What are my Maternity Rights as an Employee?

If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering what your rights are in the workplace. Unfortunately, pregnancy standards and laws in the United States can be complex, varying state-by-state and by each individual company. To further complicate, there is also currently no federal law that applies to everyone in the US for maternity leave.  

However, there is nationwide protection against pregnancy discrimination, most notably the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides pregnant women the same rights as other employees with “medical conditions” by prohibiting job discrimination.  The goal of the law is to protect you from being treated differently when expecting.  The act applies to companies with more than 15 employees and states:

  • You cannot be fired because you are pregnant
  • You are legally allowed to work as long as you can perform your job; you may be given modified assignments to accommodate your condition if company policy allows
  • You are entitled to the same benefits as any other employee with a “medical condition”
  • You will remain eligible for promotions, raises, and benefits while on leave, if leave is permitted

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

FMLA is a nationwide standard that requires companies with more than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius to allow for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees with a newborn or newly adopted child who have been at their job for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours.

During these 12 weeks of unpaid leave

  • You may continue to receive the same health insurance coverage you were entitled to prior to your leave at the same rate you were paying
  • You are guaranteed your job or an equivalent job upon return from leave

You may have noticed that neither the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, nor FMLA protect your wages once the baby has arrived or guarantee any sort of paid leave.  In order to receive any pay on leave, your company must offer paid leave or alternatively, provide short-term disability insurance.

What maternity benefits am I entitled to if I work for a small company?

Unfortunately, if your company has less than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, you are not entitled to FMLA.  This means that your company self-governs its maternity policy, if there is one.  In fact, businesses with less than 15 employees are not even required to adhere to the standards outlined in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

With that said, however, it is unlawful for an employer to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition.

Also, even though pregnancy is not considered a disability, pregnant workers and postpartum mothers may have impairments related to their pregnancies that qualify as disabilities under the ADA.

You may also need to use any accrued vacation, sick or personal days.

Company-Specific Maternity Policies

The best advice is to pre-plan pregnancy and know your company’s policy so you can plan financially.  However, that is not always feasible.  If you are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, is important to remember that you are entitled to fair treatment by your company.  If you’re pregnant and unsure of your benefits, review your company’s handbook and consult your human resources team.  You can also contact your state labor office.

If you believe you have been treated unfairly, harassed, or wrongly fired due to pregnancy, we are here to help.  While we fight for stronger protection for women in the workforce, we know that prejudice still exists and are here to help women get the leave and time they are entitled to for the birth, recovery and bonding time with their newborn or adopted child.  Contact us today if you are in need of assistance.


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