What is maternity and paternity leave and how does it work?

Both maternity (for women) and paternity (for men) leave is a period of time that new parents can take away from work to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.

What maternity/paternity leave benefits does the Federal government provide US employees?

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible US employees are entitled to:

  • Take 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period;
  • Continued health care coverage during that leave; and
  • Return to their old job, or a similar one, once the leave is over.

Which employees are eligible for maternity/paternity leave under the FMLA?

In order to be eligible to take leave under the FMLA, an employee must:

  • Work for a covered public or private employer, specifically:
    • Public agencies, including federal, state, and local employers like schools. ,
    • Private employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year;
  • Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles;
  • Have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave; and
  • Have worked for the employer for 12 months.

Are there states that offer more maternity/paternity leave benefits than the FMLA?

Yes, there are states that offer more maternity/paternity leave benefits than the FMLA.

For example in California:

  • As of 2018, California passed the “Parental Leave Act.” Under the Act, California’s unpaid family leave laws mirror the FMLA (listed above), but apply to employers who have as little as 20 employees. That means employees of small businesses are entitled to unpaid family leave benefits.
  • Eligible employees can receive paid leave, regardless of their employer. Generally, employees who have earned wages subject to the state disability insurance fund in the 5 to 18 months preceding their claim are eligible for six weeks of paid leave (60-70% of the employee’s weekly wage (maxing out at $1,216 weekly) through the California Paid Family Leave insurance program.

Whereas in In Vermont:

  • Unpaid leave benefits are extended to parents working for smaller companies. Employers with just 10 or more employees must allow time off for parents of newborns or adopted children. The employees must have worked with the employer for at least 30 hours a week for the year prior to the leave.
  • Parents can take up to 12 weeks each year for parental leave. They are also allowed to substitute sick time, vacation pay or any other paid leave for the unpaid leave. Substituting the unpaid time with other paid leave cannot account for more than 6 weeks of the time off.

Since these laws differ from state-to-state, be sure to check your state’s Department of Labor website.

This article provides general information and shouldn’t be construed as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws may change over time and can vary by location and industry, please consult a lawyer or HR expert for advice specific to your business.