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The Basics About Maternity Leave

The United States is the only industrialized country besides Australia that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave for new mothers nationally.

According to a Harvard University study of 168 nations, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave. This means that the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland when it comes to providing paid leave for pregnant women.

No one really knows why this is the case, although some professors and experts claim that the difference in European and American feminist movement goals could have contributed to the lack of paid maternity leave for mothers in the United States.

There was a time when it was perfectly acceptable to discriminate against a woman once she became pregnant. But nowadays this practice is ethically unacceptable and 100 percent illegal.

Pregnancy is protected under the ground of gender. This means a pregnant woman is protected against:

  • Being asked if she is pregnant or plans to have children
  • Being fired, laid off, or demoted because she is pregnant
  • Not being allowed to rent an apartment or house because she is pregnant. (This excludes residences that are specifically designated as adult-only or senior-only buildings.)
  • Being refused access to any type of public service like schools, hospitals, or restaurants, because she is pregnant.

Before a woman is ready to take maternity leave, her pregnancy may prevent her from doing her job. It is the employer’s responsibility to modify the workplace, if possible, so that she can work without harming herself or the baby she carries until she’s ready to take maternity leave. The employer cannot force a woman to take maternity leave earlier than she has planned.

Negative comments or reactions from customers or staff about an employee’s pregnancy cannot be used as a reason to fire her, demote her, lay her off, or force her to take early maternity leave.

In most states employers are legally needed to continue paying the health related part of maternity leave benefit premiums if they already pay for employee benefit premiums when their employees are sick.

Naturally the type of maternity leave and maternity benefits vary from employer to employer and from state to state. It’s always best to do your research immediately once you find out you are pregnant and before you tell your employer, so that you know what you are entitled to receive regarding maternity benefits.

Another thing you should do when you find out that you are pregnant is to figure out what type of maternity care you would like to receive, what’s available to you, and what you can afford.

Many states consider primary maternity care a core service that is publicly funded and accessible and available to all women.

But each hospital may have their own policies regarding maternity care. If you choose to have your baby in a hospital, be sure to check out the maternity care options available to you at the hospital of your choice.

And be sure to remember that maternity care is not just a matter of the service you’ll need during labor. It also refers to the services that you might need before pregnancy, as well as post-natal care.

In Europe the early feminists emphasized special treatment for mothers, including maternity leave. American early feminists downplayed motherhood, wanted equal rights for women, and no special treatment.

There has been some effort put into introducing paid maternity leave in the United States. The Clinton administration wanted to let states use unemployment fund to supply paid maternity leaves. But opposition from business groups resulted in this plan being shot down by the Bush administration. Businesses argued that they’d have to increase their contributions to state unemployment funds.

In 2004 California introduced a family leave (meaning either paternity or maternity leave) with around 50 percent pay for six weeks. The money came from a fund paid into by employees, not employers.

Currently there are five states – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island – that have temporary disability programs that need employers to pay benefits if the pregnancy is defined as a disability by a doctor.

Almost every state allows a woman to have unpaid maternity leave. You’ll qualify for unpaid leave if you:

Work for the federal government, a state or local government, or any company that has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of your workplace.
Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during the previous year (an average of 25 hours per week for 50 weeks).

Employers are not needed to keep your job open for you when you return if you’re in the highest-paid 10 percent of wage earners in your company and if your employer can show that your absence would cause substantial economic harm to the organization.

Unpaid maternity leave can be used in any way you want during your pregnancy and up to a year after your child is born. This means you can take it all at once or spread it out over your child’s first year by reducing your normal weekly or daily work schedule, if your employer agrees.

Federal guidelines need you to request leave at least 30 days before you plan to take it. But it’s a good idea to let your boss know you’re pregnant well before that.

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