Short-term disability for maternity leave in the US

Maternity leave in the US is complex mostly because it varies hugely based on different women’s personal and professional situations. The two closest things to standards around maternity leave in the United States, though, are the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993, and the practice of filing for short-term disability after giving birth.

The FMLA guarantees families welcoming a new child through birth or adoption 12 weeks of unpaid leave within the first year of their new child’s arrival. One unfortunate thing about the FMLA is that it only covers full-time, established employees of companies large enough to meet the act’s requirements, so it doesn’t apply to all new parents. It still sets a standard many other companies meet, or model their policies around, but it’s only required to cover a percentage of people.

Women whose employment situations don’t meet the conditions of the FMLA should talk to their employers about what company-specific parental leave policy is in place.

One of the other frustrating aspects of the FMLA, though, is that even for the families it covers, it is unpaid leave, and having a new baby around isn’t always a very convenient time for a family to be down half, or all, of its income. Many families address this problem by applying for short-term disability for mothers recovering from giving birth.

Who is eligible for short-term disability for maternity leave?

Only a few states guarantee short-term disability during maternity leave. Different states do have different maternity programs, though, and a strong understanding of your state’s specific policies could be either helpful or frustrating, depending on what those policies are, but at least means that you won’t find out about an unexpectedly cool benefit…a few days after you could have used it.

In the rest of the country, it’s generally only women who already had insurance with short-term disability coverage before their pregnancies who have the option of short-term disability. While it’s sometimes possible to get or change a policy that includes short-term disability during pregnancy, most insurance plans have caveats that prevent already-pregnant women from benefiting from short-term disability during maternity leave.

What does short-term disability cover?

Short-term disability covers a percentage of wages that would have been earned during a period of time when someone is medically unable to work – often around 60%. Since the medical reason for not working covered by short-term disability maternity leave is the aftermath of giving birth, not the existence of a baby, coverage generally doesn’t last through all of the leave offered by the FMLA.

The length of time it covers varies based on each birth, with vaginal births requiring less recovery time than C-sections, and more complications often adding more recovery time, but short term-disability for maternity leave rarely lasts past 6 weeks.

Some new parents have the option of exhausting any sick days or paid vacation they might have at work to make up some of the difference.

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