Understanding Basic Maternity Leave Laws

Maternity leave laws last underwent a significant change in 1993 with the passage of The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These Federal regulations require covered employers to provide up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth and care of a newborn child, among other family medical provisions. The Act is administered and enforced by the US Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration.

Who's Eligible?
To take maternity leave, an employee work for a qualified employer. The FMLA applies to all public agencies (state, local and federal), local education agencies and any private-sector employer that had 50 or more employees in 20 or more work weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. This includes joint employers and successors of covered employers.

An employee also must have worked for a qualified employer for a total of 12 months. During the 12 months, the employee must have worked 1,250 hours and must have worked in a location in the United States or any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 people are employed by the company within 75 miles. The 12 months of employment do not need to be consecutive. However, a break in employment lasting seven years or more does not need to be counted unless the employee was fulfilling active or reserve military obligations.

Qualified fullt-time employees are entitled to 60 days of leave for childbirth or other family emergencies. Part-time employees, those who work less than 20 hours a week, can be limited to 30 days of leave. Employers are not required to provide paid time under FMLA maternity leave regulations.

Benefits for Ordinary Maternity Leave
Employers don't have to pay for maternity leave. An employee or employer can substitute paid leave earned by the employee for unpaid time. This can include sick days and vacation time. Employers are allowed to force an employee taking leave to use up sick time before paid or unpaid leave applies. However, employers cannot force an employee to use earned vacation time during an FMLA leave. You may want to use your vacation days to pay for some of your leave, especially if it's unpaid, but you're not required to do so.

An employee that is covered under the FMLA is entitle to keep her group health insurance through her employer, as long as the insurance was in place prior to the leave.

Returning to Work
When returning from FMLA leave, the employee must be restored to her original job or to a job with equivalent pay, benefits and conditions. The one exception is bonuses for a specific goal, such as hours worked, products sold or perfect attendance. The FMLA does not provide an exemption if you failed to meet bonus terms.

Employees must, if at all possible, give an employer 30 days' notice of their intention to take maternity leave under FMLA rules. Employees must also provide sufficient information to show that they are entitled to the time off under the FMLA. This generally includes a statement of hours worked during the past 12 months and a statement of the employer's qualified status.

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