Maternity Leave 101: Policies, Rights, and Duties [Employer Guide]

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Maternity Leave 101: Policies, Rights, and Duties [Employer Guide]

Being a conscientious employer extends far beyond fair wages and a healthy work environment.

Really caring for your workers breathes an air of authenticity into your workplace.

And when your employees feel that you about them as individuals, they’re more likely to have a sense of gratitude towards your . This not only increases employee retention and engagement but also ensures that they are performing to their full potential.

So when a pregnant employee expresses her intent to take a leave from work to for a new baby, it’s a great idea to get on-board and be ready to say yes.

Maternity leave is often a tricky topic in employee management for two reasons:

First, people tend to have varying opinions as to the specifics of maternity leave.

Second, maternity leave isn’t a benefit, but a right and thus shouldn’t be subject to employer opinions.

If you feel confused about how to approach maternity leave up until this point, don’t sweat it.

’s a run-down of all the specifics you need to know to pacify all parties the next time a mom-to-be employee files for a leave.

Laws Protecting Pregnant Employees

As an employer, it’s your obligation to understand the laws that defend pregnant employees.

There are a few laws protecting these employees, but more important than all, you should be familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA.)

This law seeks to ensure that expectant workers are provided the opportunity to fulfill their role as a parent without having to sacrifice job security.

This law seeks to ensure that expectant workers are provided the opportunity to fulfill their role as a parent without having to sacrifice job security.

Here are the law’s specifics:

  • The law is applicable to companies with 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius of the headquarters
  • Candidates must have been employed for at least 1 year;
  • Candidates must render at least 25 hours of work each week.

If these requirements are met, the qualified employees are entitled to at least 12 weeks of maternity leave.

This means that the expectant employees can expect to return to work to assume the same or a different role at the same pay grade once they come back from their leave.

This law simply ensures that mothers won’t have to worry about losing their job as they temporarily adopt a new role in their personal life.

On that note, it might also be helpful to delineate what the FMLA means when it says ‘employee.’

Despite its name, ‘maternity’ leave doesn’t strictly apply to expectant mothers.

On the contrary, even expectant fathers are protected by the law using the same stipulations.

So whatever you indicate in your policy should also apply to these special conditions.

How to Designate Your Own Policies

As long as you meet the stipulations in FMLA, you can sleep soundly knowing you’re not going against the law.

But as an employer, you have the prerogative to set your own unique policies as long as they don’t run counter to the FMLA.

For instance, the act states that mothers should have at least 12 weeks of maternity leave. The World Health Organization, however, recommends that mothers be provided at least 16 weeks of time off from work to ensure the stability of their baby after birth.

If you feel that it would be in your employees’ best interests, extending the 12 week period rests in your hands.

Another common question that employers ask is whether paying their employees during maternity leave is mandatory.

The answer is: As of today, the United States doesn’t have any laws that obligate companies of any size to pay for maternity leave. 

But then again, if you’re feeling generous, you can bake a paid leave stipulation in your policy. In this case, it’s not hard to feel generous if you put yourself on your employees’ feet.

In other developed countries, the typical pay for maternity leave rests at 90% of the worker’s wage — which is fair considering all the expenses that come with a new baby.

Companies that might not be as sizeable opt for maternity allowance instead, which is usually equal to or less than half of the employee’s salary.

If you’re on the fence about paying for maternity leave, it might help to consider your state’s unique maternity benefits.

Some governments provide expectant mothers an allowance, others provide insurance coverage similar to that granted to disabled individuals.

In case your state does offer these benefits, it might be more acceptable for you to maintain unpaid leaves.

Keep in mind, it might be worth it – in terms of retention and engagement – to demonstrate for your employees. 

Maternity leave doesn’t mean monthly bills will leave too.

Still not sure what to do about it? Using tools like FutureFuel can give you a better perspective on where your employees stand debt-wise.

Consider the weight of their monthly payments and ask yourself – am I fostering liveable conditions in their home by withholding maternity benefits?

How to Deal With Employees Absence During Maternity Leave

Now that your worker’s hands are full with a new baby, you’ve got a workstation that’s been temporarily abandoned – at least for the next 12 weeks.

But because work doesn’t stop, you need to fill in that seat. So how does that work?

Keep in mind that the FMLA states that your worker on maternity leave should be able to return to her job or to a different post that offers the same pay.

If you decide to fill in her shoes with a replacement who ends up transitioning smoothly into the position, then you are at liberty to decide whether you’ll be offering the same post to your expectant worker.

But, if you decide that you want to maintain that specific post for your employee on leave, then it would help to set the boundaries for the temporary replacement.

Inform the worker of the duration of time they’ll be needed for that specific job.

Hiring internally can be a smart move since it limits the need for training that new workers tend to require.

During the employee’s leave, you also have the option to offer paid or unpaid ‘keeping in touch’ or days. These are provided to help your workers become acclimated to the work environment.

days do not have an impact on his or her leave and should be offered as an option for employees who are willing.

When Things Don’t Go As Planned

What happens if, after the maternity leave, the employee doesn’t return to work?

That can be a tricky situation.

Any employer wants to put their workers’ best interests at heart. But if the employee endangers operations, then you might find yourself in a position to act.

In case an employee does not return to work on the designated date, you are not at liberty to terminate without due diligence. Performing necessary investigations to determine the reason for the no-show is imperative to avoid legal problems.

If the employee is ill, then the corresponding sick leave and benefits should apply.

If the employee was not informed of the return date due to the employer’s oversight, then they may not be penalized for failing to return to work.

But, if the employee decides that they no longer want to return to work, it’s necessary that they provide written documentation of their intention to formalize the exit.

But what if the employee – after due diligence from the employer – refuses to make their reasons known?

As long as you’ve done your part to investigate the matter, and the employee refuses to respond, then you may have the prerogative to terminate the worker.

Again, there are no laws that designate how long the grace period should be before you decide to terminate.

However, an employee might qualify for job abandonment if they don’t show up for work as agreed for a consecutive of days.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the situation, you may be able to dismiss your employee under the protocol for gross misconduct, depending on how it’s defined in your policy.

At this time, you may then seek a replacement for your employee.

If you’re thinking about severance pay, it helps to know that there are no laws that require the issuance of such payment if the employee was terminated with just cause.

Over to You

The work you provide makes up a big chunk of your employees’ lives.

And in that light, it’s inevitable that you accept your role in their life.

Offering job security when big changes come rolling into their day to day can be the best way to retain good talent, and an effective method to ensure your workers’ loyalty and trust.

Maternity leave is a right that’s offered to expectant mothers and fathers by US law.

So as the employer, it’s your obligation to uphold it.

about your employees, and they’ll about you.

Create a thriving workplace by establishing an atmosphere of mutual respect and compassion and watch your employees take you to new heights.