One in four women in America returns to work just 10 days after giving birth, according to investigative journalist Sharon Lerner, author of The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does mandate unpaid leave for some—just some—workers in the United States, many women have no access to leave of any kind after giving birth.
For those who need to maintain some income after giving birth and while taking time away from the office, short-term disability insurance is an option. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows less than 40 percent of workers have short-term disability insurance plans.
It’s this kind of insurance that allows women to maintain a portion of their income when taking time away from work for both pregnancy-related illnesses as well as post-delivery recuperation.
What is short-term disability insurance?
Short-term disability insurance is insurance that replaces part or all of your income while you are unable to work due to disability.
In almost all cases, short-term disability is covered through private insurance plans, which you may purchase privately or you may get through your employer as a fringe benefit. Only a few states offer short-term disability programs and paid maternity leave programs.
The difference between using FMLA benefits and using short-term disability insurance during or after pregnancy
Short-term disability insurance replaces a portion of the employee’s income, generally up to 70 percent, but it does not protect an employee’s job while they are on leave.
FMLA protects an employee’s job for 12 weeks while they are on medical leave, but it does not provide any pay. This guide can answer your questions about how FMLA works and what’s covered: All Your FMLA & Maternity Leave Questions Answered
Can you use short-term disability insurance for pregnancy-related illness before you give birth?
The two short answers here are: Yes, under FMLA. And yes, if you’ve got the right insurance policy.
You can take leave under the FMLA prior to giving birth. If your doctor prescribes four weeks bed rest before your due date, for instance, you can take the four weeks, go back to work if you are able to, and then take the remaining eight weeks off after the baby’s born.
When it comes to choosing short-term disability coverage, you really need to do your due diligence and compare policies carefully. Remember that in most cases, you must sign up before you are pregnant in order for the benefits to apply to the pregnancy (although you will be covered for non-pregnancy related illnesses or accidents).
A few things to look for in private policies include:
The length of leave (longer is more expensive)
How quickly you can claim payments (waiting 90 days means your premiums will be lower than if you don’t wait at all)
How the policy defines pregnancy-related illnesses
When a pregnancy-related illness meets the definition of a covered sickness in your insurance policy, you can use that short-term disability coverage to take leave. The note from your healthcare provider on the insurance claim form must refer to a covered sickness. So while “bed rest” itself is not a reason to take leave, the underlying reason for that bed rest (such as anemia or gestational diabetes) can be.
A note for the self-employed
If you're self-employed or are shopping for your own short-term disability insurance, you may be hard-pressed to find a policy that covers pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. They do exist, though, so when shopping for a policy, be sure to ask about pregnancy coverage.
Also, most short-term disability policies will take at least 90 days to kick in.
How does this affect how much you can use post-delivery?
With a short-term disability policy, you can be covered for as long as 24 months after giving birth for medical complications. Unfortunately, mental health issues, such as postpartum depression, are much less likely to be covered and benefits may not be extended. Even if they are, the length of time can vary among policies. Again, this is why it’s crucial to know exactly what your disability insurance covers.
It’s also important to remember that your job is not protected under a short-term disability policy.
Once you are deemed by your physician able to perform your job on a full-time basis, payments stop and the leave is over.
Can you use short-term disability insurance concurrently with FMLA?
You can use both the FMLA and your employer-provided or privately purchased short-term disability leave at the same time, as long as you meet all the criteria.
Personal finance writer Zack Sigel explains it this way: “Personal short-term and long-term disability insurance can work in tandem with FMLA leave by replacing your income during the period which you are not being paid. Disability insurance can also pay benefits long after your FMLA leave expires. If you live in a state that mandates paid leave, disability insurance benefits may help you recoup your lost wages where the law’s requirements fall short.”