Is maternity leave required by law? The federal government mandates up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but some other factors are at play.
Women are an integral part of the world’s workforce. But as employees enter new chapters of parenthood, their priorities and needs often shift. The care and attention required to raise a child in the first few months of life are crucial. And as an employer, you have the power — and in some cases, an obligation — to help lighten the initial load.
Therefore, you might have questions about how to navigate uncharted waters regarding family leave. For starters, is maternity leave required by law? You may also have concerns about your ability to meet both your employees’ needs and your company’s.
Here we’ll discuss maternity leave laws in general. We’ll also cover how offering paid maternity leave and other perks can benefit all involved.
Is maternity leave required by law?
The U.S. is 1 of only a few countries in the world that doesn’t federally guarantee paid maternity leave for workers. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) establishes the nearest requirement. It entitles expectant and new mothers on the job for at least a year to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period with job protection.
The implication of “family” and “medical” leave extends beyond giving birth to include caring for an adopted or foster child. It can also be used for medical leave to tend to the employee’s own serious medical health condition or that of a family member.¹
Check your state laws
While federal law does not mandate paid maternity leave, the FMLA leaves some room for state laws to regulate family leave. States may require that employers offer paid family leave, medical leave, or sick leave. Some states offer paid parental leave (including paternity leave) for state employees. Some even provide a limited number of hours annually for parents to attend school-related events and activities for their kids.
States may regulate the prerequisites for business and/or employee compliance with state laws. This may relate to how many employees a company has had and for how long. States also have the power to regulate the extent of provisions (time, whether paid or unpaid time, covered care type, etc.). Finally, state laws regarding FMLA can differ in application depending on whom the employee leaves to care for.
Why companies offer paid maternity leave even if it’s not required
Many private companies opt to offer paid maternity leave to demonstrate a commitment to supporting employees and their families. Maternity leave helps employees to manage the demands of a new baby as they rest assured of their job security. This support can have far-reaching effects companywide.
Attract and retain employees
Offering paid maternity leave is an excellent way to attract and retain top talent. The job market continues to reel after what some call “The Great Reshuffle” of 2022. Employees left their companies in masses seeking greener (and more incentivized) pastures. Employers seeking to entice and retain top candidates today are thinking beyond salary. To compete, your compensation plan might include paid time off for maternity and other types of leave, signaling how your company values its employees.
Build a healthier company culture and boost revenue
Offering paid maternity leave can help improve current employee morale and loyalty, which can positively impact the company’s bottom line. Happier employees tend to enhance workplace culture, productivity, and personnel retention. The more employees you retain, the more money you’ll save on hiring, onboarding, and associated training costs.
What about new dads?
Why stop at maternity leave? Consider offering paid paternity leave, too. Many fathers are eager to be present with their families, especially in the first few months of a child’s arrival. How could your employees benefit from paid leave as they care for a new or critically ill child? When crafting your company’s maternity leave program, consider how a thoughtful paternity leave policy could support parents as well.
How can new parents take time off if they don’t have parental leave?
Many companies don’t offer paid maternity leave. Some don’t provide unpaid maternity leave provisions past the FMLA’s 12 weeks. However, employees might be able to use other company policies or health insurance to their advantage after the birth of a child.
Using standard personal leave, sick leave, or vacation time may be options. Temporary disability insurance might also cover parental leave for childbirth recovery. Employees may purchase their own disability insurance policy or receive it as a work benefit. That way they remain at least partially compensated while out on temporary disability leave.
Finally, an employee and employer may be able to negotiate a flexible schedule. Some flex schedules reduce hours for a while. Some involve working from home or other accommodations until regular duties resume.
Use maternity leave policies to support your employees
When employees welcome a new family member, their worlds change. Employers bear the expectation to help ensure that employees’ and the company’s needs are adequately met. This applies both under the law and as it pertains to their own sense of professional and personal responsibility.
No matter your maternity leave policy, check in with your expectant employees. Discuss how you can help support and prepare them for maternity leave, the journey through parenthood, and the quest for work-life balance.
On the ever-changing road of business, some things remain the same. We’re with you through it all. For ongoing human resources tips, tools, and resources, visit Workest by Zenefits daily.
1 Family and Medical Leave Act, cited 2023