What You Should Know About Maternity Leave, Short-Term Disability and the FMLA

Are you a working mom- or dad- to be? While there are companies that voluntarily provide family-leave policies, many stick to what they are required to offer. The legal requirements vary depending on the company’s size, your employment status, the state you live in (because some states have broader maternity-leave laws that override the FMLA), among other factors. So if you are expecting – or you’ve recently given birth or adopted – it pays to become familiar with the family-leave rights you’re entitled to at your workplace. 

This can be confusing to employees and employers alike because family-leave is usually created from a variety of benefits that include sick leave, vacation, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability and unpaid FMLA time. Let’s look at how it breaks down.

Before we do that though, please note that this post is geared specifically towards using Short-Term Disability (STD) and FMLA for maternity-leave. There are many other occurrences and/or illnesses that may entitle you to use your STD and FMLA benefits.

What is Short-Term Disability?

FMLA provides up to 12 weeks total of non-paid leave – and in most cases those 12 weeks run concurrently with your short-term disability benefits. In the case of maternity leave (one of the most common causes of STD), short-term disability insurance would replace part of your income for up to six – eight weeks – depending on the type of delivery. Then your remaining weeks would be covered by unpaid FMLA leave.

Your disability typically begins on the day you deliver. You may have to wait for a short period of time (called an elimination period) before you begin receiving your short-term disability benefit checks. Ask your employer or refer to your short-term disability plan to determine the length of your elimination period.

Can Sick, Vacation and Holiday Time Be Used?

Most companies allow you to use your sick, vacation, and holiday time towards your family leave. Some companies require that you use these benefits first before using any disability or unpaid time. It is important to check with your HR department to confirm the policies related to using your sick, vacation, and holiday time in relation to your family leave.

And the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires obligated companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave for up to one year after the birth or adoption of a child. Enacted in 1993 as a way to guarantee parents time with their new children without having to worry about losing their jobs, FMLA also requires your employer to allow you to return to your position or a similar position with the same benefits after your 12-week leave. If you are eligible for FMLA benefits, here’s how it works:

  • You may need to exhaust all your vacation days, sick leave, personal days, and STD benefit and this time will be deducted from your 12-weeks of family leave
  • If you’re offered a paid maternity leave, your employer may require that the time period of paid maternity leave count toward the 12-weeks allotted under the FMLA
  • FMLA lets you use your 12-week maternity leave whenever you want during the first year after your child’s birth or adoption – as long as your employer agrees. So if your employer is willing, you don’t have to use all 12 weeks at once – you could choose to spread them out over your child’s first year by taking a few weeks at a time or by reducing your normal weekly hours. Also, keep in mind that you’re entitled to use your FMLA benefits during your pregnancy (say your doctor has put you on bed rest) – it’s not just reserved for after the birth of you baby.

That being said – not all new moms and dads are eligible for FMLA benefits. You would not be entitled to FMLA benefits if:

  • Your company has fewer than 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace
  • You have worked for your current employer for fewer than 1,250 hours over the past 12 months
  • You have been employed less than 12 months with your current employer

And with THAT being said – you should still ask your employer or someone in your HR department whether your company and/or you qualify for FMLA benefits and what other maternity leave benefits you may be eligible for. Many employers are flexible and can work out an agreement with you. If you qualify for FMLA maternity leave, you’ll be able to continue to collect all on-the-job benefits (including health insurance), but that may also mean that you’ll have to continue making contributions to your company’s plan.

Still not sure how all of this works? Our Client Service Specialists can help walk you through the process.