Pregnancy brings a lot of decisions about work, and knowing the maternity leave laws will make those decisions a little easier. It pays to plan ahead, since many of the maternity leave laws are unknown and can cause problems if you are not prepared. Each state has its own specific set of rules for how maternity leave is carried out, but the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is followed across the country as the universal standard.
Taking Time Off
Although employers are required to allow up to 12 work weeks for maternity leave under the FMLA, you may be unaware that the weeks can be unpaid. An employer has the option of using your vacation time or sick leave to compensate for the time off. Some companies do offer to pay a salary (or a portion of it) during leave, but they are not legally required to do so. The best way to work out an arrangement with your employer is through open communication and discussions whenever possible.
Also, the time you spend away from work for any reason relating to your pregnancy can count as part of the total weeks allowed. This means that if you have unforeseen complications or need to leave work for a doctor's appointment, those days or hours will be factored into the amount of time your employer is required to provide for your leave. The 12 weeks can include any time taken for personal illness or to care for another family member as well.
In order to receive the benefits outlined in the FMLA, you need to notify your employer at least 30 days in advance. The notice should be in writing, and both you and your employer should keep copies on file for reference. Besides being a preventive measure against any future dispute, a written notice is also common courtesy.
Can you be fired for taking maternity leave? In most circumstances, you are protected under the FMLA provisions and cannot be removed from your job. However, there are a few exceptions, such as if the company you work for is experiencing layoffs, and your job is specifically affected, or if you are not able to return to work after you have taken the agreed upon leave of absence. In addition, you can be terminated from a company if you indicate that you do not plan on returning. In some very limited cases, a high salary and a key position to the company's overall function may be legal grounds to let you go after your pregnancy.
The FMLA applies to you if the company you work for has at least 50 employees or is a government agency. To qualify, you must also show that you have worked there for at least 12 months at a minimum of 24 hours per week.
If you are not eligible for the FMLA, don't give up; there may be other options open to you at the state level. Contacting your local labor office is a great way to learn more about your state's maternity leave laws.