Navigating the Complex Web of Pregnancy and Parental Leave Laws and Programs

Jai Hooker@Work

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Navigating the Complex Web of Pregnancy and Parental Leave Laws and Programs

By Marjory Robertson, Esq., AVP and Senior Counsel, Sun Life U.S.

Employers and employees face a daunting task when it comes to planning for leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, and bonding with a new child. Many disability laws and policies may apply that provide paid leave, unpaid leave, and/or paid benefits for disability during pregnancy, disability to recover from childbirth, and/or bonding that vary by state and, in some cases, by city and county.

Federal Laws

Since 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has guaranteed both parents of a newborn child essentially equal time off after the child’s birth. Under the FMLA, each eligible employee is provided with up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave per benefit year for an employee’s serious health condition, to bond with a new child, or to care for a child with a serious health condition. Women who experience a so-called “routine” pregnancy typically take leave to recover from childbirth and can then take the remainder of their 12 weeks to bond with their new child(ren).

Most medical professionals agree that the standard period of time needed to recover from a routine childbirth (i.e., one without complications) is six weeks for a vaginal birth and eight weeks for a Caesarean delivery, which results in a split of six to eight weeks for the employee’s own serious health condition and six to four weeks for bonding. Eligible nonbirth parents can take up to 12 weeks to bond with their new children.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), some birth mothers may be entitled to take even more unpaid leave for reasons related to pregnancy or childbirth. While a routine pregnancy is not considered a disability under the ADA, complications before or after childbirth may qualify as a disabling condition, and case law has clearly established that job-protected leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

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