FMLA for pregnancy: Frequently Asked Questions

Maternity leave,” the time a parent takes off from work for the birth or adoption of a child, is not usually a given in the United States. Although some companies offer paid time off for expecting mothers and their partners, most working women must rely on a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation, personal days, and the Family and Medical Leave Act to get the time they need for their new child.

1. What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires larger employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who either have a serious health condition themselves, or must care for a seriously ill family member.

2. Can I use the FMLA for pregnancy leave?

Yes. The birth of a child, or complications relating to childbirth or pregnancy, would qualify under FMLA as a serious health condition. Adoption, postpartum conditions, and parental leave for childcare may also qualify.

There are three different types of leave under FMLA for pregnancy:

  1. Pregnancy leave. Expecting employees may use FMLA for pregnancy if its complications present a serious health condition. If a doctor determines that a period of leave is necessary, expecting employees will be able to use FMLA for pregnancy.
  2. Parental leave. Men and women may use FMLA leave as parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child, which can be taken at any time during the first year after the child is born or adopted.
  3. Intermittent parental leave. New parents sometimes wish to 1) work part-time for a limited period; or 2) take some time off immediately following the birth or at a later date. FMLA for pregnancy is flexible -- it may be taken intermittently if the employer approves it. Be careful, though -- intermittent FMLA leave is the easiest to abuse.
3. When do I qualify for FMLA leave?

Employees qualify for FMLA leave if they work for a company with more than 50 employees working within 75 miles of their workplace. Federal, state, and local government workers also qualify.

Employees must have worked at that company for at least 12 months. They also must work at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.

4. Can I take paid leave under the FMLA for pregnancy?

Because they are not legally obligated to do so, few employers opt to provide paid pregnancy or parental leave.

With California leading the way in 2002, however, some states are beginning to give employees paid time off for maternity and paternity leave. Such leave is usually funded by state disability programs, however, and not by employers.

5. Can I be denied FMLA for pregnancy?

The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave for expecting mothers and fathers. Employees must be able to return to their jobs, or similar jobs with the same salary, benefits and working conditions.

Except under specific conditions, employers may not deny a parent leave under the FMLA for pregnancy, as long as all necessary paperwork and FMLA certification are in order.

6. When can I take FMLA for pregnancy?

Employees can use FMLA for pregnancy any time they wish during the duration of the pregnancy and for one year after the birth or adoption of the child.

The FMLA requires employees to request leave at least 30 days before taking it.

Keep in mind that employees are in a better position to negotiate if they plan in advance.

7. What about my partner?

If a pregnant employee and her partner both work for the same firm, they are legally only entitled to a combined 12 weeks of leave.

8. Can I take FMLA leave for the placement of a foster child?

In most cases, yes.