Maximizing Your Maternity and Paternity Leave Options

As new parents-to-be, we have been exploring our options for paid and unpaid family leave from work. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I was pretty surprised by all the possible permutations that you could do. I would add that while knowing your legal rights is important, I also support the idea of working with your employer and co-workers to make the process easier on everyone.

Your Work Contract
Most employers offer their full-time salaried worker’s some length of paid maternity leave, and it’s usually spelled out clearly in the lawyer-ese language of your work agreement. A few employers even offer paid paternity leave. Making an appointment to discuss all your options with Human Resources can be time well spent. Keep in mind that you are subject to the laws of the state where you work, not where the company is based.

In addition, you may be eligible for a longer unpaid leave-of-absence. For example, a big company may allow you up to one full year of leave and your same job (or comparable) will still be yours when you come back.

Short-Term Disability Insurance
Depending on your insurance plan and local laws, being pregnant or taking time off to bond with a new child may be covered under short-term disability insurance. This means you may be eligible for an additional period after your paid maternity leave where you will get a disability benefit that is somewhere around 50% of your normal pay (subject to caps).

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to take up to 12 workweeks of job-protected unpaid leave for the birth or placement of a child, to bond with a newborn or newly placed son or daughter, or to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition. You may or may not be required to use up your paid vacation days first. To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:

  • work for a covered employer;
  • have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months;
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months (~24 hours per week average); and
  • work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.

Under some circumstances, employees may take FMLA leave intermittently – taking leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason – or on a reduced leave schedule – reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule. If FMLA leave is for birth and care, or placement for adoption or foster care, intermittent leave is subject to the employer’s approval. To get that permission, you should approach your employer in a way that suggests that taking the leave in chunks would disrupt the office operations less than taking all 12-weeks at once. For example, you may propose a 4-day workweek over a period of several months to a year, as opposed to leaving entirely for three.

State-Specific Family Leave Laws
Each state can have their own separate family leave and/or disability laws that may grant you more time and/or pay. Running a Google search for “[Your State] Family Leave Act” or “[Your State] Family Leave Laws” should locate the appropriate information.

Let’s take the most populous state and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Under federal law, any leave taken for a pregnancy-related disability is part of your FMLA 12-week limit. However, in California, an eligible employee who is disabled on account of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is entitled to take Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) for up to four months. In addition to that, an eligible employee could then take 12 weeks of family leave to care for and bond with a new child under FMLA/CFRA. That adds up to a total possible leave of 7 months.

Sources: U.S. Department of Labor, CA Dept. of General Services, CA Fair Employment and Housing Commission


  1. Gustav Gustavson Smith says:

    typo: (~ 24 hours per week average) d)

  2. Jonathan – You skipped a very important note… in all cases I’ve ever heard of, you (or your wife in this case) must use ALL of your (her) accumulated vacation and sick time before taking any disability. You can use FMLA unpaid time without burning vacation and sick days though. Also note that any employer I’ve ever heard of does NOT officially allow parents to take sick time for their children’s illnesses (only their own), although I suspect many unofficially allow it. Some things to keep in mind when planning for any paternity leave.

    Also, at my company (and maybe elsewhere), when I checked the box that I wanted to use FMLA unpaid time intermittently (not consecutively), it essentially made the deal open-ended for the one year it was in effect – I could take an unpaid hour or day whenever I wanted as long as I worked it out with my boss ahead of time (who had a baby herself about a month after we did). But if I had checked consecutive on the form, I would have been limited to taking unpaid time just for what I initially wrote down. Bottom line – I will ALWAYS take intermittent leave as long as they allow it because of the flexibility it offers.

  3. Is this going to turn into a baby blog? Please let me know know so I can find what I was looking for somewhere else.

  4. “Most employers offer their full-time salaried worker’s some length of paid maternity leave”

    Its not ‘most’. In fact its a small minority.
    I found one article that from Forbes that says: “A 2008 report from the Families and Work Institute indicated that 16% of companies with at least 100 employees provide full pay during maternity leave. ” A BLS report for 2008 says that only 8% (or 9% full time) of private industry workers get paid family leave and it peaked at 16% for management occupation group.

  5. Visitor says:


  6. I’m just taking 2-3 weeks of vacation when the baby comes. I get more vacation than I could possibly ever use anyway.

  7. Alexandria says:

    Private disability insurance may be cost prohibitive, but living in California I am amazed by how often women opt out of the cheap state disability (public jobs). Seems to me if you are a female of child bearing age, it is hard to come out behind with the insurance.

    Anyway, you don’t know how many people told me I was *lucky* or that they were *jealous* of my maternity leave. Seriously??? All I had was *mandatory* state SDI. {We had also planned ahead, saved up money, I took some unpaid leave too, etc.}. I know compared to other states the SDI here is A+, but it’s the people in this state who could not appreciate SDI that drove me batty. Likewise, since it is mandatory, I am not sure what there is to be jealous of. Not like I have any choice. For reference, my spouse was unemployed and my employer is not big enough to be covered by FMLA rules (So basically, any time I took aside from medical leave was at risk of losing my employment). I don’t think there was much to be jealous of. 😉 But what I did learn from all the extremely ignorant comments was that few people planned ahead or looked at their options. So, I think this is a GREAT post. I think even private disability insurance would buy a lot more options for many women.

    Because CA SDI is based on your “quarterly wages” I did luck out and receive the maximum benefits though my pay was on the low side. So, I received about 100% of my take-home pay, literally. Because I get a quarterly bonus, which significantly increased my benefits. Now that part was *sweet.* I will admit that was lucky. I share as just one more reason to look into it further.

  8. Alexandria says:

    P.S. I meant to say: “I share as just one more reason to look into it further… Too many people rule out any leave as impossible without really knowing their options. Sometimes there is a nice surprise.”

  9. @Gustav – Thanks, fixed!

    @Scott – Good information.

    @Danny – If two posts in a row is going to make you complain, then you should probably stop reading. But I don’t plan to write about baby-related items more than once a week.

    @Jim – It’s not a huge majority, but it’s getting better:

    Majority of First-Time U.S. Moms Now Get Paid Maternity Leave (Businessweek)

    This of women actually receiving paid maternity leave, not those that would have been eligible if they didn’t quit before/during pregnancy. It’s true that the US is one of very few industrialized “first-world” countries without some form of required paid maternity leave.

    @Visitor – Thanks!

    @Alexandria – Good points as always. 🙂

  10. I have the exact same situation. Even we are expecting later this year and are trying to figure out the leave dates, paid/unpaid portion of the leave etc. Not sure why is this such a complicated process.

    I liked your post trying to summarize the options 🙂

  11. Unlike Danny, I am finding these helpful…as well as the early retirement stuff.

  12. Jonathan, Your link in that comment seems to point to this article.

    I traced back that title to what I think is the Census report:

    They actually say : “Fifty-one percent of working women who had their first birth between 2006 and 2008 received paid leave (i.e. maternity leave, sick leave, vacation) compared with 42 percent between 1996 and 2000, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.”

    So the Census info is about people who take paid time off but they include sick days or vacation. Thats not saying that most women have maternity leave specifically. Thats really just acknowledging that most women take time off and have paid vacation/sick days to use. Maternity leave is a separate leave category and most people don’t have that.

    If you add that wrinkle to the figures I found elsewhere I think we can assume that most women do take paid time off for maternity but do not have paid maternity leave specifically and instead take some paid time off through sick days or vacation.

  13. Hmmm… so digging more into the Census report

    It says that about 40% of women take paid maternity leave. Thats among women who worked during pregnancy and who are in their 1st birth. But at minimum 40% had paid maternity leave. The % rate is higher for women with bachelors degrees.

    My quotes above are about “full pay” paid leave and “family leave”. Family leave may differ from maternity leave in some way and maybe more women get partial pay maternity leave. *shrug*

  14. @Jim – I acknowledge that I don’t know the real numbers. I haven’t found any study that breaks it down how I like it. But I did take care to include “full-time” and “salaried” which excludes part-time, hourly, commissioned, and self-employed workers.

    For example, if you work full-time at Wal-mart or other retail job but are paid an hourly rate, then I would be surprised if they paid maternity leave. Same for jobs that are commission-based or profit-sharing based (eat what you kill).

    Every single person in California that pays into State Disability Insurance (which is an mandatory automatic payroll tax deduction) can get 6 weeks of partially-paid maternity/paternity leave. This is run by the state (EDD), and I would tell anyone to check if their state offers a similar program because you probably have to apply for benefits and I bet some people don’t.

  15. J12*34212 says:

    Jonathan – good article. I am in the same boat as you? And I have question. Can you combine temporary disability with family leave. In other words, if you are pregnant and you take pregnancy leave, is it possible to first start with temporary disability benefits for six weeks and than have the family leave kick in for another six weeks.
    Any thoughts? If you explore these, can you share your findings?

  16. We just had a baby two months ago and I know a couple of women that just had babies at my work. The one thing I learned is that while the policies are defined, the HR people don’t really understand what is going on. For instance, at my work women have to take STD to get paid – no paid company leave. Well one woman I know talked to HR a few times and got different info each time. My wife works at a Fortune 25 company and it was the same deal there – different people gave different answers. We were told she got 6 weeks STD. My wife was going to supplement with 2 weeks vacation for a total of 8 weeks. They just switched over from company maternity leave to STD. We tried to ask for the STD rules & policy several times and only got an abbreviated statement. A week before she gave birth, we found out that the 6 weeks of paid STD included the one exclusionary period – which she was already going to use vacation time for. To me, it’s actually 5 weeks of STD – because that all that insurance is paying for, but everyone referred to it as 6 week of STD. To take even more time off without pay, she would have burn all her vacation first – and we wanted to reserve some time in the fall to do something since the baby came early in the year.

  17. i live in california and currently on maternity leave so here’s what i know. note i work for a large company and i think our maternity leave policy is rich (or at least that’s what i am told).

    BEFORE delivery – california allows 4 weeks paid time off prior to the due date and you will get on short term disability. CA will pay you up to $1,000 a week until delivery. e.g. if baby arrives 2 weeks early, then this portion of the disability will only be 2 weeks. if baby arrives a week late then you will get 5 weeks of pre-baby disability. if you don’t use it, you lose it. it’s not possible to cut short of the pre-delivery time off and make the post-delivery time off longer. take advantage of this because the last few weeks of pregnancy is VERY tiring!

    in addition to the CA state disability benefit, because our company also have private short term disability insurance and CA disability did not cover 100% of my pay, the private insurance also paid me so i end up receiving 100% of my pay btw CA disability and private disability insurance during this time.

    AFTER delivery – california allows 6 weeks short term disability for natural birth. if c-section then i believe it’s 8 weeks (someone please confirm this as my delivery was natural). again, CA will pay you about $1,000 a week. again, the private insurance also paid me additional money so i am receiving 100% of my pay during the 6 weeks. i did not have the exhaust my vacation or sick days to take this short term disability.

    my understanding is that NJ’s STD works the same as CA but again if you live in NJ, it’s better that you double check on this. i do not believe any other states offer the 4 weeks pre-delivery time off.

    after state disability is over, my company allowed us to take parental leave (up to 6 weeks) and vacation (if you want). so technically, if i add up all available benefits time off (4 weeks prior + 6 weeks CA disability for after + 6 weeks parental + 4 weeks vacation which i accumulated), i was able to take 20 weeks of time off with 100% pay as “maternity leave”.

    if additional time off is still needed, california has paid family leave (PFL) which suppose to allow 6 weeks of benefits to bond with the child. i believe this is the portion that everyone is talking about that you need to exhaust your vacation/sickdays before your company will allow you to take this. my understanding is that the 6 weeks also pays about $1000/week max. however because i’ve never taken this and don’t plan on taking it, i won’t comment further but thought i’d throw it out there in case anyone is interested.

    hope this helps!

    @ J12*34212 – i believe the answer to your question is YES, you can take short term disability for 6 weeks and then another 6 weeks of paid family leave (PFL) so if your company have no other benefits, you will get 12 weeks of maternity leave. remember you should look into taking off the 4 weeks prior to delivery date. so you should get total of 16 weeks! 🙂

  18. Perfect summary, Julie! I just jumped the same hoops a few months ago when we had our baby. I’d add that fathers/partners in CA who work and have paid into SDI can also take the 6 weeks of paid family leave (PFL) with pay capped at $1000/week depending on income.

  19. Jonathan, Yeah I don’t know the real numbers either. My first reaction was that it couldn’t be over 50% but I may be wrong. Its probably somewhere between 2% and 50%. 😉 Sorry, I really wasn’t meaning to be argumentative about it.

    CA seems to have pretty specific and generous rules about leave and disability. I don’t think most states have such laws. According to Wikipedia at least only 5 states have statutory disability plans. CA, HI, NJ, NY & RI.

  20. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    Going to share your course of action?

  21. Danny,

    Jonathan is going through one of the most exciting, and I’m sure frightening, times of his life and you want to complain about it! I hope you take his advice and quit reading.

  22. Richard says:


    I believe a lot of those coverages run concurrently. I know FMLA, CFRA, and Paid Family Leave (PFL) run concurrently. Plus California’s PFL isn’t guaranteed protected leave which is why both run concurrently. PFL is only the program that you can get paid out of while on Baby Bonding Time (and for other applicable reasons). You can elect to use PFL while out on Baby Bonding Time per FMLA. If for some reason you do not elect to use PFL and have used up all your protective leave, you can not take an addition six weeks stating that it is covered under PFL.

    Under FMLA/CFRA, you can take up to 12 weeks protected leave. Most employees/employers will cash out sick and vacation and then get paid the PFL for six weeks. Assuming no additional insurance was on the employe (Short term or long term disability) and there is not enough sick leave/vacation/PFL to cover the full 12 weeks, an employee can still stay out on the 12 weeks while choosing not to get paid.

    It is worth noting that the 12 weeks does not have to be taken at once and can be broken up to as small amount as the company’s payroll system can calculate. Usually companies do half hours to an hour minimum.

    The company can also define if the 12 weeks are on a calendar year or rolling year. All the companies I’ve worked for use a rolling year to help minimize the amount of time an employee is out. If the company uses a calendar year method, an employee could be out for 24 weeks of protective leave.

  23. @ Richard – i think we should clarify that there’s a difference in job protection vs. getting paid. just because there’s job protection doesn’t mean you are getting paid. and just because you will be paid for the leave doesn’t mean you have job protection which is what i think you are trying to say here?

    also, there are other factors to consider when deciding how much time to take off. for me, getting paid 100% was very important because i have a huge mortgage. so it kind of didn’t really matter how long the job protection was. as much as i loved my baby, i appreciated going back to work after a few months at home. i started to appreciate the fact that i could have 30/60 min of uninterrupted time to eat lunch at my desk or that 10 min coffee break (something you won’t get if you stay at home with the baby!!!) so going back to work gives me sanity and makes me a better mom.

    there’s an application form you need to fill out (and doctor sign off) to get the state disability. for PFL, there’s actually a separate application form that you must fill out if you want to take that so i’m not sure the initial 6 weeks disability runs concurrently with PFL?!

    one more thing that i don’t ‘think anyone has mentioned here is that CA will not issue 1099 for the first 6 weeks disability but will do so for the PFL. so i actually got paid a little bit more during maternity because a portion of my income is not showing up on my company w2 and i didn’t receive a 1099 from the state.

    i’d like to emphasize again that i’m simply speaking from my own experience.

  24. I have a question on Paternity Leave vs. Short Term Disability.

    I work at a small office with 12 staff members and I’ve been with them for 5 years. I am the first person they put on STD due to a surgery. I was not expecting that as they paid FULL pay to a fellow male staff member twice (once 2 yrs ago and then again this year) – they did not use any of his sick or vacation time AND they continued to contribute to his employee paid pension plan.

    Due to surgery I am out for 8 weeks – and they put me on STD – they made me use ALL my vacation and sick time and am being paid 60% of my salary with no contributions to my employee paid pension.

    Does anyone else think this is unfair? any ideas on who to contact or if I should let it go and not cause waves? It has really put me in a financial bind. Thanks,

  25. I have a question. I’m in ca & following the birth of baby I was out on disability for 13 weeks. I never applied for bonding time. I have been back for three months from disability & am now interested in taking bonding time- either consolidated or in blocks… Can I do this? What ate the stipulations?

  26. Jonathon- How do holidays figure into FMLA/PFL? During my maternity leave there will be 2 holidays which our company does give employees as paid days off. DO those get added to the end or do I lose them?

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