How long does maternity leave last in South Carolina? Do the job protections last longer for a family absence? Is the time off from work paid or unpaid?

The answer is that it depends.

Parental legal rights last between 0 and 12 weeks depending on employer size, hours worked by the person, and reasons for the absence.

The time off is typically unpaid – meaning that Palmetto State workers have to anticipate the lost income.

Paid Leave Policies in South Carolina

South Carolina does not have any legal policies requiring paid maternity or family leave. Many employers offer income continuation in order to attract and retain workers. However, nothing requires them to do so.

Parents may want to consider several options for financial assistance. Short-term disability and unemployment compensation will help only a small fraction of people.

Financial Assistance

Many parents need to find financial assistance during their unpaid time off from work. It is difficult to make ends meet with one less income and extra medical and other expenses. These three options may help.

Personal Loan

Taking out a personal loan during maternity leave can provide the extra funding needed to bond with your newborn baby. Use the additional cash to stay current on car payments, utilities, and other regular expenses while at home.

Do not borrow money unless you are certain that you can return to work quickly, and that your employer will hold your job open. You must repay the lender with interest in monthly installments that begin six weeks after funding.

Debt Consolidation

Debt consolidation programs offer long-term help for parents who pile up extra bills during their unpaid time off from work. Lost income combined with the additional doctor and hospital expenses for mom or a sick family member often means spiraling credit card balances.

Credit card balances swell quickly because of the high-interest rates. Converting these high-interest revolving charges into a low-interest installment contract can lower monthly payments and save money over time.

Loan Deferment

Deferring payment during maternity leave on student and home loans is another option for financial help. Suspending payments temporarily relieve the monetary pressure associated with lost income. However, be aware that interest will continue to accumulate which grows the principal amounts owed.

  • The federal government allows student loan modifications during periods of financial hardship
  • Mortgage forbearance suspends payments for homeowners with temporary income losses

Short-Term Disability

Short-term disability in South Carolina provides paid maternity leave benefits for proactive parents. People who purchase private coverage in advance of any illness, accident, or pregnancy can enjoy partial income replacement.

The Palmetto state does not offer or require a program that covers temporary non-occupational health conditions. You cannot file a claim for benefits unless you bought coverage at work or as an individual. All policies contain exclusions for pre-existing health conditions.

Collecting Unemployment

Collecting unemployment during maternity or family leave is not possible under South Carolina law. However, parents who quit their jobs may be able to file once their disability or caretaker duties end.

Three universal requirements prevent immediate eligibility for unemployment benefits.

  1. Able to work
  2. Available for work
  3. Actively seeking a job

Pregnant women are eligible to file an unemployment claim during the time she is physically able to work, provided she separated for a good cause reason.[1]

SC Code Section 41-35-125 (B) (1) permits delayed unemployment benefits for people separated from a job due to a “compelling family reason.” The time off must extend beyond the period the employer was willing to grant.

  • Illness or disability of the claimant
  • Illness or disability of an immediate family member

Paid Sick Leave

The South Carolina paid sick leave act (A3, R9, S218) is a preemptive law designed to make it easier for employers to comply with local ordinances by limiting unique and burdensome requirements. The act prevents political subdivisions (municipal and county government authorities) from establishing, mandating, or otherwise requiring a specific employee benefit.[2]

Any employer can voluntarily offer paid sick leave benefits to its employees. However, no state or local law can require them to do so.

Pregnancy Labor Laws in South Carolina

South Carolina pregnancy labor laws consist mainly of federal regulations. The Palmetto State does not appear to have any statues that expand protections or extend rights to more women.

Three federal maternity leave laws address legal workplace rights for prenatal women.

Discrimination and Accommodation

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects expectant women’s rights while looking for a job, and when actively employed. The ADA also safeguards her rights to express milk when returning to work after childbirth.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women experiencing severe complications. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables the disabled person to perform essential job functions.

The ADA does not apply to women experiencing a normal and healthy pregnancy.

Pregnancy Disability Absence

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers pregnancy disability leave in South Carolina. Expectant women may qualify for 12 weeks of legal job protections for her own pregnancy-related disabling health condition.

A significant percentage of prenatal women experience one or more complications and must stop working before her due date. Doctor-ordered bed rest because of a high-risk pregnancy is a common qualifying reason.

Keep in mind that women taking more than a month of pregnancy disability absence can easily exceed the job-protected time off. Recovery from a C-section delivery typically consumes 8 of the 12 weeks by itself. Be prepared for a possible job loss.

Family Medical Leave Act in South Carolina

The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the only regulation providing legal job and health benefits protections for South Carolina workers. The law grants these rights to roughly half of the workers in the state.

  • Covered employers have 50+ employees working within a 75-mile radius
  • Eligible workers must meet two additional criteria
    • 12 months of tenure with the company or agency
    • 1,250 hours worked over the preceding 12 months

FMLA is always unpaid. In addition, parents must continue making premium payments for health insurance – while down at least one income.

They sometimes need extra help with these expenses.

FMLA Forms

The FMLA forms are no different from the paperwork required in any other state. South Carolina does not have a state-based regulation that supplements or extends the federal rule. Therefore, parents seeking job-protected time off complete the nationwide documents.

Tell your boss as soon as possible if you think you need to apply for FMLA. Your employer should provide the forms for you. Your doctor will have to sign the paperwork before you return the completed documentation.

Download the forms here directly from the Department of Labor website.

FMLA Teachers

The FMLA requirements for female teachers taking maternity leave contain special provisions for educators, coaches, driving instructors, special education specialists, and sign language interpreters.

These supplemental rules only apply to teachers in both public and private elementary and secondary schools. They do not cover instructors in colleges, university, trade schools, and preschools.

The additional rights relate to two common scenarios.

  1. Intermittent absences close to the end of each school year
  2. Childbirth during the summer recess and other breaks

FMLA Fathers

Fathers have different FMLA paternity leave rights than mothers might enjoy. The reason has more to do with biology than any special provisions relating specifically to men.

Fathers do not qualify for FMLA under the disability qualifying reason. He does not have a health condition that prevents him from working. On the other hand, dads can take time off for three other paternity reasons.

  • Bond with a newborn baby, adopted child, or for placement of a foster child
  • Care for his seriously ill wife suffering pregnancy or postpartum complications
  • Care of his seriously sick or premature infant

Footnoted Sources:

[1] SC General Assemble (A3, R9, S218)

[2] SC Code Section 41-35-125 (B) (1)