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Families often ask about collecting unemployment benefits during pregnancy or maternity leave.

The short answer is – maybe.

A new federal law enabled many states to expand eligibility. Workers who quit their job due to a “compelling family circumstance” can now file.

However, you must wait until mom is physically able and available to return to work before submitting your claim. See how the rules work in your state.

Basic Eligibility Requirements: Unemployment Claims

First, we must address basic eligibility requirements in order to see if you can get unemployment during pregnancy or maternity leave. These basic criteria lay the groundwork for the second and third sections of the outlined answer.

Disclaimer – the following does not constitute legal or professional advice.
Consult an attorney. Requirements and interpretations vary widely by state.

Most site visitors will find that they cannot collect benefits – at least not right away. Therefore, we first present some alternatives that could bring immediate support.

Alternative Income Support

The eligibility requirements will exclude many women from getting unemployment benefits during pregnancy or maternity leave. These options may be of some assistance.

  1. Request a maternity leave loan. Borrowing money can help you stay current on regular bills while at home bonding with your baby. This alternative is best for pregnant mothers covered by FMLA. You will need to have a job in order to repay the loan in a timely fashion.
  2. Debt consolidation programs offer relief for some people. If you owe more than $10,000 in unsecured obligations (credit cards, personal loans, or unpaid medical bills) you may fall behind on payments with less money coming in. A settlement program may prove to be a viable option.

Rules and Guidelines

The general guidelines prevent unemployment insurance from covering many women during pregnancy or maternity leave. Only a small group of people qualifies at specific points in time.

  • The claimant must be physically able and available to work
  • Your employment must be terminated
  • Staff covered by FMLA do not qualify as they still have a job
  • The person must be actively seeking a new job

Specific state-based rules open the door a crack and enable a small group of women to claim unemployment after pregnancy or maternity leave. It depends on the rules in her state. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provided funding to states as an incentive to expand admissibility. Twenty-two states accepted these incentives.

These states permit workers to qualify if they voluntarily terminate employment because of an acceptable reason. The legal language in each jurisdiction varies but may include one of these phrases.

  • Compelling family circumstance
  • Compelling family reason
  • Compelling personal reason
  • Good cause
  • Necessitous and compelling nature

We can paraphrase the key definition of these phrases into two categories.

  1. Quit to care for a seriously sick family member – all 22 states
  2. Terminated because of her own disability – only 6 of the 22 states

Women who meet either of these criteria can file a claim once the situation resolves itself, and she is physically able and available to work again.

While Pregnant: Unemployment Benefits

Apply the eligibility requirements noted above to determine if you can get unemployment during pregnancy. In addition to the criteria already addressed, we must now introduce two additional concepts.

  1. Layoffs vs fired vs quitting
  2. Healthy gestation vs disability leave

Layoffs & Firing

75% of women are perfectly healthy while pregnant. They are physically able to work right up until the time they deliver their baby. The general guidelines apply in three unique situations.

  1. Healthy women separated from employers due to a layoff can claim unemployment insurance while pregnant. A layoff occurs because of a lack of work, cutbacks in production, or reorganization.
  2. Healthy women fired from a job can sometimes draw unemployment benefits while pregnant. It depends on whether the reason she was fired is disqualifying or non-disqualifying.
    1. Disqualifying reasons include willful misconduct, dishonesty, theft, falsifying records, insubordination, harassment, drug possession, conviction of a crime, and others.
    2. Non-disqualifying reasons often include incompetence, poor job performance, exercising bad judgment, personality clashes, bad attitude, and others.
  3. Healthy women who quit a job do not qualify to file for unemployment compensation while pregnant. This does not qualify as a compelling family circumstance.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a workplace law that protects expectant women’s rights while looking for a job, and when actively employed. Contact an attorney licensed in your state if an employer violated your legal rights.

Disability Leave

25% of women experience a high-risk pregnancy or encounter one or more medical complications. Doctors frequently prescribe bed rest as a safety precaution.

Applying for temporary unemployment due to a high-risk pregnancy disability leave and/or bed rest offers different outcomes. In this case, mom is not physically able to work. Therefore, she often must wait until after she recovers.

However, her possible outcome at this later date depends on where she works. These six states include an employee’s own disability in the definition of compelling family circumstance.

  • Women who quit their job due to pregnancy disability leave meet the standard in these 6 states.
  • Pregnant mothers fired due to pregnancy disability leave may find greater leniency if they work in one of these 6 states.
  • Women fired from their job because of a pregnancy disability leave often fall into a gray area in the 44 remaining states. Violation of written absenteeism or attendance policies can be a disqualifying reason.

State-mandated temporary disability programs cover pregnancy leave when caused by medical complications. Unfortunately, only five states have such a program: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Private programs offer the same value. However, you must purchase a private policy prior to conception.

During Maternity Leave: Unemployment Claims

The same set of eligibility requirements determines whether you can get unemployment during and after maternity leave. However, after giving birth to a newborn baby, the circumstances are very different. Therefore, the application of the guidelines yields a much different result.

Mom is unable to work shortly after giving birth. Her chances of qualifying improve after maternity leave ends. A sick baby changes the equation further.

After Giving Birth

New mothers cannot draw unemployment compensation after giving birth to her baby – at least not immediately. During this initial phase of her maternity leave, she is physically unable to perform any job for six to eight weeks.

Having a baby via normal childbirth is a recognized disabling medical condition. Private and public temporary disability programs have set benefit periods after giving birth to a baby.

  • 6 weeks vaginal birth
  • 8 weeks C-section delivery

After Mom Recovers

Mom’s ability to file for unemployment insurance improves after her unpaid maternity leave ends. Her maternity leave ends when she is physically able and available to work. The health of her baby dramatically affects both her availability and her eligibility.

Sick Baby

12% of babies are born prematurely, with a low birth weight, or with a health problem. If your infant is born with a serious medical condition, several new factors could affect your ability to collect unemployment.

First, the care of a sick family member is a compelling family circumstance in 22 states, which applies to parents who must quit their jobs. Below are the states accepting incentives to broaden eligibility to claim unemployment after an unpaid maternity leave ends.

New YorkNorth CarolinaOklahoma
OregonRhode IslandSouth Carolina

Second, caring for a sick infant at home means that many new parents are unavailable to work. This disqualifies them until the child’s health improves, or they find suitable childcare.

Third, caring for a sick infant often extends the length of maternity leave. The extra time can exhaust FMLA job protections, or force uncovered employers to hire a replacement. Women fired during this time fall into a gray area in the other 28 states. An attendance policy violation could be a disqualifying reason.

Fourth, pregnant mothers of sick children can sometimes take advantage of the rule if they work in one of the 22 states.

Healthy Baby

88% of babies are born perfectly normal. When both baby and mother are healthy, mom may be able to claim unemployment compensation after her maternity leave ends. That is once she recovers from labor and delivery, and if she falls into a qualifying category.

  • Women who return to the job immediately after cannot file. She was not physically able to work at any point during her absence, and she did not lose her job.
  • Women unable to find work immediately after can collect.
    • Those in the 6 states permitting an employee’s own disability have a clear case.
    • Applicants in the 44 remaining states have a more difficult case to make. Her 6 to 8-week absence may be disqualifying or non-disqualifying.