What Are the Requirements of Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is an important policy for attracting and retaining talent. Here’s how to create your own policy.

  • Women are 20% less likely to leave their employment after giving birth in states with paid maternity leave programmes.
  • While the federal government mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave for firms with 50 or more employees, certain states have compensated maternity leave requirements.
  • When drafting your maternity leave policy, be clear about who qualifies, decide whether paid leave will be provided, and make sure you are in compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations.
  • Small company owners who wish to understand what maternity leave is and how to design a maternity leave policy should read this article.

It may end up costing you money if you don’t provide maternity leave to your staff. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that states with paid maternity leave regulations witnessed a 20% decrease in the proportion of female employees quitting their employment within a year of giving birth, despite the fact that many firms may view maternity leave as an additional expenditure. In the end, the extra cost of paid maternity leave can help your business by increasing employee loyalty, productivity, and retention.

You must have a thorough grasp of maternity leave, your obligations as an employer, and how to create a maternity leave policy if you don’t want to lose good staff.

What is maternity leave?

Following the birth of a child, a new mother takes a period of time off work known as maternity leave. On the mother’s wish, maternity leave may also start before the baby is born.

Parents of any gender may need time off to care for a newborn or newly adopted kid, therefore maternity leave is also known as “parental leave.” Maternity leave may be compensated or uncompensated depending on state regulations and the policies of your employer. [Read related article: How to Employ and Work with Family Members]

Is it mandatory to provide maternity leave?

Depending on the size of your business and the state you do business in, you may or may not be required to provide parental leave to your employees. All employees of organizations with at least 50 workers are qualified for 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which can be used for things like serious sickness, childbirth, or caring for a family member.

State laws vary regarding eligibility, leave duration, and paid vs unpaid status. Pregnancy and delivery are frequently accepted as grounds for receiving short-term disability payments. Maternity leave regulations are broken down by state in this Paycor graphic.

Elissa Jessup, HR knowledge adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management, stated that offering maternity leave boosts employee morale, productivity, and retention. A further advantage of a business offering maternity leave is that it lowers the high cost of turnover and the related training expenses for new workers. Additionally, it may be used as a recruiting technique to draw in and keep excellent workers, setting one firm apart from rivals that don’t offer maternity leave.

What laws apply to maternity leave?

Maternity leaves are governed by both federal and state regulations. These are the three laws that you should be aware of.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

A federal statute known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 guards against discrimination against pregnant workers because of their condition or that of their unborn child. As per this law:

  • An applicant cannot be denied employment by an employer due to pregnancy or symptoms associated with pregnancy.
  • Employers aren’t allowed to have pregnant workers go through tests to see if they can do specific tasks unless the tests are the same for everyone.
  • As with any other temporary disability employee, if a pregnant employee does experience difficulty completing their work obligations, the employer must provide reasonable adjustments.
  • Employees cannot be prevented from working while pregnant or after giving birth by their employers.
  • Pregnancy-related illnesses must be treated equally with other conditions in employee health insurance plans.
  • Employers are not permitted to mandate that pregnant workers cover greater insurance deductibles than non-pregnant workers.

Family and Medical Leave Act

All new parents, including dads and adoptive parents, are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA. The maternity leave policy of a company, which is normally six to eight weeks long and can be paid or unpaid, differs from FMLA. The six to eight weeks of maternity leave are included in the twelve weeks provided under the FMLA; therefore, a worker cannot take six weeks off before beginning their twelve weeks under the FMLA.

Employees of any firm with 50 or more employees who have worked there for at least a year are covered by the FMLA. According to the FMLA, companies must:

  • Give 12 weeks of unpaid time off so that you may take care of a newborn or adopted kid.
  • Continue to provide health insurance to the employee.
  • Permit the employee to reapply for the same position or one with a comparable wage and perks.

New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California are the only four states that now provide paid family and medical leave. In these states, an employee’s income is covered for around 60% of their vacation time.

State laws

Currently, paid family and medical leave (PFML) programmes are available in six states and Washington, D.C.

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

These states compel businesses to provide employees with time off for parental and medical leave in a manner similar to the FMLA, but unlike the FMLA, they demand that this leave be paid time off. Each state’s PFML programme has its own contribution rates and payout amounts, as well as qualifying conditions including a minimum number of hours worked. Employers in states with PFML schemes are required to make a financial contribution or deduct money from workers’ paychecks to cover paid maternity leave. [Make sure you are current on any sick leave regulations that your company should be aware of.]

How to develop a maternity leave policy

A solid maternity leave policy is essential for attracting and keeping talented employees, in addition to assisting your business in avoiding discrimination claims. The following six steps should be followed when establishing your maternity or parental leave policy.

1.Follow state and federal laws.

The most crucial step in creating your policy is making sure you are abiding by all applicable local, state, and federal regulations. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the FMLA are the most crucial federal legislation to take into account. State rules vary depending on where your company is situated, but if you own a firm in a state with a PFML programme, you must offer paid parental leave.

2.Make your policy applicable to all parents.

Fathers, adoptive parents, and other carers may now need time off from work to care for a kid as well; these regulations are advantageous to all of these groups of people.

As the founder of Exhale Parent, Missy Narula said, “Employers should create a policy not just for women but for all new parents, including dads, non-birth moms, and parents through adoption and foster care.”

You can make all of your employees who could have children feel supported and safeguarded by including them in your policies.

3.Invite feedback from multiple sources.

It’s a smart idea to consult with a number of people while developing your policy, such as your HR department, legal counsel, and staff members who are pregnant or already have children. Consult with your staff to determine the components of a parental leave policy that will most benefit and assist them, the areas in which they require support, and what you can do to make the programme as effective as possible.

4.Determine who is eligible.

Who is eligible for parental leave must be stated in your policy in a clear and precise manner. You can use the FMLA as a model; in order to be eligible for 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months or 1,250 hours. You can change the qualifying conditions as you see appropriate and include state regulations as well.

5.Clarify the different types of leave you offer.

You can provide one of three types of parental leave:


This includes one-time expenses such as doctor visits and minor emergencies.

Reduced schedule.

You can reduce an employee’s schedule or workload if their normal workload becomes too much.

Block of time.

This is a protracted amount of time off that is often awarded following the employee’s delivery of a child or if the employee has health issues that necessitated time off before the birth.

6.Determine if you will offer paid leave.

Employers are not required under the FMLA to provide paid leave, but doing so can help you keep talented workers. Paid time off is a significant perk that many job applicants strongly value. Several methods exist for providing paid leave:

Employer-paid leave.

Although it is expensive, paying the employee’s complete income while they are on leave is a highly important choice for the employee. You can think about paying the employee a portion of their salary during their time off in order to save money.

Disability leave.

To prevent paying for their paid vacation out of your own cash, you can incorporate disability leave in your insurance plan.

Vacation/sick leave.

Some firms permit their staff to utilize PTO for parental leave, but doing so might cost you money.

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