You’re about to have a baby or adopt a child, and you’re going to need to take some time away from work. If you’ve given birth, your body will need that time to heal. If you’ve welcomed a child by birth, by adoption, or through foster care, that time away from work will be valuable time your family needs to bond and rest.
In this guide, we’ll discuss in detail maternity leave laws in the United States and maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). We’ll also answer all your questions about maternity leave.
What are the maternity leave laws in the United States?
The United States is the only developed country, and one of the only countries in the world, that has no federal law that guarantees parental leave to its workers. If you live in the United States, there are a couple of ways you may be able to get maternity leave.
FMLA (which we’ll discuss below) may protect your job if you need to go on maternity leave, but it doesn’t apply to everyone, and it does not provide pay during your absence from work.
Some states provide forms of maternity leave to some residents. Leave varies in length and can be either paid or unpaid. We’ll detail all of that below.
FMLA maternity leave
FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
Who qualifies for FMLA?
Employees at companies with 50 or more employees who work within 75 miles of the primary work site.
Employees must have worked at the company for at least 12 months (for at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months) before they can take leave under FMLA.
Is FMLA maternity leave paid?
No, FMLA is not paid, though your employer may provide some sort of paid leave, and some states provide paid options. Some mothers use short-term disability insurance to bring in a portion of their normal wages while on leave. (Here's a guide on pregnancy and short-term disability insurance.)
Does FMLA cover bed rest?
Yes, FMLA does cover doctor-ordered bed rest. If you qualify for FMLA, you can take job-protected time away from work as a part of your 12 weeks, so if you’re on bed rest for two weeks before you give birth, you will have only 10 weeks remaining after the birth of your child.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevent an employer from treating a pregnant woman on bed rest any differently than they would another employee on bed rest for any other reason.
Maternity leave laws by state
There are some states that provide maternity leave beyond FMLA.
The state of California offers employees at private companies and all public employees the option to combine the 12-week unpaid FMLA leave with four months maternity disability.
The California Paid Family Leave Act allows employees who have worked at a company for at least a year to take six weeks paid leave (at roughly 55 percent of their normal pay).
Some cities like San Francisco require some employers to provide paid leave.
Workers get up to 16 weeks unpaid leave in two years’ time. To qualify, your employer must have 75 or more employees (with the exception of private or parochial elementary schools), and you must have worked at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to leave being taken.
In the nation’s capital, workers get up to 16 weeks unpaid family leave plus 16 weeks medical leave for a serious medical condition. All public- and private-sector employees qualify provided they have worked at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to leave being taken.
In addition to FMLA, workers in Hawaii get up to four weeks of unpaid leave each year. This does not apply to public-sector employees, but it does apply to those in the private sector who work for a company with at least 100 employees and have worked for their employer for six consecutive months.
In the state of Maine, workers employed by companies with at least 15 workers, by the state government, and by local government agencies with at least 25 employees are provided up to 10 weeks unpaid leave every two years for the birth or adoption of a child age 16 or younger.
Minnesota provides up to six weeks unpaid maternity leave to workers whose employer has 21 or more employees. To qualify, you must have worked at the company for a minimum of 12 months at an average of half of full-time hours.
New Jersey offers six weeks of additional unpaid leave every 12 months to workers at companies with 50 or more employees. To qualify you must have been at the company for at least one year and have worked for at least 1,000 hours in that time.
Additionally, New Jersey does offer paid leave (up to two-thirds of wages, capped at $524/week) for six weeks provided that any paid leave is taken concurrently with FMLA or state unpaid leave. This applies to employees who have worked for an employer for at least 20 calendar weeks or have earned at least 1,000 times the state minimum wage during the 12 months prior to leave.
New York state has instituted a leave program that expands each year from 2018 to 2022. Beginning in 2019, the maximum leave is 10 weeks in a one-year period and, in 2021, it expands to 12 weeks. In 2019, pay is 55 percent of an employee’s wages and, in 2022, pay expands to 67 percent.
This applies to employees at all private-sector companies who have worked full- or part-time at a company for 26 consecutive weeks. Public employers have the option to opt in.
As of September 1, 2019, most mothers who work for the state of North Carolina will get eight weeks of fully paid leave after giving birth to a child. Eligible workers are those who have been with the state for one year.
Oregon offers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per year plus an additional 12 to care for a sick or injured child who requires home care. To qualify, you must work for a company with 25 or more employees and have worked for at least 25 hours a week in the last 180 days.
Rhode Island offers 13 weeks of unpaid leave every two years after the birth or adoption of a child 16 years old or younger. This is offered to those working for the state government, local government agencies with 30-plus employees, or working for a private employer. To be eligible, you must have been a full-time employee (30-plus hours / week) for 12 consecutive months.
The state does offer some paid leave as well: The Rhode Island Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program provides four weeks of paid maternity leave to care for a child, and up to 30 weeks for an employee’s own disability. The program applies to all private- and public-sector employers who opt into the program.
Workers are provided up to 12 weeks (unpaid) every 12 months. Eligible workers are those who work for employers with 10 or more employees and have worked for the employer for an average of at least 30 hours per week for one year.
Washington state offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave every 12 months through the Washington Family Leave Act. This applies to workers at all employers. Eligible employees will have worked for at least 680 hours during their qualifying year.
Wisconsin offers up to six additional weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child to workers at companies with at least 50 permanent employees, in both the private sector and state government agency. Eligible employees are those who have worked for a company for at least 1,000 hours over 52 consecutive weeks.
What if my employer doesn’t offer maternity leave or is not under FMLA?
This is the reality for many women in the United States. If you don’t qualify for FMLA and your employer does not provide maternity leave—paid or unpaid—you may have some options.
Use sick leave and paid time off
In order to take paid time away from work, you can take all of the paid sick leave and paid time off that your company offers.
Request a leave of absence
Many companies will have provisions that allow employees to take a leave of absence for things like medical issues or family emergencies. You may be able to request a leave of absence to welcome your new child.
Use short-term disability insurance
Giving birth to a child qualifies as a disability under short-term disability insurance in most states and allows you to take up to six weeks of partially paid leave after the birth of a child. Welcoming a child by adoption does not qualify for short-term disability. For more information on how to use short-term disability as a means of taking maternity leave, check out our guide: A Quick Guide to Pregnancy, Leave & Short-Term Disability.
What should I do if my employer or coworkers treat my maternity leave like a vacation?
If there were a screaming baby in my hotel room needing to be fed every two hours, I'd ask for my money back. The last time I checked, caring for a child (especially a newborn) required a lot more work than most full-time paid jobs. Maternity leave is not a vacation, it's never been a vacation, it will never be a vacation. Not even close. Full stop.
For many women, they do face this kind of discrimination at work, and it's wrong. Here are some things you might say if your coworkers ask you if you're looking forward to "vacation."
I am looking forward to welcoming a new child, but I'm not going on vacation. Taking care of children, especially newborns, is work. Work I don't get compensated for financially.
Maternity leave does look different for mothers adopting older children than it does for mothers who give birth or adopt infants, but it's still the work of raising children. Hard work. I'm going to be a mother and I'm excited about it. A simple 'congratulations' is in order.
Nope. Not a vacation, Herb. I'm going to be giving birth. If you knew someone who was going in to the hospital for a life-altering, life-threatening procedure, would you ask them if they're looking forward to their vacation?
Or, you could go with a simple:
Maternity leave is not vacation.
How to ask for and take maternity leave
You’ve learned that you’re pregnant (congratulations!), and you need to let your boss know that you’ll be taking maternity leave. Here’s how to tell your boss you’re pregnant and ask for mat leave.
Prepare— Before you go into the conversation, you should familiarize yourself with your company’s maternity leave, sick leave, paid time off, and leave of absence policies. Even if you qualify for FMLA, you may be able to take additional time off using sick days or PTO.
Tell your boss you’re expecting— If you’re nervous, that’s understandable— 36 percent of women we polled say they would be nervous too. But we’ve got you covered. Check out our guide to telling your boss you’re pregnant.
Negotiate your leave— Summarize your understanding of the company’s maternity leave policy or the policy for a leave of absence. Let them know your due date and the number of weeks you expect to take following the birth or adoption of your child.
Create a plan for your absence— Once you’ve worked out the terms of your leave, discuss creating a plan for your responsibilities during your absence. Be explicit about how tasks will be documented and passed off. Here's a guide to planning for your maternity leave at work.
Take the time away from work— While on FMLA, take the time to be mentally absent from work. This is valuable time for you and your child. If your employer tries to communicate with you while on leave—to discuss tasks or make requests, for example—that can bee seen as a violation of FMLA.
Return from leave— After an extended leave of absence, coming back to work can feel overwhelming. We’ve created a guide to help with the transition: A step-by-step guide to your first day back after maternity leave.