or foster care, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or to take time off because of a serious health condition. Spouses employed by the same employer are entitled to a combination of 12 work weeks of family leave. You can also schedule this leave intermittently, meaning you can take blocks of time off or reduce your normal weekly work schedule. If you have accrued paid time off (i.e. annual leave, sick leave, etc.) you can choose to use this time as part of your protected FMLA leave, which would otherwise be unpaid.
FMLA applies to:
1. Private-Sector employees – If your company employs at least 50 people in 20 or more work weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
2. Public employees – This includes state, local, and federal employees.
In order to be eligible for FMLA benefits you must:
1. Work for a covered employer
2. Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months for your current employer
3. Work within the United States or any U.S. territory
Benefits By State
The FMLA is applicable in all 50 states, but additional benefits that are available to you will vary depending on where you live. Some states provide short-term disability leave while other states do not.
Short-Term Disability Leave
Most women ultimately end up using a combination of their vacation, sick, and personal days, along with short-term disability leave after their baby is born. Short-term disability leave, unlike FMLA leave, covers at least a portion of your salary when you cannot work due to illness, injury, or childbirth. Short-term disability may be provided by your employer or your state of residency. If you belong to a union, they may also offer it. Short-term disability leave is also something that you can purchase through an insurance company for a monthly premium if you do not have access to it any other way.
In addition to finding out how to secure short-term disability leave, you will want to find out the details of your coverage (i.e. the amount of leave and percentage of salary covered). Some plans cover 100% of your salary, while others only cover about 50%. Most plans allow for 6 weeks of leave, but this may be extended if there are complications during delivery or if you need additional time to recover. Requests for extension will usually require documentation from a physician.
You should also keep in mind that there may be no income tax taken out of the checks you receive while on short-term disability leave, and you may have to make up for that come April 15th. The good news is that you will be able to take an extra deduction now that you will have a new dependent!
Where to Start
If your company has a human resources department, you can inquire about benefits there. Co-workers who have gone on maternity leave are also a great resource. Meetings with your HR department should be kept confidential, but if you work in a small company or are concerned that the word will get out, you may want to keep your pregnancy quiet while you are investigating your benefits. This may be especially valuable if you have not yet shared the news with your boss.
You can get information on the Family Leave Medical Act from the U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.dol.gov or (866) 487-9243. To find what benefits are available in your state, check with your State's department of labor
What if my employer denies my request for leave?
If you have done your research and are certain that you qualify for FMLA or other state sponsored provisions, you are meeting resistance from your employer, and you have tried every reasonable thing you can think of to secure your leave, you may want to contact the U.S Department of Labor to register a complaint. This complaint will be investigated, and your employer may be contacted in an attempt to resolve the problem. In some cases, it may be necessary to hire a lawyer who specializes in workers' rights.
- Start investigating your options early – some companies require you to file paperwork pertaining to your leave months before your due date.
- Find out what benefits are available through your provider, but don't forget to find out what benefits may be available in your state.
- You may want to use your vacation, sick, and/or personal days as part of your maternity leave, as these days provide a full salary.
- If you and your partner are both eligible for family leave, you may want to stagger your leave instead of taking it all at the same time. This way, as one person's leave comes to an end, the other's can begin.
- Find out if your health benefits will be affected while you are on leave. Some companies do not discontinue your benefits, but may require you to be covered under COBRA, which can be quite costly (approximately $300-$500 per month) and should be considered when you are planning your budget.