What Are Maternity and Paternity Leave and How Does It Work?

What Are Maternity and Paternity Leave and How Does It Work?

Deskera Content Team
Deskera Content Team
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Table of Contents

Welcoming a new member to the family is always an exciting time for the entire family. This new phase can usher sheer joy in the to be parents and can also put them under stress if they are not aware of the leave policy in the US. Maternity leave is a common phenomenon and quite well-known in the world.

However, Tesla founder, Elon Musk, who led by example has shown the world that paternity leave can also be considered normal and is a mark of change in the world these days. According to available information, studies have shown that parental leave assists to form stronger bonds with the newly born infant and provides mental as well as emotional support to the mother.

Why Maternity and Paternity Leave is an Exception in the US?

Employers, across the world, understand that childcare is one of the most challenging times a woman faces while managing a professional career. As a result, to bridge the gender gap, businessmen around the world have been granting maternity and paternity leave to new parents along with some benefits. According to available data, the US is the only exclusive country that does not provide paid maternity and paternity leave to the soon to be parents.

As per the information, there is no paid maternity and paternity leave for the employees. It is the only nation that has a rough track record about giving employees salaries during the pregnancy and post-pregnancy period. Barring a few states in America, the high tech and developed nation still does not offer paid benefits to expecting mothers.

Family and Medical Leave Act

In the US, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the labor law gets implemented. Under this law, the jobs of the employees stay protected when he or she has taken some time off to address a medical emergency or family situation. Under this act, the qualified and permitted situations include -

  1. Child adoption
  2. Personal Illness
  3. Family Illness
  4. Military Leave

This law guarantees maternity and paternity leave for the parents. It permits a qualified employee to take off time up to 12 weeks for reasons such as childbirth or adoption. It also includes personal illness and family illness under the cover.

Why is this Act Important?

The FMLA is labor law in the US, drafted in 1993 to protect the job of employees who take leave for absence from professional commitments due to a valid reason. This law is important as it ensures that the employees can return to the position they held before taking a leave. In a situation where the position is not vacant after maternity and paternity leave for the employee, then the act states that the person should be given an alternative job by the employer which equals the pay and status of the earlier position.

An employee can qualify for FMLA only if he is employed in a small business or an industry that has at least fifty working professionals and the office is situated within 75 miles of the radius of the work site for an on-field job. Furthermore, the employee must have completed at least 1,259 working hours within the last 12 months.

How much are maternity and paternity leave in America?

While maternity and paternity leave in the US is regulated by labor law, the leave is given only for twelve weeks. This unpaid leave is for the women employees to nurture the newborn or newly adopted child/ children. Also, they are eligible for this off only if they have been employed with an entrepreneur who has fifty or more employees at his organization. In case, the lady is working for a company that has less than 50 workers, she does not have a legal right for maternity leave - paid or unpaid.

Hence, only 12% of Americans get paid parental leave. If the employee is from a low-income family or faces discrimination on basis of color, the parental leave could be as low as 5%.

Which States give Paid Leave?

According to available data, only 8 states in the US provide publicly paid maternity leave. These states are as follows -

  1. California
  2. Connecticut
  3. Massachusetts
  4. New Jersey
  5. New York
  6. Oregon
  7. Rhode Island
  8. Washington

According to available data from Paid Family Leave in the States, each of the above states has its own time of when the paid parental leave got commenced. California’s new law for maternity and paternity leave was effective from the year 2019. It permits the parents working in a company to take leave for the newborn for up to twelve weeks. On the other hand, Massachusetts has its law for granted paid leave which came into effect in 2019. The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, MA PFML gives 12 weeks of paid leave for maternity and paternity leave to the employees working in firms. The employer pays through an unemployment insurance fund for all workers who commute to Massachusetts for work but reside in other states and those in the state for the paid family leave. In New Jersey, the leave is up to 6 weeks for maternity and paternity leave. This comes under New Jersey Family Leave Act.

In Rhode Island, the state’s medical leave act provides employees with 13 weeks of leave to take care of a serious health issue in the family as well as pregnancy in two calendar years. According to available data, the paid family leave came into effect from 1st January 2018. The leave period was introduced in a phase - at first, it guaranteed 8 weeks if paid family leave which got revised to 12 weeks in 2021. In January 2020, Washington permitted 12 weeks of paid leaves per year for the family.

Employees in Connecticut will be granted maternity and paternity leave through the family and Medical Leave Act from the current year 2022. The latest state to sign this Act is that fives paid maternity leave is Oregon. It signed the law in August 2019 and is the state that permits 100 % wage replacement for all workers if they have a minimum earning of 1000 dollars in one calendar year.

Source: https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/paid-family-leave-in-the-states.aspx

What are the Employer Policies for Maternity and Paternity Leave?

Employers in the US have started giving maternity and paternity leave to the employees as per their policies. These entrepreneurs have started providing voluntarily paid leaves to the new parents but they are found to vary greatly. While some employers offer a few weeks of paid parental leave at the employee’s regular paystub, others do give time off with reduced pay. Some entrepreneurs do not provide any compensation for new parents but the mother can make use of short-term disability benefits and take paid time off.

As per the available data of the National Partnership for Women & Families, only 17% of the American employees have access to paid family leave through employers whereas 40% of the workers need to use short-term disability insurance schemes to get paid leave. However, according to a survey done in 2018 on Absence and Disability Management, the employers who offered paid maternity and paternity leave has increased by 15% since 2015.

What is the Federal Action?

As the US still stands behind in terms of maternity and paternity leave in most states of the nation, there is still a lot of effort needed. The different states of America have put several approaches for paid family leave during the Trump administration. Many of the bills have been created in Congress to create a paid parental leave program for US citizens. The FAMILY Act was introduced in 2013 first and then revised in 2019. According to this act, the qualifying employees would receive 66% of the wages that 1000 dollars per week for 12 weeks under maternity and paternity leave. The funds for this program are generated from 0.2% on the payroll tax.


As the world slowly moves towards gender equality, the composition of America’s workforce is witnessing a significant change. The rise in single motherhood or dual-earner households is showing an upward trend in recent years. Hence, the employer needs to revise some leave policies and follow the FAMILY act for maternity and paternity leave if they want a good employee retention percentage to make a profitable business.

How can Deskera Help You?

Deskera People allows you to conveniently manage leave, attendance, payroll, and other expenses. Generating pay slips for your employees is now easy as the platform also digitizes and automates HR processes.

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Key Takeaways

  1. The US is one of the countries in the world in which all the states are yet to give a full paid maternity and paternity leave under the FAMILY Act.
  2. The Act provides a time off for 12 weeks for the employee under certain conditions. It checks the number of employees in the organization and for how much time the worker has been employed in the firm. In some firms, the employee can rejoin the organization after his leave and get a regular paystub.
  3. The rule gives leaves for expecting parents, adoption of a child or some other urgent medical issue for a family member.
  4. The states that offer paid maternity leave are - California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington D.C.
  5. Some employers have been providing paid leaves as per the firm’s policy which has many variants. The mother can claim a disability benefit from the employer in the post-pregnancy period to financially support her family for a few days. Moreover, the demand for parental leave for fathers is also on the rise for a better employee retention rate in the US.
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