Maternity Leave

Lexi Rankin
Lexi Rankin, SHRM-CP
What’s the difference between FMLA and maternity leave? What are you required to offer, and what would you like to offer? Read on to learn what is required and what options you have to offer more competitive maternity leave at your company.

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What Is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is the leave a mother takes after she gives birth or has a child placed with her for foster care or adoption. It is required by law. It is important to be familiar with the laws and policies surrounding maternity leave.

FMLA and Maternity Leave

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the federal law requiring you to provide leave for mothers when a baby joins their family through birth, foster care, or adoption. Your organization is required to provide maternity leave if you have 50 or more employees and the employee has worked with you for at least 12 months, and has worked 1,250 hours over the past 12 months.

Since FMLA doesn’t require you to pay your employees during their maternity leave, if they use their paid vacation at the same time as FMLA, they will at least be paid for their time off. This strategy is not recommended if you want to provide competitive benefits.

Maternity leave as outlined in FMLA is the basic benefit you need to provide. However, your company can add additional benefits.

Why Is Maternity Leave Important?

A good maternity leave policy sets your company apart from others in your industry and helps attract the best performers to your company. The type of maternity leave policy you create shows employees the value you place on them and their families.

  • Health. It is essential to the health of the mom and baby to have a generous maternity leave policy.
  • Productivity. A good policy ensures the mom has enough time to rest and recuperate so when she does come back to work, she is healthy and ready to return to the workforce.
  • Retention. When employees know your company has a generous maternity leave, they are more likely to be attracted to and stay with your company after giving birth.

Different Types of Maternity Leave Benefits

Some of the most sought-after companies have great maternity leave policies that exceed FMLA requirements. Below you will see some examples of the additional benefits your company can provide.

Additional Time Off

Twelve weeks is the minimum time your company is required to provide. Many companies provide up to 18 or 20 weeks off. This additional time gives mothers much-needed rest and time to bond with their baby before returning to the workforce. If your company can’t give generous monetary benefits, consider allowing your employees extra time off in your maternity policy.

Cash or Gift Card Benefits

A lot of companies provide cash or gift cards to a mother who has just given birth. Often these are used for buying food for the busy mom or for newborn supplies. This thoughtful gift helps show you are thinking of your employee during this transition in their life and want to provide additional support so they don’t have to worry about finances as much.

Return-to-Work Bonus

Some new moms end up choosing not to come back to work after having a baby. If this is something your organization is concerned about, you should consider a return-to-work bonus. Often this bonus is a 2%-6% increase in pay if the mother chooses to return after being on maternity leave. This helps ensure you have great employees staying with your company after this big life change.

How to Know Which Benefit Is Right for Your Organization

The U.S. does not have a set standard of maternity policies. As long as your organization is compliant with the federal and state regulations for maternity leave, you can shape the policy however you see fit. If you want a great policy, it is best to go above the federal and state minimum.

Take a look at your company and the culture you have set. If you are in an organization that values its employees and wants them to have a good work-life balance, you will find a generous maternity leave policy and/or extra incentives beneficial.

HR Responsibilities

There are many responsibilities HR has in implementing maternity leave. The basic three demanded by law are listed below.

Don’t Discriminate

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 ensures that pregant women have equal  opportunities in the workplace. Your policies must treat pregnancy and childbirth the same as any other personal, temporary disability.

Provide a Written Policy

A written policy is necessary to be compliant with federal regulations for maternity leave. Make sure your company has a clear maternity leave policy that outlines what employees are eligible for this benefit and the steps they need to take to use it. Employees are required to provide at least 30 days’ notice when they need to use FMLA; be sure this information is included in your policy. It’s also a good idea to include what the employee can expect when returning to work (see next section).

If you need help on how to write a good maternity leave policy, the Society for Human Resource Management offers helpful advice.

Return to Equivalent Work

Once the employee returns from their maternity leave, it is required that they are returned to the same job (or a job with the same wages, benefits, and duties). Ensuring the employee is restored to the job they had before maternity leave is required by law and helps ensure the employee isn’t discriminated against for having a baby.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Maternity Leave

Are employees paid during maternity leave?
Under The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you are required by law to allow your employees time off for maternity leave, but it does not have to be compensated. While legal compensation is not necessary, consider providing compensation to your employees as a way to show how much you value them at your company.
How long is maternity leave?
According to FMLA, employees are given 12 weeks of unpaid leave when they have a child or a new foster or adopted child is placed with the family. This is the minimum requirement; if your company can provide more time off, it is of great benefit to the mother and baby.
Where can I find a state’s laws regarding maternity leave?
A great resource to find out if your state’s laws differ from national laws regarding maternity leave is the National Conference of State Legislatures website. Here you will find detailed information on if your state requires paid maternity leave, how long the employee needs to have worked for the company before receiving maternity leave benefits, and other relevant information. It is just as important to be familiar with state legislation as it is with national laws regarding maternity leave.
Can an employer ask when an employee will return from maternity leave?
Once an employee has requested maternity leave, you should go over the company maternity policy with the individual, including the length of time the benefits cover. Once the employee is on leave, do not contact them to ask when they will be returning.
How do I communicate with an employee on maternity leave?
As a general rule, you should not communicate with your employee while they are on maternity leave. If communication is necessary, it should come through one designated source, such as the employee’s HR representative.
Lexi Rankin
Lexi Rankin, SHRM-CP

Lexi is a current student at BYU pursuing her undergraduate degree in HR Management. After graduation, Lexi will work as an HR Generalist for Cummins Inc. Lexi has a passion to improve the lives of others and help them on their career journey. She continues to improve her knowledge and experience in the HR field and is looking forward to sharing this knowledge with others.

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