Oh Baby! Quick Answers to Your Maternity Leave Questions

by Amy Beck

I’m expecting my first child in July, and one of the most common questions people ask me is how much maternity leave I am taking.  Luckily, our firm has great maternity and paternity leave policies, and I’ll be able to bring my son to work with me!  But this question does highlight that many companies are not as family-friendly and working moms are often put in a unique situation where they must balance their health and their babies’ health with their career.  Below are answers to some of the widespread questions we receive from our clients about maternity leave and their rights under the law.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is the time a mom-to-be takes time off from work to give birth to her child.  This is also known as family or parental leave.

Is maternity leave paid?

Not always.  There are no Iowa laws or federal laws requiring employers to offer paid maternity leave, and your employer may require you to use vacation, sick, or personal days for maternity leave.  Some “family-friendly” companies offer generous paid leave, but many do not.  You should review your employer’s handbook and schedule a meeting with human resources to find out what policies are in place.

How long is maternity leave?

Under Iowa law, an employer with 4 or more employees must provide a minimum of 6 weeks of leave.  If you need to have a cesarean, the law requires that your employer provides 8 weeks of leave.

You may use up to 12 weeks of maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) if:

  • You have been at your current job for at least a year and worked 1,250 hours; and
  • Your company employees at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

The FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year.  However, if you need to go on bed rest before the baby is born, that time counts against your 12 weeks of maternity leave.

Do I receive maternity leave if I’m adopting?

The FMLA provides 12 weeks of parental leave for adopting mothers and fathers if you meet the requirements listed above.  However, state law currently doesn’t address parental leave for adoption.

When should I request maternity leave from work?

There is no magic formula—you should do whatever feels the most comfortable.  Typically, after you tell your boss about your pregnancy, you should give him or her an approximate date of when you’re planning to take your leave.

If you are requesting FMLA leave, you must provide your employer at least 30 days advance notice before your FMLA leave is expected to begin.  If circumstances require that the leave begin sooner, notice must be provided as soon as “practicable.”

If your boss treats you differently after you announce your pregnancy or request maternity leave, this may be a sign of pregnancy discrimination  (which is illegal).  Discrimination can be obvious, such as your boss making negative comments about your pregnancy, but more often discrimination is subtle and includes things like writing you up for minor issues, scheduling you for fewer shifts, or creating new rules that apply only to you.

What if my boss denies my maternity leave request?

They are likely breaking the law.  As long as your employer has at least 4 employees, it must provide a minimum of 6 weeks of maternity leave.

Is it legal for my employer to demote me, cut my pay, or fire me after my maternity leave?

No.   Under state and federal law, your employer must allow you to return to the same or an equivalent job.  If your employer demotes you, cuts your pay, or fires you after maternity leave, this is illegal retaliation.

Finally, congratulations!  We hope that your pregnancy and maternity leave go smoothly.  However, if you have questions or need help, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Amy Beck is one of our Iowa attorneys, specializing in employment litigation and civil rights.

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