It understates the matter considerably to say that the birth of a child is an important event in the life of a parent. It's also a very time-consuming one. Lengthy preparations must be made in the months leading up to the big day; afterward, the new parents have to carefully attend to their child during the important first year of its life.
Small wonder, then, that many parents prefer to take a significant amount of time off work for these activities. Many employers, though, aren't eager to accommodate their employees in this endeavor, as parental leave means lost productivity.
For those who must cope with the variety of issues that can attend childbearing, it's important to understand that the law does provide a range of protections. Though employers may not wish to provide maternity leave, they often have no choice: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies to all fifty states, allows employees who meet certain conditions to take months off work during this vital time.
So what are these conditions? Exactly when are new parents allowed to take maternity leave? We'll explore this issue and related matters in the space below.
Rights Provided by the FMLA
Under the FMLA, new parents can take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave during the first year of their child's life. These twelve weeks do not need to be taken consecutively; for example, a parent may take four weeks off immediately after the birth of a child, then another eight weeks later in the year. However, the employer generally has the right to approve FMLA time used in an intermittent fashion like this; also, they may temporarily shift the employee to another job with an equivalent level of pay, if necessary, to avoid disrupting standard workplace activities.
If the child suffers from a serious health condition, then the employee does not need approval to take intermittent FMLA time, and under these conditions he or she is allowed to extend this time past the twelve-month limit. Employer approval is also not required when FMLA time is taken consecutively.
It is worth reiterating that FMLA allows for unpaid time off. For this reason, some employees seek out an arrangement where they use accrued vacation days to avoid incurring financial problems, while relying on FMLA provisions to safeguard their rights as employees.
Both parents are permitted to take time off under the FMLA.
What Kinds of Companies Are Exempt from the FMLA?
A company with less than fifty (50) employees is not required to comply with the FMLA. Also, a company employee who has been at the company for less than twelve months will not qualify for leave time. Sometimes, a company can deny FMLA time to a highly paid employee (top 10% of company wages) whose prolonged absence can be shown to cause serious damage to the organization.
Can a New Mother Take FMLA Time Prior to Giving Birth?
Yes. Some mothers elect to begin taking their FMLA time early to attend to prenatal issues. In this case, they are still allowed a maximum of twelve weeks' leave time.
What Happens When Both Parents Work for the Same Company?
The FMLA allows the couple to split the parental leave time allowance between them. For example, each parent can take six weeks each, for a total of twelve weeks. Uneven distribution of FMLA time is also possible—e.g., one parent may take seven weeks, and the other five weeks.
Though some states have local laws in place that expand the provisions of the FMLA, it should be noted that the State of Georgia does not have any such regulations in place.
How Do Employees Begin the Parental Leave Process?
Under the FMLA, employees are required to give their employer 30 days' notice prior to taking time off.
Not sure whether you're covered by the FMLA? Have you encountered an issue not mentioned here? The legal team at Barrett & Farahany, LLP is here to help; call us today.