What are Maternity Leave Rights?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing
A pregnant woman.
A pregnant woman.

The term maternity leave rights refers to guaranteed legal protections that allow a woman who has added a child to her family to take time off from her job and then become reinstated. Time taken as a leave from work can be paid or unpaid, and the duration allowed varies widely among the different countries and regions of the world. Some locations provide maternity leave rights that allow generous amounts of time off with pay and other protections. In the U.S., a minimum amount of unpaid leave is guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and individual states can add to that entitlement if desired. Since policies vary so widely throughout the world, it's a good idea for women to educate themselves about their rights where they live.

In virtually all of the developed nations, women have maternity leave rights of some kind. These rights help protect the jobs of women when they add children to their families through childbirth or adoption and need to take extended periods of time off from work. Although the details of maternity leave rights vary from place to place, job protection is nearly universal, and in most cases health coverage is maintained. Job protection means that the employee has to be put back into the same position or an equivalent one once her maternity leave is over. This protection is important to women because it allows them to take time off from work without feeling afraid of losing their jobs.

An aspect of maternity leave rights with extensive differences is whether or not the time off from work is paid. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not require paid maternity leave, and only California currently provides it. Several other individual U.S. states including New York allow women to receive short term disability payments for the time after giving birth when they are medically unable to work, usually about six weeks, and in rare cases individual employers offer paid leave. In contrast, most other developed nations provide at least partial pay for maternity leave; in the United Kingdom, for example, women are paid for about 9 months of their time off.

Another area where there is a lot of variance among maternity leave rights is duration of the protected time off from work. In the U.S., the FMLA protects an employee's job for twelve weeks if she is taking the time off to act as a caregiver for a family member including newborn or recently adopted children. This protection applies to a worker who has been on the job at least 12 months at a company with 50 or more employees. Some U.S. states have enacted more generous provisions. In certain areas of Canada, up to 30 weeks of regular protected maternity leave are allowed, and the time may be extended under certain circumstances. In the United Kingdom, women have the right of up to 12 months of maternity leave.

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    • A pregnant woman.
      By: tan4ikk
      A pregnant woman.