If you’re thinking about having a baby, or if you’re already pregnant, make sure you know what benefits and rights you have through your job. You may have questions about finances and time away from work, such as pay, maternity leave, and job security. In the United States, federal laws do not require employers to provide paid maternity leave, so learning about your state’s laws and employer-provided disability insurance is an important first step.

Here are some questions and helpful answers on the topics of pregnancy, disability insurance, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and state paid family leave (PFL).

What is the FMLA, and how does it impact your maternity leave from work during pregnancy?  

The FMLA is a federal law that will protect your job (if you work for a company with more than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius) while you’re away from work, for up to 12 weeks during a 12-month period in most circumstances, for family or medical leave, including maternity.

While away, you would receive payment for unused paid time off (PTO), vacation time, and sick days you’re owed depending on your company’s policy, but usually this time off is not paid. Some states offer paid family leave, so check your state’s regulations carefully. Learn more about the FMLA.

How long is maternity leave?

The U.S. does not have a standard maternity leave length. It depends on the federal or state-mandated law, your employer, or personal choice. Here are general guidelines.

  • Federal FMLA protects your job while you’re away on family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks.

  • The length of each state’s paid family leave varies. In New York, for example, you can take up to 10 weeks of leave and you will receive 55% of your average weekly wage. California provides up to six weeks of partial pay to employees who take time off from work. Verify with your state.
  • Although the United States does not guarantee paid maternity leave, employers may provide paid leave if they choose.  A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 60% of employers give 12 weeks of maternity leave; 33% give more than 12 weeks. That includes paid and unpaid leave.

What are the states with paid family leave and how is PFL different from FMLA?

The main difference between federal and state FMLA laws is whether leave is paid or unpaid. Federal is unpaid. State family leave is paid.

Eight states — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington — and the District of Columbia have laws that provide paid family leave for employees who need time off to care for sick or disabled family members or a new child. And the number of states with paid family leave continues to grow. States may require employees and/or employers to contribute to a paid leave fund.

Each state sets their own rules about the reasons for paid leave, who is considered a family member, how long employees can take paid leave, which employees qualify for leave, contribution amounts, who contributes, and benefit amount.

    What’s short term disability insurance and how does it impact maternity leave?

    Some employers offer insurance programs that provide you with financial protection while you’re out. Short term disability policies vary, but might provide 50-100% of your income for about six weeks after you give birth, eight weeks if you have a C-section, or potentially longer if there are complications. Policies have different requirements, so it’s important to find out how well you’re covered before you go out on leave.2  Your employer’s human resources manager should be able to advise you on the correct ways to submit claims for private or state insurance.

      How can you prepare financially?

      If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) at your job, consider putting more into it with each paycheck. This money is deducted without being taxed, making it financially advantageous. And it can be spent on a wide range of out-of-pocket medical expenses like co-pays and deductibles.

      If possible, try cutting back on sick days, personal days, and time off to build up paid vacation time to use during your maternity leave. Also, consider additional insurance policies that may be available through your job. Look at Hospitalization Indemnity policies which can be taken out of your paycheck automatically and offer financial protection to cover hospital stays due to complications from the pregnancy or delivery. This type of coverage will vary depending on your plan.

      What questions should I ask my human resources manager at work? 

      Companies vary a lot when it comes to maternity coverage. Contact your company’s human resources department — ideally well ahead of time so you don’t lose eligibility if you miss your employer’s deadline — to learn what you can expect and how best to prepare.  

      Ask specifically about the effect of pregnancy and maternity leave on your pay and about the type of notice you’ll need to give the employer in order to secure your job. Companies are evolving their coverage in this area, so it is important to understand the specifics of what your company offers.

      It’s exciting that you’re entering a wonderful new stage in your life. Understanding your finances and knowing how to protect your income can help make this time even better and reduce some of your stress.