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Family and Medical Leave Act: Maternity Leave Protection

The only industrialized countries without paid maternity leave are the United States and Australia. While Australia provides 52 weeks of unpaid leave, the United States provides for only 12 weeks. The federal law governing maternity leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It gives you the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the following reasons:

  • Birth and care of your child;
  • Placement of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • Care of an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition;
  • Or care of your own serious health condition, including a medically complicated pregnancy.

Under the FMLA, your employer must allow you to return to the same or an equivalent position, with the same pay, benefits, working conditions, and seniority that you had before you took your leave. If you have health insurance through your employer, your employer must continue to pay your premiums while you are on leave. Although your leave is unpaid, you may be allowed to use any accrued sick leave or annual leave during your 12 weeks of family leave in accordance with company policy.

Who Is Covered:

  • Only those employers with 50 or more employees who work within a 75 mile radius of one another are obligated to comply with the FMLA.
  • You must have worked for your employer for one year and at least 1,250 hours within a year before you can receive FMLA protection.
  • Employees cannot use the FMLA to care for extended family members, spousal "in-law" relatives, or a son or daughter who is age 18 or over (unless the son or daughter is "incapable of self-care" because of mental or physical disability).
  • Like the PDA, the FMLA does not require your employer to provide you with health care benefits if not otherwise provided by the employer for unpaid leave. Because the FMLA only provides for unpaid leave, it only benefits individuals who can afford to take unpaid time off from work.

Information courtesy of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Find out more on the Internet at

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