Maternity Leave? Family Leave? What Do They Mean?

Maternity Leave

You work at your job and you are about to have a baby. Gone are the days when you would be expected to quit your job because, of course, you would be staying home. Then again the days are also gone where, like the wife in The Good Earth, you had your baby and went back to working in the fields immediately.

We are now between those two extremes. If you want to return to your job after you give birth, you have to learn something about maternity leave. Maternity leave has changed in many ways over the past few years. For one thing, it is often now called family leave because employers and others realize the importance of allowing the father or partner to have some time off with the new child and mother.

In most other developed countries, a woman who works outside the home has the right to a certain amount of leave at full or partial pay when she has a baby. However, in the United States, whether you get a paid maternity leave or not depends on the company for which you work. Some companies are very generous and some decidedly are not. Some may give you time off, but may not guarantee that you will get your same or a similar job back. Only 12% of Americans work for a private employer that provides paid family leave.

Most women who want or need to return to their jobs after they give birth often must cobble together a period of paid time off from their jobs by using saved-up sick days, vacation time, personal days, and by going on short-term disability if they can. Although some people are able to afford to skip a paycheck for a while, most people cannot. Many women end up going back to work before they feel ready.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law in the United States that applies to companies with more than 50 employees. It requires an employer to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of leave per year for medical needs either for themselves or for a family member. This law covers the birth or adoption of a baby. Your employer must allow you or your husband or partner to be able to return to your jobs—or similar jobs—with the same salary, benefits, and working conditions.

You can take leave before your delivery under this law if you have complications with your pregnancy and your doctor says you should not work. You can take leave after the birth or adoption of a child anytime during the first year after the birth or adoption. You can also use the 12 weeks of leave intermittently, either by working part-time for a limited period or take some time off right after you give birth and then later.

To qualify under the FMLA, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months before you take medical leave and have worked at least 1,250 hours in that year.

But this type of leave is unpaid leave and does not apply to all businesses. You have the right to up to 12 weeks off, but you will not get paid unless your employer chooses to give a paid leave. Some states give employees paid family leave for a birth or adoption, but this done through state disability programs.

If you are pregnant and plan to go back to work, it is a good idea to talk to your company’s human resources department as soon as possible. They will be able to tell you how the FMLA affects you and about any company policies that apply to you.

What are your thoughts on family leave? Share in the comments section below.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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