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Planning parental leave: Q and A

Parental leave is time away from work while you’re pregnant or after you give birth. In some areas, it’s also called family leave, bonding leave or maternity leave. In the U.S., it isn’t always guaranteed. Whether you have the option to take parental leave tends to depend on your job, as well as local and state regulations.

When you’re on most types of leave, your job cannot legally replace or penalize you for taking time off. Parental leave is also sometimes paid.

How much time off can I get?

In the U.S., most companies – but not all – are required to allow 12 weeks of unpaid leave under federal law. You can read about this law, called the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA, at this link. It’s also a good idea to check with your employer and your own state laws to get a better picture of how additional leave options may apply to you. If you have any co-workers who have recently taken leave, they can be a great source of information.

Some companies allow employees to add on accumulated vacation time or sick days to extend the time they’re out on leave. Others may allow you to spend vacation time you haven’t accumulated yet. Because it can vary so much, you will definitely want to consult your employer about their specific policies.

When should I take my leave?

Before you can take your leave, you typically need to submit a request or discuss your plans for leave with a human resources representative. You should consult your employer to learn more about the right timeline for submitting such a request or making plans for leave. Because giving birth is unpredictable, it helps to know how to submit your request in advance or update a request once the baby is here.

There are some notable details that might shape when exactly you decide to take your leave, including how much leave time you have, how you’re feeling toward the end of your pregnancy, and your and your baby’s health needs. Some people prefer and are able to start their leave a little while before their due date. Other people prefer or need to work right up until their due date or birth. You know the details of your leave and your needs best, and so you should take leave when it is the best for you. 

Will I get paid?

In the U.S., some employers offer paid leave, but it’s certainly not a guarantee. You can start by consulting your employer to see if they offer any pay during family leave. Many states offer much more generous leave policies. They may include pay, time for medical recovery and then bonding, and time paid or unpaid for partners.

If you are in the U.S., you can read about the different state laws here.

If you do get paid, you may receive a smaller portion of your salary than if you were there or a decreasing amount of your salary over time as an incentive to return to work. Some companies pay a salary through a limited amount of leave, or offer a bonus when you return.

Is there an alternative to family leave?

If family leave of FMLA isn’t an option, you may also be able to use a combination of paid vacation, unpaid vacation, and sick days. Another way to get time off from work is through short-term disability. Short-term medical disability may be offered through your state or employer, so it’s worth doing some research on local regulations and your employer’s policies to see if you qualify.

Short-term disability usually pays between 50 and 100% of your salary, and it will generally cover only 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth. depending on your coverage. It may also cover leave for pregnancy-related complications or additional time off for postpartum medical complications, including those related to mental health. If you have access to short-term disability, calling the insurer directly can help you understand what is and isn’t covered.

Getting ready for leave

As you prepare, here are a few things to remember to make it an easier process:

  • Talk to HR: Consult your human resources department to figure out all of the options you have. Some departments may be more hesitant to offer money or time off, so be sure to do research and ask a lot of questions to get what you are entitled to. Ask about your options early so you have plenty of time to come up with a plan.
  • Coordinate with your partner: Plan together to maximize the time you two can take care of Baby. Some companies offer leave specifically for partners to stay home with their newborns. Maybe you’ll want to take time off together, or maybe your partner could take time off later and take care of Baby when your leave ends and you return to work.
  • Take finances into consideration: Figure out how much time off without pay you could afford. It may be that you or your partner will need to return to work sooner than you would like, but budgeting and looking in advance may give you additional flexibility and time to save.

Planning your parental leave in advance can solidify a plan, lead to the discovery of new options, and give you time to financially and emotionally prepare. Organizing everything early can help you comfortably take time off without worrying about work once you’re home and worrying about Baby instead.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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