Q: What Is Maternity and Paternity Leave and How Does It Work?

Maternity and paternity leave is protected time that an employee can take off to care for their newborn or newly adopted child.

If your company has 50 or more employees on staff, you may be required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees, to both moms and dads, according to the FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act.

Here are more details on the requirements you should be aware of, both at the federal and state level.

What are federal maternity and paternity leave benefits

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most employers with 50 employees or more must allow eligible US employees to:

  • Take 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period;
  • Continue health care coverage under your company plan during that leave; and
  • Return to their old job, or a similar one, once the leave is over. They also have to have the same compensation package as they did when they left.

In addition, the FMLA requires covered employers to:

  • Complete and provide a Notice of Eligibility (Form WH-381) to each employee the first time within a 12 month period that they apply for leave; and
  • Complete and provide a Designation Notice (Form WH-382) once they have determined that the requested leave is for a reason that is covered 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.

For more information, check out the US Department of Labor’s Employer’s Guide to the FMLA.

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, the California Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program says:

  • Eligible employees can receive paid leave, regardless of their employer. Generally, employees are eligible for six weeks of paid leave (60-70% of the employee’s weekly wage, maxing out at $1,216 weekly).
  • To be eligible, employees need to have earned at least $300 in wages (that had State Disability Insurance deductions taken out) in the 12 months before their PFL claim is submitted.

Vermont offers the following parental leave benefits:

  • Unpaid leave benefits are extended to parents working for smaller companies. Employers with 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.

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Is there a reason to offer maternity or paternity leave if I don’t have to?

Even if you’re not required to, it can be a positive employee benefit to offer maternity and paternity leave.

If you’re interested in offering it, read this article on how to create a parental leave policy for your employees.

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