everything you need to know about maternity leave in the U.S.

What kind of maternity leave is your employer required to offer? How do people manage to take unpaid leave? How long is a typical maternity leave? How can you ask about maternity leave benefits when you’re interviewing for a job, without implying you’re going to take it soon? Find those answers and more ahead.

How can you ask about benefits when you’re interviewing for a job, without implying you’re going to get pregnant soon?

In an ideal world, you’d be able to ask about maternity leave in interviews. In practice, there’s a very real chance that employers will read that as a signal that you plan to get pregnant soon and be less inclined to hire you, even if only unconsciously. (To be clear, that would be illegal. It’s against the law for employers to discriminate against a woman because she’s pregnant or they fear she’ll become pregnant. But it still happens, and it’s worth guarding against.)

Instead, the better time to ask is once you have a job offer. At that point, the employer can’t rescind the offer without making it obvious they’re breaking the law. Once you have an offer (but before you’ve accepted it), you can say something like this: “I don’t have immediate plans to get pregnant, but I’d like to stay with you for a long time, so I’m hoping you can tell me a bit about your parental leave policies.”

If it turns out the employer offers no maternity leave beyond what federal law requires (more on that in a minute) — or if the employer is small enough that federal law won’t cover you — you can try negotiating for leave as part of your offer. Try saying something like, “In order to build a career with you long-term, I’d want to make sure that a fair maternity leave plan is in place. Would you be willing to include [insert details of what you want] as part of the offer?”

Do you get paid for maternity leave? What should you know about paid maternity leave by state?

Unfortunately, the only federal law guaranteeing maternity leave in the U.S. is unpaid — and it only applies to some employees.

The law that most women rely on is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which will protect your job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. The law doesn’t require that you be paid for that time off; it just requires that your job be waiting for you when you return and says that you can’t be penalized for taking the time off.

FMLA doesn’t cover everyone, but you’re eligible if you’ve been working in your job for a year and your employer has more than 50 employees within 75 miles of where you work. (Note that if your spouse works for your company too, your company only needs to offer a total of 12 weeks off split between the two of you.)

If you’re thinking this isn’t a very good deal at all, you’re correct. But some states do have their own laws that extend the amount of unpaid leave employers must offer you, and several states — including California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island — offer partially paid leave as well. So be sure to check your individual state laws to know exactly what you’re eligible for.

How does maternity leave work if it’s unpaid?

Despite the crappy federal laws on maternity leave, some employers do offer paid leave of their own volition, so check your company’s policies.

But typically people try to save up their vacation and sick time, and then use it to cover all or part of the time they’re on leave. For example, if you’ve accrued three weeks of sick time and three weeks of vacation time, you could use those six weeks as part of your maternity leave, ensuring you’d be paid for that portion of it.

Can you use short-term disability insurance for maternity leave?

Short-term disability insurance may provide a portion of your salary (usually 50–100 percent) for a specific number of weeks after you give birth. So if you’re considering getting pregnant and don’t already have short-term disability coverage, either through work or on your own, this might be a good time to look into it.

How long is the average maternity leave?

Because FMLA lasts for 12 weeks, many women return to work after those 12 weeks are up.

If you’re thinking you’d like to use your accrued vacation or sick time to extend your leave — tacking it on after the 12 weeks from FMLA — you may or may not be able to do that. FMLA only protects you for 12 weeks total, and it’s very common for employers to require that you use any accrued vacation or sick days as part of those 12 weeks (as opposed to adding it on afterward). So check with your employer to see what its policies are.

That said, some employers have parental leave policies that allow you to take off more time. Even if yours doesn’t, you may be able to negotiate additional time with your manager or HR, since your company may agree to offer you more time in order to ensure they get you back at the end of it.

What about paternity leave for dads?

Under FMLA, men are also eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a child. Some employers may offer additional paternity leave as well.

When do people normally take maternity leave?

It depends! Some people will begin their leave a week or two before their expected due date because it’s becoming physically uncomfortable to work or because they want more time to prepare for the baby. Other people wait right up until their due date, in order to save as much time off as possible for after the baby has arrived. It’s up to you.

How will your office handle questions about your work while you’re on maternity leave?

The key to having an undisturbed leave is to prepare your office beforehand and put a detailed plan in place for who will handle what in your absence. Make sure that you’ve left behind plenty of documentation for your keys tasks and, if you have decision-making authority in any areas, make sure you’ve delegated that to others.

In many jobs, it’s reasonable to say that you’ll be completely unavailable while you’re on maternity leave. In others, you might feel more comfortable if you know someone will contact you in an emergency. It’s up to you how to structure your leave; either of those options is okay. But you definitely shouldn’t be on call for questions on a regular basis; that’s not a normal expectation when someone is on maternity leave. (Plus, if you’re taking your leave under FMLA, the law actually says your employer can’t ask or require you to perform work on your leave, although fielding occasional calls as a “professional courtesy” is allowed.)

If you decide you’re willing to have occasional contact, ensure that it’s on a schedule you control, so that you’re not getting work calls when you’ve just laid down for the first sleep you’ve had in 24 hours. For example, you could request that people direct any requests for you to your personal email or say that you’ll check your work email once a week. It’s also smart to say that any requests for you should all go through one central gatekeeper, so that you can train that person ahead of time to assess whether something really rises to a level worth bothering you for.

What should you know about going back to work after maternity leave?

Things may be different when you return — projects will have progressed or even wrapped up, there may be new projects or people around, and things will have happened that you’re not caught up on. That’s normal; don’t be thrown off by it. You don’t need to get caught up on everything in a day, and in fact, there’s no way to do that and you’ll feel less harried if you don’t try. But if you can, try scheduling lunch with your boss on your first day back, so that she can fill you in on anything major you need to know, and you can get aligned on what your top priorities should be. Don’t be shy about doing your own prioritization, too. It’s okay to say to people, “I need a couple of days to get caught up before I can have a substantive conversation with you about X” or “I’ve got to focus on Y this first week, but I can talk with you about X next week instead.”

Also, if you can, make your first day back a Wednesday or Thursday, so that you’re easing back in, rather than working a full 40 hours that first week.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. CC*

    This is great, but please note that NY State also now offers partially paid family leave as of 2018 (will eventually be fully paid). Especially relevant to the New York mag audience.

    1. MaggieAndMoore*

      Unless you work for the state, then you only get it if your union can work it into your contract.

      1. Roja*

        I think it’s an opt-in for workplaces. I just got hired very part-time at an arts non-profit that is participating and allowed me the choice to have the deduction taken from my paycheck or not (I did).

        1. MaggieAndMoore*

          Working for a non-profit and working for the state aren’t necessarily the same thing. As a state employee, I can not personally opt in.

          1. Roja*

            I think we’re talking past each other a bit. I understood your earlier comment to mean that the policy only applied to employees who worked for the state or had a union, and my point was that my company is participating and it’s neither state-operated nor has a union. I should have clarified as “opt-in for other workplaces.” That being said, it looks like it might be mandatory for everyone but I’d need to read more on it.

            1. MaggieAndMoore*

              Gotcha. I think it might be mandatory for everyone. Unless you work for the state, then it’s not. I’m just a bitter pregnant woman who works for the state.

              1. Roja*

                Ooooh, that makes much more sense. And that’s really odd that it’s not for state employees… especially in NY.

                1. Doreen*

                  It’s only unionized NYS employees who aren’t covered – because it’s funded by employee contributions and therefore the unions are entitled to negotiate the implementation. NYS has opted in for non-union employees – so I am covered.

                2. MaggieAndMoore*

                  I’m unionized. It has to be negotiated into my contract. We are going through negotiations now (and have been for 2 years!!!) my union is trying to get it but it’s not guaranteed.

        2. fellow NYer*

          It’s opt-in for some part-time employees only… From the State website:

          Opting Out/Waivers

          You can opt out of Paid Family Leave if you do not expect to work for your employer for the minimum amount of time required for eligibility. If you meet this criteria and wish to opt out, you can do so by completing a Paid Family Leave waiver, which is available here. A waiver of family leave benefits may be filed when:

          Your schedule is 20 hours or more per week, but you will not work 26 consecutive weeks; or
          Your schedule is less than 20 hours per week and you will not work 175 days in a 52 consecutive week period.

      2. Faith*

        Same for New York City – only a small number of city workers currently have paid parental leave, although the teachers’ union is trying to negotiate it into their next contract and if that happens, other unions may be able to get it as well. *Crosses fingers*

    2. SamIAm*

      It will never be fully paid. (But the paid portion will increase over the next few years.)

      1. BigSkyGal*

        That link isn’t quite up to date in regards to WA state law. The legislature passed a new leave act this spring that operates as a payroll tax similar to unemployment. The tax starts in 2019 and coverage kicks in starting in 2020. The amount a person receives is a sliding scale percentage of their average wages. If someone earns minimum wage, they would receive almost 90% of their salary and the percentage decreases as the average salary increases (the assumption being that the better paid you are the more likely you are able to weather one or both parents taking time off for the new family member).

  2. LSP*

    Every time I read about America’s parental leave, I get so aggravated! I have friends all over Europe who were able to take the first year (or more) of work off, be paid a percentage of their salaries, and take care of their kids without worrying. Why is the US so painfully behind the rest of the world? When I bring this up, so many people will say it’s too expensive, but it obviously isn’t, since we are the ONLY developed nation to treat pregnancy and birth as a burden, rather than a natural biological function.

    My current company is *saying* they are looking into an actual leave policy, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    1. Arielle*

      I think it goes both ways, though, because if there’s the expectation that as a woman you’re expected to be out of the workplace for a year, what accommodations and protections are in place for people who WANT to come back to work? I’ve seen in comments on AAM that Europe and Canada don’t have regulations in place about lactation rooms, for example, because the expectation is that the baby is weaned by the time you’d be back at work. I’d love to see a system that accommodates all choices, whether that’s going back to work after 12 weeks or staying home for a couple of years.

      1. Miso*

        I had to look it up, but employers have to let you breastfeed your child, either twice a day for 30 minutes or once a day for an hour (and more if your day is longer than 8 hours.)

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        I mean, I don’t think this is the place to discuss it because it’s an article about maternity leave in the US, but if you want to come back, you just come back. Where I live it’s up to three years but people go back after 8 weeks if they want.

        1. Rockhopper*

          I’m really curious as to how this works. Many people, if they plan to have a second child, try to space the births at 2-3 years. So does the 3-year clock reset when the second child is born (and the first is going on 3)?

          1. curly sue*

            It’s based on hours worked – you need to have banked a certain number of hours / contributions to Employment Insurance within a particular timex frame to claim mat leave payments in Canada. The job-hold I believe is mandatory no matter how close the leaves are together.

    2. Miso*

      As a European I completely agree. Heck, in my country it’s absolutely forbidden to work in the first 8 weeks after giving birth, as in it’s actually illegal, not just a suggestion or anything.

        1. Arielle*

          I’d assume that the 8 weeks is for the purpose of physically recovering from the birth, though. And while not everyone who is capable of giving birth identifies as a woman or a mother, in the vast majority of cases the person who needs time to recover is the mother.

        2. Browser*

          I suspect the law is to give women time to physically recover from childbirth, so it wouldn’t apply to a father.

          1. Grapey*

            This is exactly why mandatory paternal leave is required. If men didn’t have “I can work 24/7 as usual when my family grows wink wink” as an edge up, I’m guessing pregnancy discrimination would be reduced.

            1. Lorna D*

              Not to mention that maybe a recovering mother needs someone to attend to things while she’s recovering! Most Americans (not implying anything about other countries, just as an American I can only really comment on what I see here) do not live in a house where multiple generations are around, or have extra people who are just there to help. Someone needs to handle things and a mother who just gave birth and is dealing with a newborn is probably going to need some help

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          Is this law about recovering from birth, and not caring for a newborn? If that’s the case, since it specifically says after giving birth, there’s no reason it would apply to fathers. Or, presumably, to adoptive mothers. (I hope everyone in this country who becomes a parent through fathering a child or adopting one has the ability, if not the requirement, to take time off as well!)

        4. Miso*

          If the father gives birth, sure…

          (We do have maternal and paternal leave. You get 60%(?) of your salary for 12 months on maternity leave, and up to 14 months, if the other parent (which, let’s be honest, is usually the father) stays at home for at least 2 months as well.

        5. Traveling Teacher*

          No, it doesn’t. That’s specifically because of medical recovery needs after birth (and is easily extendable in the case of C-section/traumatic birth and/or birth of multiples).

          How paternity leave usually is taken where I am (France) is that they can take it directly after the mother’s leave (usually up to 4 months total–two obligatory before your due date, with possibility of up to six months’ paid stipend of 200 or 400 euros/month, depending on part-time or no work at all, respectively, same is available after paternity leave runs out.)

          Fathers here typically take a portion or all of their leave after the mother’s leave so that baby can have the benefit of one FT parent at home for anywhere from 4-8 or even 12-16 months, depending on what parents opt for, but they are guaranteed 8 additional days paid leave from the day of the birth.

          Also, all of these policies apply equally to adoptive parents, though the compensation may be slightly less.

          So, France (highest European birth rate) has one of the relatively “worse” European mat leave policies, compared to Germany (one of the lowest birth rates) for example, where you can take up to 3 leaves totaling a year (for paid) and up to three years total (unpaid after the first total year but job protected) during the first three years of your child’s life.

        6. A Non E. Mouse*

          Wow. I hope the same law applies to fathers.

          Others have already posted to this effect, but just to clarify: I wasn’t *released by my doctor* to return to work until 6 weeks after each birth, and my employer (different each of the three times) required that release for me to return.

          This is because the birth process (even an uneventful vaginal delivery) and recovery from pregnancy is an actual physical process that takes actual time, and should involve medical supervision.

          It can help to think of it like other medical events – people that have heart attacks, knee surgery, etc. must get a medical release to return as well.

          So…no. The non-birth parent doesn’t get 6 (or 8, in the event of the poster’s country or a c-section here in the US) week’s of *medical* leave. Because they have no medical need for it.

          1. Double A*

            Here in America, we get our first and only post birth check up at 6 weeks.

            I mean I assume if something is going wrong you can go in before that, but we only have that one follow up that is actually scheduled. It strikes me as pretty barbaric.

            1. Yomi*

              I was just reading something the other day about how doctors and OB’s are pushing for more post-birth visits and scheduled check ups because so many complications are being missed. So people are talking about it, but I’ll believe it when I see it, sadly. It is ridiculous that something that is such a strain on a body is just basically treated as a “walk it off” kind of thing here.

              1. CBE*

                ACOG in the last couple weeks, ACOG released a statement advocating for more postpartum follow up care, and pushing for insurance companies to reimburse for it.
                Sadly it comes off more as a “we want to make more money” than a “we want to support women” because it didn’t encourage any additional coverage for maternal mental health, pelvic floor PT, lactation, etc.

          2. JSPA*

            One of my professors came in and lectured less than two days after she gave birth (first child, in her 40’s) saying that if the farm women she’d studied in Asia could give birth and go back to planting rice in the hot sun, she should be able to give a lecture in a climate controlled hall.

            It was impressive, but sort of agonizing. I think the take home for most of us was, we’d rather see all women get some time off. (She was out for the next 10 days, if I remember right.)

            About 4 years later, she published the 500 page book, “Protecting Soldiers and Mothers / The Political Origins of Social Policy in United States.”

      1. Amelia*

        Making it illegal to work for 8 weeks post birth seems intrusive to me.
        My baby slept about 20 hours a day for his first 8 weeks. I was glad to be able to check in on work emails from time to time.

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          You can’t be required to work, but nobody’s stopping you from checking your e-mails.

          1. Rock Prof*

            When I was working in Germany, the University temporarily turned off the email of people on maternity leave, so they couldn’t actually check emails. It ended up being more of a pain because of things like getting journal articles published and reviewing articles, so they had to do some sneaky email forwarding.

          2. Yomi*

            They definitely can stop you from checking your emails depending on the way the law is worded/how it’s interpreted by the employer.

            I don’t know anything about this system personally, but I know someone who is looking into maternity leave and even in the states if you use certain types of leave if you check your email or work you lose your ability to use that leave.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          The point is that the employer is being reimbursed by the state for most of the salary you are being paid during that leave. So your employer shouldn’t really benefit from your time off that the tax payers are shelling out for, you and your family should.

      2. A*

        That… actually seems a little condescending?
        I’ve had 2 kids and took 6 weeks off each time. NGL it was a bit of a relief to get back to the adult world (though I was on a light schedule)
        I’m in training /medicine and it’s hard to imagine taking a full year off; and a light schedule means a lot of reading/writing which can mean a good amount of time for pumping etc

    3. Snark*

      Yeah, it sucks here. We get it. We know. But how does this help those of us who have to navigate it?

      1. Mom seeking maternity*

        It can help to vent about it. It can help to commiserate with others in the same situation. It can help to learn what alternatives there are. It can help others to learn just how poor the US is on this – not everyone does get it, or understand that other countries don’t have the same problem. It can help to encourage people to organise and seek change.

        Shut up and put up with it is not a good plan.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I know that’s Alison’s POV and therefore a common response here, but I totally disagree. I’m frustrated and angry and appreciate the outrage and support that these comments offer.

        Not having access to parental leave is a significant reason I haven’t had children, and it’s outrageous that it’s had that effect. Bring on the anger.

        1. Amelia*

          You can certainly seek out companies with excellent parental leave policies. My husband is a recruiter and often helps candidates compare leave policies as a way of making a decision.

          1. Peggy*

            Most people do not have that luxury. As of 2017, only 12% of non-government employees had access to paid family leave. That makes the “just find a better employer!” solution an unrealistic one for the vast majority of people.

            1. Amelia*

              I’m speaking from personal experience. I’ve spent a lot of time in non-profits but eventually settled for a nice boring large company that offers decent benefits. I was recently offered a job that sounded a lot more exciting but after looking through the benefit statement, declined it. We all have some level of options.

              1. petpet*

                I could also seek out jobs that will pay me a million dollars a year so I can afford all the leave I want, but that also wouldn’t be helpful advice for most people.

                1. Amelia*

                  Except people prioritize benefits every single day. If are looking at stocking jobs at Costco versus your local independent grocery store, there is generally a huge benefit to going with Costco, which offers paid time off, parental leave and 401ks, even if you like your local store better. It’s not just the purview of the uber wealthy.

                  Even Walmart has upped its benefit package recently to include maternity benefits after realizing they were being viewed as a “job of last resort.” In fact many jobs that are considered more prestigious have significantly worse benefits – a friend of mine is a docent at a small museum making $32K a year with no benefits. That type of job is a luxury that I, and many others, cannot afford. Between two companies, you should always consider the cost to no benefits.

          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Of course I, as an individual, can. But that doesn’t mean that the (lack of a) system isn’t deeply damaging to people.

      3. Cambridge Comma*

        I agree with you. There are places where you could use the information to motivate people to call for political change, but this blog focuses on navigating the workplace as it is, so it’s just irrelevant (and obnoxious when Europeans bring it up).

        1. Peggy*

          I disagree. Not everyone knows how unusual and inhumane the US’s parental leave policies are, and it’s important to spread awareness that *it doesn’t have to be like this.* We can do more than one thing at once – discuss how to navigate it _as is_, and consider the fact that the _as is_ should AND CAN be changed.

          1. Nita*

            Agreed, I had no clue, and I get the feeling my classmates at college didn’t either. If I’d known, I’d have made very different life decisions while I could, like putting a lot of effort into moving to another country. Very dumb in hindsight, it’s not hard to do a little research and figure out the maternity leave situation… but, yeah, I just didn’t…

      4. hellcat*

        Amen. It doesn’t help me at all to know others have it much better than we do here in the US, and all the pitying comments, while well-meaning, get as irritating as gloating comments would be.

    4. All about the bottom line*

      It’s not that it’s too expensive, it’s that most employers enjoy exploiting their employees for as much work as possible.

    5. Philly Redhead*

      Not to make this political, but one party seems to have a strict “every man for himself” ideology — they don’t want paid maternity leave, welfare safety net, nothing. For that reason, I don’t think the US will ever have real parental leave at the federal level.

    6. Randy*

      On the other hand…. why should a private employer be required to pay your salary for a full year when you are not working? Pregnancy, the vast majority of the time, is a choice, and one the employer shouldnt be required to pay for (IMO). There are other life events that require our attention… should we get extended paid le`aeve for those too? Consider the impact of the company if they are constantly hiring women that are getting pregnant, and paying full years worth of maternity leave? Very expensive… and could be argued an unnecessary expense when comparing different employee demographics.

      Being a parent and full time employee are two full time jobs. There is a reason the “traditional” model accounts for this. I get it though, I am expecting my third child in a few months. I would love to continue to bring in a paycheck for the following year while not contributing… but that doesn’t seem fair to the one writing the check.

      1. iglwif*

        If you’re talking about the situation in Canada, maternity and parental leave is paid out by Employment Insurance, not by employers. there’s no requirement that the employer “top up” to the employee’s full salary for any part of the leave, though some employers do, only that they give the employee their job back at the end of the leave.

  3. Amber Rose*

    Everything about that is upsetting to me. I find Canadian maternity leave prohibitive in a lot of ways because we only get 60% of our pay for the 18 months of leave we’re allowed to take, I can’t imagine how parenthood ever works for anyone in the US ever, without sending them straight into bankruptcy or worse.

    Just kinda cements my resolution to never move there, honestly. And I don’t even want kids.

    1. Anon to me*

      It’s even more depressing if you work for an employer that isn’t covered by FMLA, and or doesn’t make provide paid sick time.

      The whole thing is ridiculous. And from my perspective, we don’t have more generous leave policies because 80% of our representatives are old men.

      1. Nita*

        Absolutely. It’s long past time for old men to go lounge in some easy chairs, and hand over running the government to the generations that will be living with the decisions it makes.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        If it was really a “not our problem” ageist issue for politicians, you’d think they would be all over elder care issues instead. They’re not, instead it’s “Eff you, I got mine.”

        As someone who has been caring for sick adult family members for over a decade, I’ve always got my ears peeled for better news regarding elder care. I am always disappointed.

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      Is there a cap on the amount? Would someone making $200K/year get paid $120K/year while they are out on maternity leave?

      1. Amber Rose*

        Mmm, I miss-posted. It’s 55% of insurable earnings, which is capped at $543 a week, if you opt for 12 months. If you opt for 18 months, you get 33%. That’s just through federal EI though, companies usually have their own coverage through insurance.

        Still, $2000 a month is better than nothing per month.

      2. AnyaT*

        Yes, there is a cap. Canadian mat leave is split into 2 parts: 15 weeks of maternity leave (ie, only for mothers), and 35 weeks of parental leave (can be split between both parents). For both you receive up 55% of your average weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $547 per week. Some employers will top up this amount to bring you closer to your actual salary.

        The funds for Canadian parental leave come from our Employment Insurance (EI) program, which is a program that every employee and employer pays into. So $X amount comes out of my paycheque every 2 weeks to go into the EI fund. It not only supports parental leave, but provides benefits to those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I honestly never realized all of that generous leave isn’t fully paid. Ironically, if I’d had to take such a big pay cut, my maternity leave would have been considerably shorter. (I built up enough sick leave so that my 12 weeks of maternity leave under FMLA was fully paid. I understand that’s not possible for a lot of us in the US.)

          1. Kvothe*

            A lot of companies will top up to full salary for the maternity leave portion (ie. first 15 weeks) so you don’t actually get a salary reduction until after that. I’m not sure outside of office jobs but I doubt this applies to sectors like retail and such

            1. Lady Blerd*

              Federal employees get a top up for a total of 93%, at least for the previous 12 months leave. With the next round of negotiations, well see what they will signed for the 18 months leave

    3. Snark*

      You know, I understand that emotional reaction and agree with everything you’re saying, but this is how it is here, and I don’t really think this is a productive line of discussion.

      1. Anon for this*

        I do.

        I got 2 weeks with each kid, one unpaid and one paid. I used to joke that having my second baby cost $500 a pound (it was around Thanksgiving, so we had also recently bought a turkey).

        It’s hard and makes the newborn months way more miserable than they need to be, and it’s reassuring to see other people validate that it’s a bad system, and not just me being weak or unable to hack it. It helps me imagine otherwise.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Since it’s not a letter that is being answered, what does it matter? Maybe some people reading this want to know about benefits in other countries. Lord knows Canada currently has an immigration crisis from all the people fleeing here.

      3. Turquoisecow*

        I think it’s important that Americans know that their lives can be improved (especially with regard to medical care and maternity leave and support). I also think a lot of us (Americans) could do with a more global outlook. So many times we are told we are the “greatest”, and the “socialist” way of life is a pipe dream that would never work. Hearing from people in other countries is very helpful.

        Also, there’s no letter writer here, so you can’t say this isn’t helpful to an LW.

        1. Kim Gwenhwyfar*

          I wanted to point this out to someone more upthread, but it seemed to hostile so I didn’t. I think you may have gotten that right. I can, of course, only speak for myself, but it is often rather galling to hear Americans (in general!) speak about their country as the greatest one, while from a Western European standpoint ya’ll could do with some mayor overhauls with regards to social benefits (and banking/payment systems). So I do get other commenters pointing out that the US maternity leave is a horrendous system.

      4. chomps84*

        I guess the thing is… I know my life could be improved if I were Canadian/Australian/Western or Northern European or lived in several other countries that I can’t think of right now. I know this. I’ve supported a much stronger welfare state since I was a teenager.

        That’s why I find it frustrating to hear non-Americans say things like this. It’s sort of rubbing salt in the wounds.

        1. VelociraptorAttack*

          Agreed. I understand the temptation to vent, especially as someone who is currently 6 months pregnant and in a job without paid maternity leave, but it can be frustrating when people do it with this “if you only knew how much better it could be” mentality.

          Trust me, I know.

        2. Amber Rose*

          I understand that you know, but not everyone around you does. I think it’s probably an eye opener for some Americans that it doesn’t have to be the way that it is.

          1. A*

            I think most americans who are able to read about maternity leave online know about european/canadian maternity leave. It kind of comes up a lot.

    4. Baby Fishmouth*

      Actually, Canadians only get 55% of their pay for 12 months up to a maximum of $547 per week. If you choose to take 18 months, it’s only 33% of your pay up to a maximum of $328 per week. So a bit worse than you thought!

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, I corrected myself. It’s insurable earnings, which is a different thing than actual wages since it’s a WCB thing and capped at something around $1200. I did say I found our parental leave a bit prohibitive, that’s why.

        That said, most of the companies I’ve worked for have additional benefits through insurance. And if you get the max amount of EI benefits that’s over $2000 a month, which is a fair bit better than nothing.

    5. J.B.*

      There are a lot of baked in assumptions that make it hard to have kids in the US, and an attitude I’ve often seen quoted of “don’t have kids if you can’t afford them”. The thing I did find positive about FMLA is that both parents can take it. Of course that is for people who can afford to take FMLA.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Our parental leave is also available to both parents. They have to share it though, since it’s 12 or 18 months total. Which means we could do 6-6, or whatever.

        I know people say “don’t have kids if you can’t afford them” but also if I say I don’t have kids because I can’t afford them I hear “you’ll never have kids if you wait until you can afford them.” With the associated attitude that i’m nuts for not wanting to go broke having kids.

        So. That’s a thing. :/

        1. Turquoisecow*

          It’s kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, being a parent. If the people I know who had kids waited until they could afford them, most wouldn’t have kids. Or cars. Or a house. Nothing is affordable, certainly not children.

          But you should hurry up and have them anyway!!

          (To be fair, the only person who has ever directly pressured me about kids is my MIL, who not-so-subtly brought up the topic the first time I met her. But she’s backed off a lot since her daughter had two kids and bought a house, which MiL is probably helping to pay for.)

    6. Jubilance*

      It’s not as dire as you think – there are some great things about living and working in the US.

      My large, US-only employer provides salaried employees with up to 16wks of leave – the number of weeks that are 100% paid depend on whether you’re giving birth or adopting, the type of delivery, and how much vacation time you have. I decided to take 12wks and all of that was fully paid to me, I got 100% of my salary. I also was able to come back on a reduced schedule (80%) while keeping 100% of my salary and benefits.

      Two companies in my area just announced changes to their maternity leave policy and are now offering 20wks fully paid, so I except to see my employer go up to that as a way to retain current employees and recruit others.

      1. Clever Girl*

        This is a far, FAR deviation from the norm, though, and you are extremely lucky. I’ve been looking for a new job for about a year (I currently have a job so it’s not rushed) and I haven’t seen ANY companies I can apply to that have anything close to this. The best one I saw was a company that offered a full 2 weeks of paid parental leave and then you could get an additional 4 weeks covered by the short-term disability insurance the company provided. So that’s 6 weeks paid which isn’t even enough to fully recover from giving birth.

        So I wouldn’t say that your example is a “great thing about living and working in the US.” It’s a great thing specific to your company, that is very rare in the US in general.

        1. Jubilance*

          There are more companies than you think that provide it – they just don’t advertise it. This is not at all an exhaustive list but I can count the following companies who provide fully paid maternity leave for at least 12wks: Amazon; Target; Netflix; General Mills; Medtronic; Facebook; Johnson & Johnson; Apple; Google; Microsoft; Bank of America.

          I absolutely agree that more companies should do this, and it sucks that a lot of companies that are providing “better” leave are the ones who have a high concentration of highly skilled tech workers but overall there are companies pushing the envelope and making things better.

        2. Amy*

          Every place I’ve worked has had at minimum 12 weeks @ 60% through short term disability. Some places have more some have less.
          I’m getting 12 weeks at 100% and can add on some of my accrued vacation and sick time if I want. If you go look at any of our posted jobs maternity leave details are not advertised like some of our other benefits like the 401k match and vacation time. I’m guessing since it’s not relevant to everyone.

          1. Helena*

            It’s also worth noting that in the U.S. disability pay is not taxed like regular pay, and having no commuting, etc. saves additional money. So, while my short term disability only paid a fraction of my salary, my take-home pay was roughly the same.

    7. Cube Diva*

      I am ECSTATIC that my company offers 60% (it may be 40%? I really don’t know yet) for 6 of the 12 weeks you can take. It sucks that that’s exciting… my coworker only took those 6 weeks because they couldn’t afford to take any more.

  4. Bad Candidate*

    Regarding Short Term Disability I’d add on a couple of things. 1. You can’t take it for an adoption or paternity leave. The person using it has to be disabled (as in recovering from child birth). 2. If you don’t already have STD through your employer there may be pre-existing condition exclusions on when you can use it for pregnancy. There might be a delay period. If you’re currently pregnant and sign up for it you might not be able to use it for a year. If you’re signing up as a new hire, that might apply though. Either way, check your policy before you assume you’ll be covered.

    1. MaggieAndMoore*

      This! I can’t use STD for my maternity leave because I don’t get it through my employer. I planned to get it on my own and after several meetings learned I wouldn’t be covered.

    2. Goya de la Mancha*

      Sitting here thinking…what does Herpes or chlamydia have to do with maternity leave?

      then the light bulb went on….

  5. Dizzy*

    I’m an Independent Contractor for a small company with technically zero employees (we’re all “independant contractors”), so does that mean I have zero protection when it comes to maternity leave? That sucks. I’m due to have the baby during our busiest season, so I was hoping to have a more firm excuse to stay away from work than “I don’t wanna.” :(

    1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

      As an independent contractor, you should be fully in control of your hours and work. If you’re not, your company probably needs to be re-evaluated for whether they’re hiring independent contractors or just refusing to classify people as employees (though they don’t have that option).

      1. Dizzy*

        Heh, yes they certainly do need to be re-evaluated. In a sane world we would be employees, but it’s just not going to happen. Loads of small businesses in my state get away with it. It’s event-central work, so if you can’t work you don’t get paid and if you don’t take enough events they stop sending you event lists. And no, we don’t get to negotiate our rates in practice. It’s some bullshit, but there’s not much I can do about it.

        1. Dizzy*

          We also have a nice little noncompete in our contracts that essentially prevents us from taking work with other booking agencies for 2 years after we leave this one. I wish I could afford a lawyer to confirm how ridiculous all of it is.

          1. Bea*

            No. Take that to a lawyer to examine. Many noncompetes are bogus and don’t hold water in court.

            1. Doc in a Box*

              Depends on the field. I’m a physician, and not only can I not work within 50 miles of my current hospital for 1 year after leaving them, I can’t work within 50 miles of any of their affiliates (which are everywhere). That means if I leave I’ll have to move to a different part of the country.

              1. only acting normal*

                For what *business* purpose is a non-compete for a physician?
                Can you take patients or proprietary medical practices to a direct competitor? (Causing clear cut loss to them).
                Aren’t you mainly just taking your personal knowledge and skills when you go? (That’s your right in the market for your skills – seems arbitrary and imbalanced to restrict that.)

                1. Doc in a Box*

                  Yes, it refers to the fact that patients might follow you to your new practice. In academic medicine, you would also be taking grant funds with you, which can be substantial. In some contracts, you aren’t even allowed to tell patients where you’re going/when you are leaving. Thankfully mine isn’t quite that restrictive.

        2. paul*

          If you’re not correctly classified, talk to the IRS (it has tax implications) and/or your labor board.

          Protections in the US are weak, but they’re not non-existent.

    2. Snark*

      It sounds like your employer is misclassifying you, but this is an area of employment law I’m not super familiar with.

      1. Storie*

        I believe California just passed a law as to classifications/iC’s. Heard end of NPR story…

    3. Bea*

      You have no protections of any labor laws if your a contactor. You can talk to your labor board and report the classification issue but you’ll most likely just get the racket fined into dissolving. You need a new job which is not what anyone wants to hear here but you’re working for a place that’s a shambles if they are listing everyone as 1099 and thinking it’s not going to explode with an audit.

      1. Dizzy*

        You’re right. In fact, the paperwork is going through as we speak so I can go into business for myself and completely seperate from this company. Book my own events and build up a client base. In the meantime, though, I need this income.

  6. k.k*

    I just accepted a new job for a company too small to qualify for FMLA. Their policy is basically, you can take 12 weeks unpaid and if the job is still open after that we’ll consider taking you back. They make it very clear that they’re under no obligation to rehire you, or pay you the same amount if they do. I didn’t think to ask about it before I accepted since I’m a few years from trying for kids, but it basically guarantees that I won’t be working there long.

    1. Roja*

      How on earth do they expect to be able to keep and retain employees with that kind of policy? “If the job is still open.” So in other words, if you get pregnant, you’re fired, unless you’re some kind of superhuman who can take a week’s unscheduled vacation and come back immediately. How about no…

        1. Randy*

          In my working experience this would be handled case by case depending on how valuable the employee is.

    2. nonymous*

      I would keep an eye on what their turnover is. When I worked in a tiny company that didn’t have FMLA coverage, there were still enough of us in with the same position description that someone was always leaving – it was just that kind of workforce. In the three years I was there two women had babies and one other staff member took a big block of time unpaid to recoup from a leg injury. All came back, although technically they were filling “new” openings.

      At another org someone quit for a couple months and he applied for it immediately when it was posted externally with a request to start in 6 weeks. Management justified his rehire because his training hadn’t lapsed in that period, which also was much less than the time org would have invested bringing a new hire completely up to speed (the staff member was a level III tech, and staff always comes in at I). Fwiw, in this particular case the coworker wanted to cash out his 401K to start a side business and had discussed it with management before leaving – he also timed it for a period where we were projected to be slower.

    3. Beatrice*

      If they have at least 15 employees, they’re covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical needs. They can’t have a policy that treats maternity leave differently from other kinds of medical leave. If they’d hold Steve’s job for 12 weeks if he has a serious car accident and needs time off to recover, they need to give Jane the same consideration if she needs to take time off to give birth. If Tammy can have routine time off to follow her oncologist’s plan to treat her cancer, then Sue needs to be given the same leeway with time off for her prenatal appointments.

      1. k.k*

        They have less than 15. But in fairness to them, they have this same policy for all personal leave (they don’t have a specific maternity policy, it’s bundled into general unpaid leave). They actually have some generous benefits otherwise, so I think this might be CYA language in the policy that they wouldn’t act on, but it comes off harsh. The company is very new and I doubt they’ve had to deal with a maternity leave yet. It’s also predominantly older and male.

    4. VelociraptorAttack*

      I was working at a nonprofit with a staff of 3 and once my husband and I seriously started talking about a “timeline” for kids (that took an additional year due to fertility issues), I immediately started looking for a new job just because the prospect of going on leave and hoping my job would still be around was terrifying.

  7. expectant mother*

    Would love to hear from those who have taken more than 12 weeks off. How did it impact your benefits? Were you able to use short term disability insurance? How did you convince your boss?

    1. anonorama*

      I took 14 weeks of full time leave and an additional 6 weeks where I worked 50%. But, my American company offers 6-8 weeks short term disability and up to 20 weeks of parental leave at varying levels of pay. If anything, I had to convince my boss that I wanted to be back at work.

    2. Jubilance*

      I work for a large US company and was eligible to take up to 16wks; I chose to take 12wks. My company provides 100% of your pay through parental leave (2wks for all new parents) and then 8 or 10wks depending on the type of delivery. The rest of the weeks can either be taken unpaid or you can use vacation time – I used 2wks of vacation to get me to 12wks fully paid.

      Then when I came back, I was able to come back at a reduced schedule (1 day off a week) while keeping my same salary and benefits, and I did that for the first 6mos I was back.

    3. Amelia*

      My colleague just took 14 weeks. She had 8 covered by the company, took 4 weeks unpaid and then returned from FMLA and took 2 weeks vacation. Our manager was on board. Benefits were unaffected because of FMLA.

      1. TheSockMonkey*

        when I took FMLA, I was required to pay my company’s portion of my health insurance and they stopped my 401k match, etc. is that just me?

        1. Jubilance*

          Nothing changed with my benefits and I wasn’t required to pay my employer’s portion of my health insurance. The only thing that stopped was my post-tax contribution to my account for parking.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      The company I worked for at the time did the minimum for large companies that have short term disability (they’ve since improved the mat/pat leave options). Either 6 or 8 weeks short term disability at 80% salary (excluding the first week, which is unpaid unless you use sick/vacation time), depending on whether you have a C-section. There was also FMLA, up to twelve weeks (unpaid) and you could use some or all sick or vacation time for pay during that time. The first time they automatically paid out all my vacation time and I had to do paperwork to get it back because I needed to use that vacation time later in the year after I got back.

      I had very good managers at the time who had no problem with my taking time off (I took 12 and 14 weeks, respectively – 8 weeks STD and 4 – 6 weeks FMLA). Other than signing up the new dependents to my insurance, I didn’t have any changes to my benefits.

    5. Nita*

      I took a long leave… didn’t have short-term disability insurance, but there was some kind of state payment that was processed by HR. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing. I was on my husband’s health insurance, so not sure how that would have worked otherwise. I also had nearly 2.5 months’ worth of vacation and sick leave thanks to six years’ worth of no sick days (thank you, telecommuting!) So I was getting paid for a big part of my leave, with 401k and flex spending contributions going on as usual as long as I drew a paycheck. There was some weirdness with the flex spending though – turns out, if you elect to deposit a certain amount, you can’t put in less. Once I was no longer getting paid, my company paid the flex spending contribution, and the balance came out of my first paycheck when I returned.

    6. Worker bee*

      I commented downstream about my leave as well, but the only change to my benefits was that I did not accrue any PTO while I was on leave- 491k matching and healthcare premium payments remained constant.

    7. Double A*

      I am able to take off 8 weeks pregnancy disability leave and then start 12 weeks FMLA after that, but this is because of California law. I signed up for private disability leave that will cover me at about 80% of income for the 8 weeks of disability leave. I added a rider to that insurance where I get $500 for every night I spend in the hospital, so hopefully that’ll be a couple of nights…

    8. Elena*

      I took 16 weeks and just came back this week. I used 8 weeks of short term disability, which was fully paid by my company. Then 3 weeks of vacation/family leave/whatever they officially called it and 5 weeks of NY Paid Family Leave at 50% pay. No impact to my benefits. I didn’t find out how the NY family leave would work until right before I went out (January baby), so the extra 4 weeks with pay was an exciting extra vs. the STD and unpaid FMLA.

  8. Heat's Kitchen*

    I am going to be going out on leave with my second child within the next month. The day I received my job offer at this US company I found out I was pregnant with my first. I talked to HR about benefits and disability and told my manager before accepting. He allowed me to take 12 weeks paid even though I wasn’t eligible for FMLA (8 weeks disability, 4 weeks PTO).

    This time around, I’m eligible for my company’s parental leave. I will get 8 weeks disability pay and 10 weeks ‘bonding time’. All paid. I know I’m extremely lucky.

    I have multiple colleagues who have had children in the last year/are expecting this year and not planning to take full advantage of this leave. And it makes me SO MAD. The state of our leave is terrible in this country. We need to speak up and get it changed.

    1. Anon for this*

      The only time I have feelings about what someone else does with their leave is when it’s someone in a prominent leadership position. If you’re the CEO and your back at work the next day, you have implied to everyone at your company that they must do the same.

      Even if you “want” to come back to work that soon, part of being a leader is weighing the needs of your employees with your personal wants, and that includes the optics of what you do with your leave.

      1. Heat's Kitchen*

        Yes, I know I really shouldn’t care what others do with their leave. You’re totally right. For me it’s the principle of the matter. But thanks for the reality check!

        1. Anon for this*

          I didn’t mean to clap back at you—I was mostly agreeing, just with a caveat!

          I think J.B.’s point below that even non-CEO men might be able to help with culture change if they take their leave is a good one, too—I hadn’t thought f that.

      2. J.B.*

        Globally, I think it would make a difference if more men took leave after a child. Each person’s individual circumstances drives their decision, but it is great to see a company offer this, and would be even better if managers actively encouraged their employees to take it.

      3. Double A*

        That is honestly one reason I’m maximizing my leave. It should be different, I can make it work, and so I am going to take as much as I can (still only about 4.5 months, not a lot by worldwide standards).

    2. All the Words*

      It’s great that you are able to take a longer leave than the typical American. But why does someone else making a different choice make you angry? If they feel like they’d rather not be home with their children for that 18 week window and would like to return to work, what impact does that have on you?

      1. Heat's Kitchen*

        Angry maybe isn’t the right word. And as I mentioned in another comment, I sometimes forget my perspective that it really isn’t any of my business.

        You’re totally right they can do what they want, and I really do support them in doing that. I’ve never actually expressed to anyone that they should be doing something different than their plan. For those I work with, the most I’ve said is, “You do know you’re eligible for more leave, right?” and leave it at that.

        However, it’s the stigma attached to “I need to get back to work” and how it looks when people aren’t taking advantage of leave that others would kill for. I have many many friends who have only gotten STD payments for 6 weeks and need to return to work to be able to afford basics.

        1. Amelia*

          Unless you are serving an HR function at your job, I wouldn’t say “You know you’re eligible for more leave.” It puts people on a defensive. No one needs to explain to you why they are going back to work when they want to go back to work.

          For me, I felt like I was becoming deeply depressed after 12 weeks home, struggling to breastfeed, healing my birth injuries. Going back to work was a breath of fresh air with routine and colleagues I like. And because my husband and I were both working, it meant alternating nights waking up with the baby. So I was finally able to get some sleep. I shouldn’t need to justify that to anyone.

          1. Heat's Kitchen*

            I want to go back to work as well and don’t have a desire to be a stay at home mom. You’re correct that no one needs to justify their decisions to me. I wish I could go back and clarify what I wrote as it does come off a bit judgemental. The perception it gives off is what annoys me. The fact that it isn’t standard that everyone can take the time they and their baby needs is what makes me mad. Everyone is entitled to do what is best for them and their family. But I will say, even in talking about my plans, I have gotten some questions of “Why are you taking so much time” and “aren’t you worried about X project”. And Those shouldn’t really be factors either. It’s totally a personal decision and I do respect that.

          2. nonymous*

            I have a coworker who is like you in that she was back to answering emails ~2 weeks after giving birth and putting in ~20+hrs/week by the 1 month mark. While I have no idea how I would use leave in a birth situation, it made me very nervous about how I would be perceived when I took half a week off to care for my MIL. In my case it was because she needed transportation to daily medical treatments for a short period and had a preexisting condition that made freeway driving dangerous, so it seemed incredibly superficial when compared to the healing that follows childbirth.

  9. Kelly White*

    I work for a company that has too few employees to have to comply with FMLA. We adopted and I asked for 7 days off. I was granted 5. It sucked.

  10. Thoughts*

    It’s important to note that if you use short term disability, you CANNOT do any work at all. So re: the answer to the question about being contacted when on leave would be that you cannot do ANY work. Your STD could be yanked if you do.

    1. SamIAm*

      That’s false, you just can’t come into the office. Working from home is allowed, at least under my company’s STD policy.

    2. fposte*

      STD policies aren’t uniform; a lot of them are private, some are state, and they can differ wildly from one to another.

    3. E*

      Also note that for some STD policies you don’t get paid for the first couple of weeks, even though you’re “eligible” for x weeks STD. My company’s policy said 8 weeks STD, but I found out that the first 2 weeks were unpaid and had to shuffle finances and savings for baby time at the last month or two of pregnancy. Ask as early as you feel comfortable about your company’s policy, so you can plan.

  11. Storie*

    Thank you for doing this column. A great addendum to this would be—Ways my employer may try to get rid of you once you return, and how they can skirt the law in doing so.

    1. LSP*

      Personally, I’d love guidance from Allison on how to approach an employer to try to convince them having a parental leave policy is in their own best interests. I’ve done some research and 90%+ of what I’ve found fully supports the idea that parental leave is good for business. But what is the best approach to take when discussing this with your employer?

  12. Hallie B*

    Our site manager told a colleague that he can’t guarantee her the same job when she gets back from maternity leave– our job is reception, there’s no equivalent job she could be given. Companies do *not* care about women/mothers. It sucks.

    1. Bea*

      Are you covered by FLMA? She needs to document that bullshit and get ready to get a lawyer involved if he tries to make good. It’s reception…call a temp for 3 months W.T.F.

    2. Randy*

      Sounds more like your site manager doesn’t care for that particular person.

      Companies generally not caring about women is a pretty bold claim to follow this anecdote.

  13. Llama Herder*

    Thank you for publishing this! I’m expecting my first child this fall and have so many questions- this is a great resource.

  14. Amelia*

    My company offers 6 weeks paid for a standard birth and 8 weeks for a C-section. As someone who had a 3rd degree tears, a ton of stitches and had a pretty severe limp for at least month after a vaginal birth, I found it a little frustrating.
    I’m currently pregnant with twins and will definitely be more inclined to a C-section now between my first experience and the incentive that’s been set up for me to have one.

    1. Heat's Kitchen*

      It’s not an incentive, it’s the fact that you’re recovering from major abdominal surgery and the standard recovery time deemed by the medical industry is 8 weeks (at least I think that’s how it’s figured out).

      Definitely not saying 6 weeks is enough for natural birth either. If you can get your doctor to say you need more time off for recovery due to additional circumstances, your work may approve it. Just an idea.

    2. Non-Prophet*

      My organization is the same: 6 weeks paid for a vaginal birth and 8 weeks for a c-section. I think the fact that it’s paid is great, but I wish there were an option to take unpaid leave. We’re too small to qualify for FMLA, so my employer isn’t obligated to offer it. So I’ll be back at work in 6 or 8 weeks…or I’ll have to leave a job I love. It stinks.

      1. Arielle*

        I hate this. Apart from anything else, I think it’s gross that you’re forced to disclose to your employer the method by which your baby came out of your body.

        1. Randy*

          Agreed. If they are willing to offer 8 weeks just offer 8 weeks across the board. You will always have significant differences in recovery (from both types of delivery) so to me it doesnt make sense to have two different scenarios.

          1. Non-Prophet*

            Yeah, I agree that the distinction is odd. I know my organization uses STD, in part, to provide the funds for the leave (and then pays the balance to get up to 100% salary for the period of leave). So I think the 6 weeks vs 8 weeks has to do with what STD will cover in various circumstances. But still, I wish my company were willing to find a way to offer 8 weeks across the board.

  15. WolfPack Inspirer*

    Something else to keep in mind is your overall leave accrual rate and whether there are limitations on how quickly you can use it, and whether you’ll be penalized for taking unpaid leave if you don’t have anything accrued and need to care for the baby or your own health.

    If you’re in one of the many businesses where ‘here’s your 12 weeks FMLA guarantee but DURING those 12 weeks we require you to burn through all of your sick leave and then burn through all of your vacation leave’ is the policy, you get back to work with a 3 month old and you have ZERO accrued leave of any sort to take care of emergencies or doctor visits or daycare problems.

    I was in my first job – small business, it was before FMLA, and the poor lady used up all her sick and vacation leave during her pregnancy because it was a difficult one. She got ‘special permission’ to take a bit of unpaid leave, came back to work when he was 2 weeks old, and got fired a month later for taking ‘excessive unapproved leave.’

    My current employer has an employee ‘sick leave bank’ where people donate extra accrued sick leave that can be requested by people with chronic conditions or maternity leave to help cover the unpaid time, or cover emergencies after they exhaust all theirs. Still tho – we can only roll over so much year-to-year, so even if you KNOW you are going to need it, you can’t save up past a certain fairly low set-point.

    1. Arielle*

      Can someone explain the logic behind a sick leave bank? My company has unlimited sick leave so I don’t really understand. Presumably if I go over my allotted sick time, the company doesn’t want to continue to pay me because they’re paying a salary for work that’s not being done. But if I’m a programmer and someone in sales donates their sick time, the programming work is STILL not being done. And if the salesperson was never going to take that sick time anyway because they happen to not be sick or injured, what difference does it make whether they “donate” their time or the company just gives me more sick pay because I need it and someone else doesn’t?

      Different people need different amounts of sick time and it seems like it probably comes out even in the end without the embarrassment of having to beg coworkers to donate their time.

      1. Bea*

        I’ve heard of donating sick leave before and the idea is the company is only paying X amount of hours that are “earned” by someone. They don’t take into consideration that everyone has different jobs or even pay rate. Sally makes 15 an hour but donates to Nancy who makes 18 an hour, etc.

        It’s mind blowing that it’s still done, I am the most relaxed HR person in terms of I rarely view things as tedious or annoying. I would leak rage everywhere if I’m tasked with moving sick pay around, it seems so messy and not at all cost effective.

      2. WolfPack Inspirer*

        Well, when you work for a giant old bureaucracy, logic really isn’t the driving force.

        In our case, we have a fairly flat structure as far as work output goes, and most of our horribly paid staff are part time so they neither accrue or contribute to the bank, so the financial shenanigans are somewhat limited in scope.

        The workforce trends female and elderly, and there is a strong sense of entitlement to old fashioned ‘ideals’ of things like pensions and job security/stability no matter what, and very little budget to make that happen. A sick leave bank makes the employees feel like they have more options and are ‘cared for by their coworkers’ without the business actually having to approve any newfangled expensive ideas like short term disability or paid FMLA leave time for the whoooole staff. Please imagine about a hundred exasperated eye rolls here.

      3. Doreen*

        I don’t know that it works like this everywhere, but if I donate time to a sick/injured coworker, it’s not sick time that I might never use. It’s vacation time that I almost certainly would have been paid for at some point.

    2. Amelia*

      I had the opposite experience with FMLA. I had saved 3 weeks of vacation by the time I gave birth in November. But I wasn’t allowed to use any of it towards FMLA – it was a completely separate pot. And since it was “use it or lose it,” I lost it all at the end of the year (since I was still on short term disability by December 31)

    3. hellcat*

      This is my situation – I work for a local government, and burned through all my leave and then some to take 12 weeks at home. Came back and a few weeks later, the baby came down with RSV (gotta love the daycare germs!). I had just enough leave accrued that I didn’t have to go to a negative balance, but it was close. Thank goodness I accrue vacation/sick pretty quickly now that I’ve been here awhile, and that my husband can work from home occasionally. We had to keep the baby at home the rest of that week, but I could only swing a day and a half of leave.

    4. Lynca*

      That’s my current concern. I have enough accrued vacation for about 8 weeks of FMLA. I don’t want to exhaust my sick leave in case of emergencies- not that I have that much of it currently.

  16. Bea*

    The struggle to get short term disability insurance is real. I wish it were something that was readily available but no, your employer has to be the original gatekeeper and then the couple agencies out there are inept jackals who can’t be bothered to sign a woman up after asking multiple times /rage rant.

    But yeah I sing the importance of short term disability for everyone who can get their hands on it. Not just for potential parents.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      This is a huge worry for me! My previous employer had STD that paid at 100% (fantastic for my first two kiddos births, but company was super toxic). My current employer has 60% for under 5 years service and 80% for under 10 years service. My husband is a stay at home dad and I’m the only income for our family. With some really careful planning we could manage at 60% of my salary for 8-10 weeks but hubby and I would be super stressed. Company allows you to purchase supplemental STD that will pay 20% additional if you are in first 5 years but it’s not available years 5-10.

    2. LSP*

      My company just started offering short-term disability, and I asked about pregnancy/childbirth provisions, and none of that was covered, so I didn’t even bother applying for it. Now I’m going to have my 2nd kid this year, and I just feel fortunate that my husband and I have a health savings account.

      1. Bea*

        What kind of garbage insurance doesn’t cover pregnancy, that’s the most common Short Term Disability. You just can’t buy it while already pregnant, like you can’t buy life insurance when you’re 97 or terminally ill. That is such a terrible plan and a waste of money.

  17. Lady Blerd*

    As a Canadian, I am always gobsmacked whenever I read about US maternity leave policies. Even the conccept of pumping rooms don’t exist here as far as I know because most moms are at home during the period where they breastfeed their children.

    1. fposte*

      You’re making me curious–are there any lactation protections for women who do go back to work while breastfeeding?

      1. Lady Blerd*

        I honestly do not know and and say this as an HR admin, so I had to google. It would seem that although breastfeeding is covered by our human rights charter, there are no specific legislations that protects lactating moms at either federal or provincial levels. This could be a question for the open thread on Friday.

      2. joyce*

        So on a federal level I think it’s mostly case law, but the Canadian Human Rights Commission lists “Longer or extra breaks and a private place to breast feed or express milk” as a *best practice* to respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (and cites some case law), though of course the Charter itself doesn’t say anything explicit about pumping! Written law on the matter varies by Province because it’s their jurisdiction in terms of regulatory powers. Ontario seems to be the furthest ahead and has explicit requirements for accommodation of breast-feeding mothers (https://www.peelregion.ca/health/workplace/news/2007/oct07.htm). This seems to be a developing area of case law, honestly — probably because it’s just less of an issue with leave and partly because we have better worker protections overall (e.g. mandatory paid breaks over shift lengths for all workers) — but I imagine if challenged most provinces would develop case law similar to a duty to accomodate based on interpretation of the Charter, since “failing to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee who is pregnant, trying to become pregnant or recently gave birth” would count as discrimination. Of course, it would be better if all provinces were as explicit as Ontario, since not knowing one’s rights can be a barrier to receiving fair treatment under the law.

    2. Randy*

      Keep in mind the article was talking about federal guidelines… not company policies. What the country requires as a minimum and what companies do are often very different things.

  18. Nervous Soon-to-be Mom*

    I’m about to give birth in 3 weeks and have only 6 weeks off because I’ve worked here less than a year. I get Short Term Disability after the first week, which is amazing because I had anticipated not getting anything for that time. I would have 12 weeks if I had worked here a year. Now that the time is approaching, I’m really nervous about only having 6 weeks, along with this being my first and just being generally nervous about the birth. Honestly, I think I could tell them after the six weeks is up that there is just no way I can come back, or that I can come back at 50% for a while or something and they would do anything to keep me, but I don’t really want to pull that. My manager and I have discussed me taking on a lot more responsibility when I return, and in the abstract that sounds great, but now that I think about it I’m asking myself if I’ll be able to handle it.

    1. Momofpeanut*

      Say nothing. You have no clue how it’s going to go when the baby comes. You’ll know four weeks post partum how you feel about coming back -that gives you time and your boss time. Make sure your partner knows ASAP if you are even leaning towards more time off – more advice columns are about new mothers who have changed their position! And good luck and ignore everyone’s advice!

  19. Attractive Nuisance*

    A few additions and nuances from two working-mom pregnancies:

    1) Alison’s right that many people leave before their due dates, but it’s important to keep in mind that some women don’t give birth until two weeks past their due dates! So using the due date as the “right day” to start maternity leave could be foolish if that’s when the clock starts counting down.

    2) An employer in Ohio insisted that my 12 weeks FMLA had to start when I took off to have my baby, in early labor, although I had plenty of vacation. Unfortunately I was in early labor for a week, so I had to return when my baby was 11 weeks old. It was definitely the least generous possible reading of the law and seemed unnecessarily punitive. And it made me extra stressed about lying on the couch, having contractions very far apart.

    3) You could be in early labor for a week! I don’t have a good solution to this, unless your employer allows you to start the FMLA clock once the baby is out.

    1. Razilynn*

      If your doctor doesn’t actually put you out of work, it doesn’t matter when the due date is – FMLA shouldn’t be in effect until there is a certified medical condition. A woman could go out before birth on personal leave or vacation time (based on federal, state, and/or company policies), but it wouldn’t be FMLA/maternity leave until the child is born.

      Since FMLA is also for “your own medical condition,” they can require FMLA to start when you need to be out for early labor or placed on bedrest, as long as your doctor provides evidence that it’s medically necessary for you to be out of work. It’s a great policy for the employer, but that’s about all!

      1. Amelia*

        My HR department told me that the due date was just an estimate. My FMLA would start either
        – when I told them I was starting FMLA (some women need to start prior to birth for medical conditions)
        – to let them know within 3 days of the birth

        So I worked all day on a Friday in my 39th week, went home and delivered the baby and then FMLA started Monday.

  20. Razilynn*

    I used to work in leave of absence – LOA all day, every day. Maternity leaves were the WORST because of all the various scenarios and policies. I cannot stress this enough: READ, READ, READ your policies! Look up disability and LOA policies at federal, state, and company levels. Have HR or EAP or any type of employee benefits center? CALL THEM! And please LISTEN to what they tell you – you might not agree with the policy, but don’t think it doesn’t apply to you because you disagree with it.

    Many women in the U.S. think they can go on FMLA/State FML/maternity leave before the birth “because they are pregnant,” but FMLA, State FML, and STD policies will usually need your doctor to provide very specific medical conditions as to why you are not able to work. I get it – you’re exhausted, swollen all over, generally uncomfortable, or in legit pain – but the regulations are the law. FMLA, State FML, and STD can only be approved based on what information your doctor provides in writing. I was told many times how “heartless, cruel, and cold” I was, but I couldn’t just approve a federally regulated LOA without proper paperwork because someone said “Please.” And FMLA/State FML requirements are usually less strict than STD requirements, so it is possible to be approved for FMLA and denied STD pay until you give birth (which is awful and confusing).

    Also worth noting – sometimes you can continue to work and sometimes you can’t. I had clients where your company access was turned off once your first day of LOA was confirmed: no remote access to system programs or emails, ID badge was deactivated, etc.; some “higher-up” employees could get access turned back on a case-by-case basis, but access was automatically turned off once the LOA was confirmed in the system. If this is something you’re worried about it, ask about it now!

    1. Not An Admin*

      A million times over, THIS.

      The Department of Labor released a great FMLA guide last year that helps make FMLA more understandable (and it’s not easy!)

      THEN you have all the state and local protections! I work a lot with CA, and even if you’re not eligible for FMLA, it’s almost impossible to not be eligible for Pregnancy Disability Leave. New York State, as mentioned, also now has Paid Family Leave, which, in addition to pay, is protected leave.

      Finally, which I haven’t seen mentioned, is that pregnancy and recovery from childbirth may also bring you under the ADA. For this reason alone, my company rarely denies leave to pregnant women and new mom’s (for a reasonable period).

      Short Term Disability and any PTO/company pay policies are their own beasts. And yes, your employer CAN REQUIRE you to use any form of PTO concurrent with FMLA leave. I work with a lot of employees who aren’t eligible for our PTO but are eligible for FMLA, and their lives would be so much easier if they had that income.

  21. DonnaNoble*

    I’m due with my first child in October and it’s unpaid FMLA leave. The company I work for is insisting that I use my sick time in tandem with the FMLA (overlapping) but this makes no sense to me. If I want to take the time unpaid, I should be able to, right? My issue is that when I return to work, I’ll have no sick time or annual leave. What if I have to take my baby to the doctor? Is this normal for the US?

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      I’ve always had to exhaust my sick time before short-term disability kicked in. Yes, they can make you use it first, even if you want to take it all unpaid.

      Also, FMLA is 12 weeks total – so the sum of all paid and unpaid leave. Whether one day or all the days are paid, it all counts towards that 12 weeks.

      As for when you return to work…it sucks, because yes you have no leave saved up. I would ask the others in your company how they have handled this in the past – are managers usually reasonable and able to allow you to “make up” the missed time later in the day/week?

      Or do they recommend you have someone else (partner, relative) take the baby to any “well-baby” appointments and save any goodwill “make the time up later” leave for actual sickness?

      Some work places are good at this, some aren’t – I’d check to see how to best navigate yours.

      {And yes, normal for the US}.

    2. Razilynn*

      FMLA in itself is unpaid – being on FMLA leave does not mean the government will also pay you to be out on leave. Your company, however, can have policy that employees on FMLA leave must use PTO, vacation time, sick time, and/or STD pay while on leave. The policy should be in your company handbook or HR should be able to provide you the policy in writing. If they don’t have a policy in writing, you might be able to fight it, but it could be difficult.

      It sucks, I know. Leave policies in the U.S. are very geared to protect the employer, not the employee…

    3. hellcat*

      I just came back a few weeks ago from my leave and yeah, I was required to use all my paid leave before going unpaid. I don’t know if that’s a law or just a common policy. As far as doctor’s appointments, I’ve been trying to work a little bit longer each day so I can not have to take sick leave to take the baby to the doctor (my office makes you use leave even for a couple of hours).

    4. WolfPack Inspirer*

      Nope, that’s exactly what I warned about in an earlier post. The company can force you to take all your accrued paid leave (sick and vacation) during the 12 week FMLA ‘guarantee’ time. So when you come back, you’re hosed. All you can do is be straightforward with your HR before you leave and ask them in advance what they want you to do when you return to work with no accrued leave and medical appointments you have to go to.

      Try to get their suggested course of action IN WRITING (Options include pre-approved unpaid leave, ‘flex-time’ arrangements, ‘comp’ time from working longer hours on other days, or a sick leave bank or pool.)

      And yes, it’s a horrible policy for pregnancy. It’s what happens when companies try to keep employees from ‘malingering’ all their sick leave away and hoarding their vacation leave by taking regular unpaid leave to handle routine illnesses or medical appointments. It’s stunningly obvious that ‘hoarded’ leave was never conceptualized as something necessary for a pregnant-and-then-new-parent employee; because obviously women of that age and inclination aren’t ‘normal’ ’employees’ (translation; men don’t need it so they never thought about it).

    5. fposte*

      Yes, it’s legal and pretty common. This law took a looong time to get passed and a lot of groups were against it; allowing employers to keep it from being twelve completely additional weeks on top of existing time off is one of the compromises that allowed it to pass (see also the splitting it between parents if they’re at the same employer).

  22. Tequila Mockingbird*

    If you live in California, you can get up to four weeks Short Term Disability for your final month of pregnancy, PLUS an additional 6 weeks of Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with a new child. While STD is only available to biological moms, PFL is available to anyone with a new child, whether through birth, adoption, or foster care.

    In addition to your state’s individual benefit provisions, also check your city’s! San Francisco, for example, has a “paid parental leave ordinance” in which your employer is required to pay 60% or 70% of your salary for 6 weeks, as long as you’ve worked there at least 6 months.

  23. Case of the Mondays*

    Make sure you know your state laws. I know there are a ton of different ones but off the top of my head, I know NH and MA have some special protections. In NH, your employer has to allow you unpaid leave for the period of disability from pregnancy. There is no cap on that. So if you are on bedrest your last trimester, your job is protected. On the flip side, you might have to go back after 6 weeks if you aren’t disabled and aren’t offered other leave. This applies to small employers too, not just FMLA eligible ones.

  24. Emi.*

    If I had four hours of annual leave for every time someone said “Oh, but federal employees get paid maternity leave, right?” I would almost have enough to take 12 weeks paid without stressing.

    1. nonymous*

      ikr? My mom and MIL both told me that I was completely wrong to say that full-pay compensation during mat leave requires depleting the sick/vacation bank. It’s like “No, in the last 15 years since college I have never worked at a job that paid mat/paternity in addition to PTO. None of my friends have compensation for mat leave beyond PTO or STD.”

  25. Scarlet A*

    I am an unmarried 32-year old woman and recently, unexpectedly became pregnant, and suffered from a lot of difficulties for unknown reasons. Unfortunately it ended in miscarriage at the end of my first trimester. I live in the US and work for a major US-based corporation. I could barely keep my head above water at work between the constant doctors appointments, and then the financial and emotional devastation I carried alone. However, the stigma of being an unwed not-quite-mother deterred me from inquiring about time off for recovery. Allison, does miscarriage qualify for partial maternity leave or FMLA? We have no sick leave and a lot of restrictions around vacation time.

    1. Amelia*

      Covered employers must grant FMLA leave for one or more of the following situations:
      Here are the conditions:

      The employee cannot work because of a serious medical condition.
      The employee must care for an immediate family member that has a serious medical condition.
      The birth and/or subsequent care of the employee’s child.
      The placement and/or subsequent care of an adopted or foster care child.
      A “qualifying exigency” that arises out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child or parent is on active duty or has been called to active duty for the National Guard or Reserve in support of a contingency operation.

      Miscarriage (I’ve had a few) does not generally qualify for any maternity leave and I don’t think it’s commonly taken under FMLA, though if you have no your sick leave and could get a doctor’s note, I could see it as a possibility. I definitely took a full week off after having a D&C for a miscarriage and felt like it was important. Good luck.

    2. nonymous*

      Your doctor should be able to prescribe you some rest to recover, treating the experience as a medical condition that affects you (covered under FMLA). You wont need to specify the medical condition, but depending on your workplace culture, it may be helpful to have a canned generic statement for well-meant inquiries. There are many painful/life-threatening conditions that affect the reproductive tract and don’t involve a fetus. Be vague.

      When you say “no sick leave”, are you referring to a single PTO bank? In my experience, PTO is not for just vacation, it can also be tapped for sick leave. My understanding is that an employer may require staff to use PTO/vacation/sick leave concurrently with FMLA (so, employees can’t demand that they “save” vacation days to use after FMLA period is over).

      Good luck. If you don’t have a good emotional support structure established, please consider individual counseling or an online support group. This is not a process you have to go through alone (unless that’s your preference).

      1. Scarlet A*

        I did not take any time off after the D&C and really regret it; I was not physically nor emotionally prepared to return to work the next day. I did call my employer’s EAP right away and got set up with a wonderful psychologist so I do have some support in that respect (the father cut off contact when I learned of the pregnancy). I absolutely encourage anyone going through a personal challenge to give your workplace EAP a chance; mine has been wonderful and the benefits are extremely generous (10 fully paid therapy sessions) and 100% confidential. I do regret not asking for/requesting for accommodations at work. I hope my question here might help others in a similar situation in the future.

    3. Razilynn*

      First of all, I’m very sorry for your loss. That’s an extremely intense situation to be in. And I’m also sorry you felt like you couldn’t seek guidance from your employer. If you go on FMLA leave, the reason is confidential, so even if you don’t have an HR, and Karen from payroll reviews/approves FMLA leaves, Karen from payroll is required by law to keep her mouth shut. And if she doesn’t, you potentially have a legal case against the company. Many companies, especially larger ones, use a third-party administrator, so no one you work with would even have access to that information.

      Now to your question. Yes, a miscarriage CAN qualify for FMLA, but your doctor would need to fill out the paperwork to support the “medical need” to be out of work. A lot of times that means a mental/emotional condition is in place, not a necessarily a physical one. You doctor can say things like: depressed mood, feelings of being overwhelmed, unable to sleep, tearful, troubling concentrating, difficulty experiencing the grieving process, etc. — in this situation you usually also need to be seeing a therapist or counselor to support “actively being treated for this condition,” which is a requirement under FMLA.

      Some companies also consider a miscarriage maternity leave based on their company policy. I’ve seen a company where if the woman was 24 weeks along or more and had a miscarriage, she would receive 6 weeks of maternity leave. These policies are unfortunately very rare, but are out there.

    4. Not An Admin*

      I am so sorry for you.

      As others have said, you may have been eligible for FMLA because of the “serious health condition” – which doesn’t have to be physical! I work with a lot of employees who take FMLA leave for mental health, even had one approved for FMLA while in court-ordered rehab after a DUI arrest (talk about a fun case!).

      You may also be eligible for accommodation under the ADA, if you meet the “disability” threshold, even if temporarily.

      FMLA and ADA require confidentiality from whoever works with you on it. If the confidentiality is breached, you do have legal options.

  26. Worker bee*

    I am returning from maternity leave tomorrow (in the US)- I took off four weeks before my due date, and will be returning the day my baby turns 16 weeks old. I was paid at 100% salary for the whole time. Every time I tell people that fact, they are astounded by my company’s great leave policy. It’s a sad state of affairs in the US when less than 4 months at home with your baby is “phenomenal”

  27. Drama Llama*

    Ugh. I’m appalled that a country with such a massive economy only allows 12 weeks of unpaid time off for new parents. Twelve weeks postpartum I was still writing myself reminder notes to wash my hair and brush my teeth. I can’t imagine having to go back to work through sleep deprivation and stress of adjusting to new parenthood.

    1. Randy*

      This is not really how it works in many cases. These are federal minimum standards. That is not always the same as what a company actually offers in terms of benefits.

      1. Non-Prophet*

        This is true, but there is no way for This post to include common company policies because there is such a wide range.

        Unfortunately, while some companies go above and beyond, not all do. This is especially true in situations where FMLA does not apply — either because the employer doesn’t meet the threshold, or the employee hasn’t been there long enough to qualify for FMLA. My employer is fantastic in a lot of regards and I think they try to be fair when it comes to maternity leave. But because they are too small for FMLA, I’ll just get 6-8 weeks of leave.

  28. Cat*

    What typically happens if you’re not covered by FMLA because you haven’t been at your company for a year yet? (Sorry if this has been answered above, I’m on my phone so it’s tough to check)

    1. anon for this*

      For me, I am taking short term disability for six weeks, then back to work. I have to use all my PTO first, then STD kicks in. My employer isn’t big enough for FMLA, but if I were here a year, I’d have 12 weeks paid. I knew it when I signed on – my old job had no maternity leave at all, so it was a no brainer.

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