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Pregnancy and Leave

Vodafone, a British telecommunications company that operates all over the world, recently announced a new, very generous maternity leave policy.  Vodafone employees will be able to take off 16 weeks of maternity leave while still receiving their full regular pay, and then for the next six months will be able to work slightly reduced hours, still at their full regular pay.

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.

So, if you don't work for Vodafone, what are your maternity leave rights in the U.S.?

Pregnancy- and maternity- leave rights can come from four different laws, which all cover slightly different circumstances.

FMLA­ – The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave either for a pregnancy-related serious health condition or for baby-bonding or medical needs after birth.  The twelve-week limit is per year.

CFRA – The California Family Rights Act also provides twelve weeks of unpaid leave, but only from birth on, for baby bonding or medical needs after the birth.  The CFRA specifically excludes pregnancy-related conditions.

Which is okay, because that period of time in California is covered by the PDLL, or Pregnancy Disability Leave Law.  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 also unpaid, it does offer the benefit of requiring an employer to continuing 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, or 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 and additional leave might be a reasonable way to accommodate that disability.

So how does this all work together?  Here is one imaginary 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.  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 still 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.