For any parent, the arrival of a new child means a significant change in daily routine, possibly at work as well as at home. A lot of new parents are forced to rearrange work schedules to accommodate the new or expanded role as caregiver. This may include taking a temporary leave from the workplace, which may range from weeks to months. It is widely accepted that parental leave provides a number of benefits for the mother, such as adequate bonding time with the new child and physical recuperation.
Why the U.S. Is Unique in Its Maternity Leave Policies
Historically, maternity leave refers to the practice of permitting mothers to take time away from their normal job duties for a prolonged period without negative employment ramifications. Depending on the employer's policies, a new parent may or may not be permitted to collect their normal salary or a substantial portion of it during maternity leave.
Maternity leave is a practice that has become increasingly accepted in industrialized countries. For example, Sweden permits new parents to take 480 days off work, but the United States has no federal labor laws pertaining specifically to maternity leave. In fact, the U.S. is the only one of the 35 OECD countries that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. Therefore, maternity leave effectively does not exist in the U.S.—at least not as paid time off guaranteed by the national government.
Nonetheless, new parents in the U.S. do have certain rights when it comes to taking time away from the workplace for the birth of a child.
The Role of the FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, commonly known as FMLA, was passed in part to address the needs of new parents (whether by birth or adoption). FMLA allows new parents (both mothers and fathers) to take up to 12 weeks of leave per calendar year without pay to handle serious medical issues, and this coverage includes care of a new child. While FMLA is not a blanket protection against all reasons for termination, an employee on FMLA cannot be fired or demoted because of their FMLA leave.
Not all employees qualify for unpaid leave: FMLA contains several provisos that limit coverage. To be eligible, employees must work at location having at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. The employee must have been employed with the company for at least a year prior to the leave and must have logged at least 1250 hours of work within that year.
Maternity Leave in Georgia
Although some state laws require paid maternity leave, Georgia does not. Even where state law does not provide paid maternity leave, however, some privately owned companies may offer paid leave by policy.
Additionally, the Georgia Fair Employment Practices ACT (FEPA) applies to public employers with 15 or more employees. FEPA requires public employers to grant pregnant employees the same benefits they would allow for any other disabled employee. For instance, if the employer provides eight weeks of paid leave to employees who need time to recuperate from physical disability, then the same leave must be available to pregnant employees.
If you are having a conflict with an employer over your FMLA rights or have questions about maternity leave, our Atlanta employment lawyers are available at (404) 238-7299.