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What Maternity Leave or Paternity Leave Am I Entitled To?

Avra Siegel on May 20, 2015 02:58 PM

What maternity or paternity leave am I entitled to?

This is it, you or your partner is pregnant or you are adopting a child. It’s all very exciting (and daunting!) and you want to know what your rights to maternity or paternity leave are. 

You’ve got so much on your plate and you are hoping that at the very least you are entitled to some form of parental leave that will allow you to make the physical, mental, emotional and economic transition to parenthood. 

Here’s an overview of rights you have, and what’s still missing. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 

In 1993 President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under FMLA, eligible employees are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to:

  • Care for a seriously ill family member (defined as a spouse, child or parent);
  • Care for a newborn or newly adopted child (including foster children);
  • Recover from a serious illness (including pregnancy or childbirth);
  • Care for an injured military service member (up to 26 weeks); or deal with situations related to a family member’s deployment.

While you are on leave your job is secured and you must continue to receive health insurance if you are obtaining it through your employer, just as though you hadn’t taken leave.

According to the US Department of Labor, in order to be eligible for FMLA you must: 

  • Have worked 1,250 hours (average of 24 hours/week) during the 12 months prior to the start of leave (special hours of service rules apply to airline flight crew members);
  • Have worked for the employer for 12 months. The 12 months of employment are not required to be consecutive in order for the employee to qualify for FMLA leave. In general, only employment within seven years;
  • And work at: a private sector employer with 50 or more employees; public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or a public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.

Unfortunately, because of these eligibility requirements about 40 percent of the workforce does not qualify for leave under FMLA and millions of those who do cannot afford to take unpaid leave. 

Read More About the FAMILY ACT, a Proposal to Provide Paid Leave for All Employees

Private Employers 

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that offers no form of national paid leave to new moms. And today, approximately 70 countries offer paid leave for fathers in the form of paternity leave or shared parental leave. Furthermore, only 13 percent of private sector employers offer paid family leave. Make sure to talk to your human resources department to see what leave benefits your employer offers. 

When parents are forced to scale back or withdraw from the workforce, it’s a lose-lose situation. They lose out on future job opportunities and limit their earning – and spending – potential, and their employers suffer from lost productivity and the high cost replacing good employees.  

Absent federal parental leave policies, leading employers have begun providing family-friendly benefits, like maternity leave and paternity leave, as a way to attract and retain today’s top young talent.   

Check Out 20 Companies with Great Maternity Leave

And 20 Companies with Great Paternity Leave 

States with Paid Leave Programs 

Luckily, three states have implemented their own paid leave programs: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Washington State has passed a paid leave law, which has not been implemented due to lack of funding. Find more specifics about paid leave programs on the National Partnership for Women and Families' website.

Read More

Free Guide to New Parent Stress

Avra Siegel

Avra Siegel is's Director of Public Policy