How Much Time Can You Take Off Work After Birth?

Maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, family leave — all refer to the formal or informal period of time taken around the time of birth and into the first few weeks and months after birth. If you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or planning a pregnancy sometime in the near future, you’ll want to become familiar with your options, your employer’s policies, and your preferences — and how they may or may not align (and what you can do if they don’t).  

What You’re Entitled to by Law

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 legally requires all companies with 15 or more employees to allow you to take leave (though it may not be paid and you may not be entitled to health care coverage) for the same amount of time that any employee is entitled to for sick/disability leave without losing your job/position. Currently, there are no federal policies that require a sick leave policy, either paid or unpaid, though many states have created laws require a policy (is your state on the list?).

>>Summary: Most people are entitled legally to take off a period of time without losing their job. Depending on the company’s policy, the time may be paid or unpaid and may or may not include continuation of health care coverage. 

If your company has 50 or more employees, it is likely covered by FMLA, or Family Medical Leave Act. FMLA applies to employees who have worked at least 12 months (or 1,250 hours) and companies who have 50 or more employees within 75 miles, and it allows you to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave with continuation of health care coverage during your absence. Your job, or an equivalent position, is required to be available to you upon return. 

>>Summary: People working for FMLA-covered employers are legally entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with health care benefits intact, and without risk of losing their job. Depending on the company’s policy, the time may be paid or unpaid. 

Your Company’s Leave Policies

Your company may have leave policies in addition to the federal policies listed above. These policies should be detailed in an employee handbook, which should be accessible through your human resources department and/or on your company’s intranet. When reviewing your company’s leave policy, look to see if they offer anything above and beyond the federal or state policies, find out how much time is provided, whether it’s paid or unpaid, and who is eligible (pregnant person only or also extended to partners/fathers). 

How Much Time Can You Take? 

When considering a parental leave, consider factors that influence how much time you can reasonably take. For most people, this question comes down to finances, especially if your company’s leave policy is unpaid. Will you need to save up money in advance? If so, how much? You can come up with an estimate by taking a close look at your current expenditures. If you’re partnered, how much money is needed to cover those expenditures with only one income and how long can you safely sustain it? If single, how much will you need to live and for how long is it feasible to do so without an income? Don’t forget to factor in the cost of childcare once you go back to work to determine how your financial needs will fluctuate. 

In addition to planning for family leave after birth, it’s also a smart idea to have a plan B for the unexpected. If your health at the end of pregnancy or after birth require you to take more time than you planned, what’s kind of back-up plan can you put in place to make sure you and your family are covered? Spending time thinking through these plans and resources in advance helps relieve some of the typical stress people experience during pregnancy. 

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