The maternity leave laws and acts in the United States are like a box of chocolates.

You never know what you are going to get. You never know whether you qualify, what job protections you may have, and what your rights might be.

There are federal maternity leave acts that apply to people across the United States but exclude certain classes of workers. There are state maternity leave laws that apply to employees working only in that specific state.

  • What federal laws apply to maternity leave?
  • Are there state-based regulations?
  • What about small businesses?

Federal Maternity Leave Acts in the USA

Federal maternity leave acts apply evenly across the U.S.A. Every employee and employer are held to the same standard. But there are qualifying criteria. Not every small business or part-time employee meets the eligibility criteria.

Private short-term disability insurance fills the biggest hole in federal maternity leave acts – unpaid leave of absence. This is a major area of concern for many families and garners a great deal of media attention and comparisons of the United States to other industrialized nations – especially our European counterparts.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Family Medical Leave Act – The Federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides important unpaid job protection for working women experiencing pregnancy complications, premature birth of an infant, or who want to bond with their baby. But remember: this is UNPAID time away from work.

FMLA is the primary maternity leave act in the United States.

American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Americans with Disabilities Act – A normal pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But if you experience pregnancy complications that substantially limit a major life activity, you may be considered disabled under the ADA, and your employer may need to make special accommodations.

ADA is a secondary act  which applies only while a woman is still working.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

Pregnancy Discrimination Act – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination against employees and applicants on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” The pregnancy discrimination law requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as other employees on the basis of their ability or inability to work.

The PDA is also a secondary act which applies only while a woman is still working.

State-based Maternity Leave Laws in the USA

Maternity leave regulations in the United States also include state-based laws. There are two categories to explore: stand alone state-based laws, and a federal and state-based partnership.

State Family Leave Laws – Many states have separate family medical leave acts or regulations that compliment, and/or expand upon the federal law. If you are planning a pregnancy or maternity leave it is important to know how the rules work in your state. The state regulations add extra value in several ways:

  • Increase the length of leave
  • Widen the types of employers subject to regulation
  • Relax qualifying criteria for workers
  • Provide for paid leave in two states

Collecting Unemployment

It may now be possible to collect unemployment during maternity leave in select states across the USA. When new legislation is passed, it sometimes takes years before we learn exactly how it works (including lawmakers who pass the legislation without reading the bill per Nancy Pelosi).

A federal law passed in 2009 designed to help people unemployed due to the poor economic conditions, contained provisions that provide state-level assistance to families unable to work because of maternity-related conditions. Twenty states took advantage. See if you qualify for compensation for a “compelling family reason”.

Small Businesses

Small businesses frequently are not subject to maternity leave laws in the United States. Most of the regulations have criteria based on employee size. Each regulation differs. Small businesses with less than 50 employees are excused from many of these regulations, but not all. Some of the state-based rules widen the net to include small businesses.

Part-time Employees

Part-time employees are often excluded from protection by maternity leave laws in the U.S.A. Many of the regulations apply only to workers who have logged a specified number of hours, over a defined period of time. If you are a part-time employee you need to understand these criteria in order to know if you have these job protections and rights. Many of the state-based regulations loosen criteria so that more part-time employees may be eligible.