How To Understand Your Maternity Leave Rights

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If you are thinking of getting pregnant or adopting a child, or if you are already expecting, it's never too soon to understand just what Maternity Leave Rights you can expect from your employer.

Companies are not required to provide new mothers with any paid leave time off. While it's true that the Family&Medical Leave Act passed by Congress in 1993 guarantees a new mother, including adoptive mothers, up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the company you work for must pass certain conditions for that guarantee to be upheld.

To qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, your company must employ at least 50 people for at least 20 weeks throughout the year, and you must have been employed by the company for at least one year.  By law, all companies must post their Maternity Leave policies at your place of employment or they can be subject to fines.

If these conditions are met, you are entitled to take your 12 week Maternity Leave even before you are ready to deliver, or adopt your newborn, as many women enjoy the option of spending the last few weeks of pregnancy at home. Your employer must continue to contribute to your health insurance during Maternity Leave, but if you opt not to return to work, you must reimburse your employer for this expense.

During your absence, your employer must keep your job open for you or a job open that is similar in responsibilities and pay grade.

Your 12 weeks of Maternity Leave do not have to be taken as one block of time. You can take a pattern of days off or a block of weeks off, but you must give 30 days notice of your intention to take Maternity Leave time, except in the event of some medical emergency dealing with your pregnancy.  Some employers might require that you take paid leave off first, such as remaining vacation or sick days before using Maternity Leave.

If you work for a company that employs less than 50 people and therefore is not required to grant you 12 weeks of Maternity Leave, talk to a representative in human resources to find out their exact Maternity Leave policy. Most smaller companies will grant you at least six weeks unpaid leave, but don't automatically assume that this is the case.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978 may benefit you if you work for a smaller company not covered by the Family & Medical Leave Act. Contact an attorney specializing in labor laws if you feel your employer is not willing to grant you either the paid or unpaid leave you are required to receive by law.


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