If you are pregnant and planning yourmaternity leave, it's important to understand your company's leave policy. In some cases, an employer may offer its employees paid maternity leave, but the employer is not required to do so. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is often a viable option available to expecting mothers who desire to take leave, and understanding your rights will assist you to make conscientious planning decisions.
Although the FMLA does not require your employer pay your salary, it does require that your employer hold your position open for your return after your leave. Under the FMLA, qualifying workers are eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and return to their job – or an equivalent job – when they come back to work. FMLA is especially relevant to parents welcoming a new member to their families.
If you are pregnant, it's important to understand if you are eligible for FMLA and what it entails:
- FMLA covers the birth of a child as well as the placement of an adoptive child or foster child.
- FMLA pertains to companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, as well as government agencies and schools. If you are employed by a smaller private company, you are ineligible for FMLA and must depend on the company's internal leave policy, if one exists.
- You must have been employed with your company for at least one year and have actually worked 1250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave.
- You may take up to 12 total weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period. This can include taking time off for pregnancy complications, bed rest and maternity leave itself.
- If you and your spouse work for the same employer, you can receive up to 12 weeks combined.
- If you are in the highest 10 percent of wage earners at your company and are considered a “key employee” of the organization, you may not be protected under FMLA.
- During your FMLA leave, your employer is required to maintain your benefits, including health insurance. However, you may be required to financially contribute to your health plan.
- FMLA requires that your company hold your job for you upon your return. If the job is no longer applicable, they must provide you with an equivalent position in terms of pay and duties.
Notably, many employers offer short-term disability (“STD”) insurance. If you are eligible to receive benefits under a STD policy, the policy will pay a portion of your income during your leave. Remember, STD does not protect your position, but offers a means to replace part of your income during your absence. Also, keep in mind that STD benefits are frequently paid while you are on FMLA-protected leave. Finally, look to your individual STD policy for plan requirements and your eligibility for coverage.
Navigating the legalities of the FMLA can be a confusing and complex process. Before planning your leave, be sure to understand if you're eligible for FMLA and talk with your human resources department about any conditions relevant to your leave. If you are denied FMLA although you are eligible or lose your job because you have taken FMLA leave to care for your newborn, contact an employment lawyer specializing in FMLA law.