When you’re at a point in your life where you can start family planning, one of the most important considerations is maternity leave. Now, it’s often referred to as “family leave” so that it incorporates paternity leave, as well, but that gets a little more complicated. While there are laws in place that generally protect your ability to take time off following the birth or adoption of a child, getting paid while you’re out is a separate matter entirely. Today, we’ll answer some commonly-asked questions on this topic.
- What does FMLA do?
FMLA, or the Family Medical Leave Act, is one piece of legislation that helps to protect expecting mothers. Basically, it allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off of work to care for a family member, including a newborn baby. It’s still fairly new—having been enacted in 1993—and, unfortunately, only applies to companies with 50 or more employees. Thus, if you work for a small business, your boss doesn’t have to allow you the 12 weeks; they just can’t discriminate against you for being pregnant. Additionally, FMLA does not mandate that your leave be paid—merely that you have access to it. So, while you may have a job to come back to after your maternity leave, you won’t necessarily have income for the duration.
- Can’t I just use sick leave?
Well, absolutely! Provided you have enough sick leave to cover the 6 to 8 weeks that most doctors recommend a mother be off postpartum. Most employers simply don’t offer that much paid time off, even if you were to combine your sick, personal, and vacation leave. Other employers utilize the “sick bank” system, where you accumulate hours based on your tenure with the company, and they even allow employees to loan time to one another in the event of a family emergency. However, this type of benefit structure is growing increasingly rare.
- What about short term disability insurance?
While some companies automatically offer this to their employees, others merely offer the option to pick it up. More, still, don’t do anything to this effect, requiring their employees to seek similar coverage on an individual basis. Regardless of what channel you use to obtain short term disability insurance, you typically have to have it before you get pregnant for it to be effective. This is what offers income protection during maternity leave, with most policies covering approximately 60 percent of your gross monthly pay. You can choose your own waiting period and try to coordinate it, so that you’re using a combination of sick leave and disability insurance. Most policies pay up to 6 weeks of benefits while you’re out, but they will extend it to 8 weeks or beyond for extenuating circumstances.
Maternity leave is an important bonding time for you and your new baby! The last thing you want is to have this time cut short due to financial struggles, so it’s important to start preparing as soon as possible. If your employer doesn’t offer short term disability options currently, give us a call to see how we can help.