What should I know about maternity leave?
Many moms feel a pit in their stomach before they tell their boss that they plan on taking a maternity leave. Fear of losing a job or title, confusion about whether you are entitled to compensation, and concern about who will do your work when you are gone may all play into your anxiety — even if your boss and coworkers are thrilled by your announcement.
No matter how you break the news, it’s important to understand that for both sides it’s all about good communication, according to Charla Stevens, an attorney and chair of the employment practice group at McLane Middleton in Manchester, where she advises workplaces on employment law.
Employees need to make the best decisions they can, based on how much time they can afford to take off to care for a newborn, while balancing that with the cost of child care. It’s an even bigger burden for employers when employees quit jobs or are unable to return to work, particularly in this labor market, she said.
However, if you do think you will stay home to care for your baby, it’s best to be up-front with your employer if you are 100 percent sure of your decision.
“The last thing an employer needs to hear at the last minute, a week before you are supposed to go back to work, is that you’ve changed your mind and plan to stay home with the baby,” she said. “Assuming you didn’t just make that decision just that last week, the decent thing would be for you to be in communication with your employer to alert them of your plan.”
Before you go public with your pregnancy and finalize your plans, it’s important to know the basics about the federal Family Medical Leave Act and New Hampshire state law as it pertains to maternity leave, your own company’s benefits, and any disability pay you might be entitled to receive while you are recovering.
The amount of time, compensation and disability pay you receive as a result of maternity leave can differ, but there are some basic laws that can provide most moms a general rule of thumb about what they might expect, Stevens said.
Family Medical Leave Act
This is a federal law that applies to full-time employees who work for an employer who has 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius. It states that an employee is entitled to a leave of absence and job protection for 12 weeks after the birth of a child. This time period is not paid unless your company has a separate benefit.
- Both parents are eligible for unpaid FMLA time off after childbirth
- If both spouses work for the same employer, that 12-week time period must be split.
- If the mom has medical complications, she might be able to receive more than 12 weeks of FMLA under state law.
- If you work for an employer with fewer than 50 employees, you are not eligible for protection under FMLA.
- Health insurance, if you purchase it from your employer, has to continue during the FMLA time period. However, you are responsible for paying your portion of your premium while you are away from work.
- You cannot complete unpaid work for an employer during the FMLA period. However, some employees do opt to do some work for pay if the employer doesn’t cover part of that leave, but it has to be completely voluntary, Stevens said.
- Your job is protected during the FMLA time period, with some caveats. “You aren’t exactly guaranteed the same job, but a job with equivalent conditions of work, pay and responsibility,” Stevens said. “However, your employer does not have the right to ask you to work third shift or in Rochester if your job was on the first shift in Manchester.”
New Hampshire state law
State law provides the employee a leave of absence and job protection for the period of time in which a mom is disabled as a result of pregnancy or related medical complications for employers with more than six employees.
“Unlike FMLA, under NH law, you are entitled to whatever unpaid time off you need that has to do with medical conditions resulting from childbirth (bedrest, high-risk pregnancy) and it could be more than 12 weeks,” Stevens said.
Some employers may provide short-term disability insurance to their employees. This coverage provides disability pay to recovering moms. For example, some employers do not provide it at all, and you can purchase your own — but you need to do that before you get pregnant, Stevens said.
Charla Stevens is an attorney and chair of the employment practice group at McLane Middleton in Manchester.