Maternity Leave Laws Cheatsheet

Get the details on the laws around pregnancy and maternity leave

Pregnant businesswoman working in office
Get in the know with this cheatsheet. Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Expectant mothers are often surprised to discover that there are no dedicated federal laws on maternity leave. Moreover, maternity leave laws differ from state to state.

It helps to understand the maternity leave laws before you decide to have a baby -- and certainly before you request parental leave. If you're already pregnant, this article will quickly update you on the maternity leave laws in the U.S. Your employer may provide paid leave or other benefits above and beyond what the law requires.

Federal Maternity Leave Laws

The two key federal laws on maternity leave are the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. While neither exclusively deals with maternity leave, it's important to understand both in order to protect your rights as an expectant mother.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, for any company with more than 50 employees, this law protects the job of any worker who must take time away from work due to a serious illness, a sick family member or to care for a newborn, adopted or foster child. Under FMLA, you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period (meaning it doesn't have to be taken all at the same time) and you must have been with the company for one year.  

For more information on FMLA check out their website at www.do.gov/dol/esa/fmla.htm.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed in 1978, makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.

That means an employer cannot refuse to hire you, fire you, treat you differently in the workplace, or force you to take maternity leave.  You are allowed to have your workload modified, or given different tasks due to your pregnancy.  You are allowed to work for as long as you can fulfill your job requirements.

 You are guaranteed your job back once you return from maternity leave.  Also, when you are on leave you hold on to your seniority as well as pay increases and benefits.  

If you believe your rights have been violated, you may make a pregnancy discrimination claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

State Maternity Leave Laws

Each state may provide protections above and beyond FMLA. For instance, a few states provide paid maternity leave through a temporary disability program. Others specifically provide workers with the right to take time off work for their children's educational activities.

Because of the variety of benefits provided in different states, it's worth checking with your home state to learn your rights. The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks state maternity leave laws.

The FAMILY Act

This law has not been passed by it's good to be in the know.  The Family and Medical Insurance leave (FMLI) or FAMILY Act was introduced to the US House of Representatives in 2013.

 The Act proposes paid maternity leave.  With FMLA it's not guaranteed paid so the FAMILY Act proposes to support US families by offering something that almost all other nations are, paid leave.  Click here to read the bill and what it's status is.  Hopefully one day I'll have the pleasure of updating this article to say that the US government supports it's families by offering paid leave.

Sources: The U.S. Labor Department, The National Conference of State Legislatures.

Edited by Elizabeth McGrory