American maternal leave is different than virtually the rest of the world. Among advanced economies, the US is the only country that does not offer paid maternity leave. At the moment, the only guaranteed time off available to new mothers is through the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. The FMLA allows for 12 weeks unpaid time off. While this is something, it sure isn’t much. Additionally, the requirements to qualify for FMLA, outlined below, are so stringent that an estimated one third of the US workforce is not eligible. The only countries with equivalent maternal leave policies are Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua, New Guinea!
Despite bleak federal policies, six states: New York, New Jersey, California, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, have passed some version of paid parental leave, More state legislatures are introducing bills as the issue has gained some bipartisan support. Additionally, the number of private companies offering more generous policies is increasing.
Immigrants on H-1 visas are eligible for FMLA on the same terms as American citizens. However, since this is one of the few exceptions to strict visa work requirements, it is important to keep accurate documentation records.
We’ll look at qualifying for FMLA, break down what your options are while you’re off work, explore the uptick in more generous maternity leave policies and points to consider while on a visa.
Qualifying for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
If you’re planning on using FMLA, take note of the requirements below.
- Your company must have 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your workplace.
- You must have worked with your employer for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to your FMLA leave. In other words, at least 24 hours in each of the 52 weeks of the year, or 40 hours per week for at least seven of the last 12 months.
Simply put, you need to be working for a relatively large company and must be primarily full time. The good news for visa holders is because of their work restrictions, many are working at larger companies in a full time capacity.
Things to consider while planning to use FMLA
FMLA can come with numerous stipulations. Make sure to check with your HR representative about your companies policies when considering maternity leave.
FMLA requires that your company keeps you on its health insurance plan while you’re on leave. That means while your leave might be unpaid, you’ll still be required to make contributions to your healthcare plan. You may simply need to continue making weekly contributions to your company’s plan, or receive some form of Cobra. Either way, plan accordingly, especially when you’ll need to add another person to your insurance plan.
Paid time off
Your company may require you to use up your vacation days, sick leave, and personal days before you can use unpaid FMLA time. This depends on the company, so be sure to check the wording on your employer’s policy.
Accruing future benefits
Your company is not required to allow you to accrue vacation time while you’re on leave, or count that time towards your length of service.
Companies expanding maternal leave policies
In recent years, the number of companies offering some version of paid maternity leave has increased. They still only make up 12% of the total workforce, and are largely concentrated within the tech industry. A list of employers offering paid maternity leave can be found here.
At the moment, there is no federally or state mandated paternity leave. However, many of the companies that are increasing their paid maternity leave benefits are also increasing paternity leave. Even when fathers have paternity leave available to them, many don’t take the full amount. However, fathers are increasingly included in parental leave benefits.
While both on a governmental and employer level America is inching towards better parental leave policies, there is still a lot of ground to cover. The companies and states that expanded maternity leave policies are finding reduced turnover and increased engagement. Hopefully stronger work life balance becomes increasingly attainable for working parents.