Understanding Your Paternity and Maternity Leave Policy

Knowing your company's maternity leave policy can prevent misunderstandings when you're applying for maternity or paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the only law that provides for both paternity and maternity leave. This Act allows a person to have unpaid time off for childbirth or to take care of a close family member with an illness. Not everyone is covered, however, and your employer has some freedom in providing benefits.

FMLA Eligibility
In order for an employee to have maternity or paternity leave, the company must be obligated by law to provide it. The US Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division enforces maternity leave policies under the Act.

This Act entitles eligible full-time employees 60 days of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. Part-time employees are eligible for 30 days of leave. This leave is protected; your employer must reinstate you at the end of your leave, or provide a job with equal pay and benefits upon your return.

To qualify, an employer must be a state, local or federal employer, a local education agency or a private-sector employer with 50 or more employees working in 20 or more work weeks in the current or proceeding year. This includes joint employers and successors of covered employers.

An employee qualifies if he or she works for a covered employer, and:

  • Has worked for that employer for 12 months (This does not have to be consecutive, but it must take place within 7 years unless the employee has been completing military service)
  • Has worked at least 1,250 hours during that 12-month period
  • Works at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United State where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles

Protections Under the Act
An employer is only obliged to provide you with paid time off and a job at the end of your leave. Health benefits must also be maintained if they were in place prior to the start of your leave.

Employers are not required to pay you for the time off. Some employers do offer a period of paid maternity leave, so check with your human resources department to see if you're eligible. Employers may force you to use sick days during your leave or to use up sick days before paid benefits begin. Employers cannot force you to use vacation time, but you're free to use it during your leave if you want. Your employer won't be obligated to provide additional vacation time if you choose to use yours during maternity or paternity leave.

If you're eligbile for bonus programs at work based on productivity, attendance or other set goals, be aware that there is no exemption for FMLA leave. If your time off prevents you from reaching your goals, your employer is not obligated to pay bonuses.

Maternity leave policies generally require you to submit a maternity leave request letter a minimum of 30 days before your leave begins. This letter should include statments of your and your employer's qualification under FMLA rules. Check with your human resources department well before your due date to find out about any restrictions or additional requirements for leave.

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