Vodafone, a British telecommunications company that operates all over the world, recently announced a new and generous maternity leave policy. Employees will be able to take off 16 weeks of maternity leave while still receiving their full regular pay. In the following six months, they can also work slightly reduced hours without a pay reduction and as if they worked full hours.
Vodafone's policy is unusual because it will apply to employees in every country, even if local laws don't require maternity leave that generous. Of course, most of us don’t work for Vodafone and probably can’t expect the same level of maternity care from our employers. As an average U.S. employee, what are your maternity leave rights?
U.S. Laws That Decide Maternity Leave Rights
Pregnancy and maternity leave rights can come from four different laws, which all cover slightly different circumstances. Starting with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the average employee is provided up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave either for a pregnancy-related serious health condition or for baby-bonding or medical needs after birth. The 12-week limit is per year.
Next, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) also provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees in California. However, the additional weeks can only be used from birth on and for baby bonding or medical needs after the birth. The CFRA specifically excludes pregnancy-related conditions that can adversely affect a woman while she is pregnant.
Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) can cover that gap of time, though. The PDLL gives an employee up to four months of leave for any disabling pregnancy or birth-related condition, including things like being put on bed rest while pregnant. Although PDLL leave is unpaid, it does offer the benefit of requiring an employer to continue paying for an employee's health insurance during the leave. Under other laws, employees usually have to pay the whole insurance bill by themselves.
Lastly, The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – and the similar federal Americans with Disabilities Act – may require an employer to give an employee even more leave if that employee is disabled. Under FEHA, it is assumed that additional leave could reasonably accommodate that disability.
Using as Many Pregnancy & Maternity Leave Benefits as Possible
How can all four of these different acts and laws work together? Imagine this scenario:
In January, a pregnant woman due in May is put on bed rest by her doctor. Because she is medically disabled, she is, therefore, eligible for PDLL and FMLA leave. Three months later, in April, the employee has used up all of her FMLA leave but, since PDLL offers an extra month, she is still getting health insurance and her job is still protected.
The employee has her baby in May, but there are complications. CFRA baby bonding leave starts immediately when her baby is born, and the employee's job is protected for twelve more weeks. Unfortunately, by three months after birth, the mother is still having trouble with complications and still cannot work. She has now used up her FMLA, PDLL, and CFRA leave. The last step is for the mother and the company to talk and determine whether a little extra leave may be a reasonable accommodation for her disability, which can be granted through FEHA. The mother only needs a couple more weeks, so the company agrees the additional time is reasonable, and the employee, almost eight months after she was forced to stop working and go on bed rest, is finally able to return to work.
In this scenario, the company did everything right. Unfortunately, however, there are some companies that discriminate against pregnant employees and employees with medical issues or disabilities and don't comply with all of the laws protecting those employees and their leave rights. If you are ever faced with such an employer, then you should think about teaming up with an employment law attorney as soon as possible.
Aegis Law Firm protects the rights of employees in Irvine and beyond. Call (800) 543-4829 if you need our help to secure your pregnancy, maternity, or another medical leave benefit.