Paid Maternity Leave in the United States

Lately, it seems like everywhere you turn, people are talking about paid maternity leave. There have been multiple articles on Huffington Post, The New York Times, ABC News, and most recently, a story on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver which was then covered by Time, Slate, and The Daily Beast. The articles have all brought to light one big issue: paid maternity leave is not a law in the United States. Maternity leave, sometimes called parental or family leave, is the time a parent takes off from work for the birth (or adoption) of a child. Some companies do offer paid maternity leave, but there is no guarantee that a woman will be paid while she is taking maternity leave. Many times parents must take all of their sick, personal, and vacation leave, and then they are able to apply for short-term disability (STD). STD is meant to cover your salary, or a portion of it, during the time you are unable to work. STD typically runs out after 6 weeks.

New mothers are guaranteed their position in their company for 12 weeks thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that was signed into law in 1993, but this only applies to women working full-time in medium to large companies. Only about 60% of US workers are eligible for FMLA1.

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty.”2

Around the world, the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname are the only three countries that do not offer paid maternity leave.3

To learn more about paid maternity leave, visit your state’s Department of Labor website here.