A Beginner's Guide to Maternity Leave Laws

Get the answers to the top maternity leave law questions

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In the United States, maternity leave laws can be confusing. Employers and states have been increasing their protections for parental and medical leave in 2022, but access to benefits still varies greatly. Learn the protections afforded to you and your partner when requesting parental leave.

Key Takeaways

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act secures 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave.
  • About half of employers in the U.S. offer paid parental leave.
  • U.S. law allows you to take 6 weeks of short-term disability after the child is born (8 weeks if you had a c-section).

How Long Can You Legally Take Maternity Leave?

The short answer is that, according to U.S. law, you can take 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave without having your job in jeopardy.

Here's the long answer with the facts. In 1993, President Bill Clinton passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects the job of any worker who takes time away from work due to a serious illness, a sick family member, or to care for a newborn, adopted, or foster child.

The law says if you have worked for your company for 12 months and at least 1,250 hours, and the company has 50 or more employees within 75 miles, you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period under certain circumstances. 

How Long Is the Average Maternity Leave?

Your doctor will say your body needs 6 weeks to recover from childbirth and 8 weeks if you had a c-section. FMLA will protect your job for 12 weeks, but that time may be unpaid. So, the real question is: How long can you afford to take unpaid leave?

As of 2022, 55% of employers in the U.S. offer paid maternity leave, and 45% offer paid paternity leave. The average paid parental leave period is 8 weeks.


Netflix is known for its flexible parental leave policy. According to its website, most of its employees take between 4 and 8 months of paid leave to take care of their newborn.

It's best for you (and your partner if raising the child together) to speak with your respective employers about expectations surrounding parental leave. Look into your company's policy, get a sense of your friends' and family's availability

How Does Short-Term Disability Work for Maternity Leave?

Short-term disability will offer you 6 weeks pay for a normal childbirth and 8 weeks for a c-section. The rest of your maternity leave will be unpaid and job-protected with FMLA if you work for a qualifying company. Short-term disability typically covers 50% of your paycheck. Check with your HR manager for the details.

Short-term disablity doesn't start paying out right away. First, there's an "elimination period," in which the insurance company confirms your disability. Your disability is that you gave birth to a child. You'll need to account for this unpaid time in your budget if you'll have bills due while waiting.

Do You Get Paid When You Are on Maternity Leave?

If you live in the United States, you do not get paid by the federal government while on maternity leave. Though now over half of employers offer some amount of paid parental leave.

The Family and Medical Insurance leave (FMLI) or FAMILY Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013, but has not been enacted. The Act proposes guaranteed paid maternity leave, something many other nations already offer. Meanwhile, the National Conference of State Legislatures monitors state maternity leave laws. While less than a third of the states have them, many are working on some family-friendly workplace laws.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which states offer paid maternity (family) leave?

11 states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington—and the District of Columbia currently offer paid family and medical leave.

How long is maternity leave in the U.S.?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993, protects 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave in connection with the birth or placement (if adopted) of a child. Note that this law simply means you can't be fired for taking 12 weeks off to care for your child; it doesn't require your employer to continue paying you during this time.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA)."

  2. SHRM. "New SHRM Research Shows Employers Offering Paid Parental Leave Has Increased."

  3. Zippia. "Average Paid Maternity Leave in the U.S. [2022]: Paid Maternity Leave Statistics."

  4. Netflix. "Work Life Philosophy."

  5. New York State. "Disability Benefits."

  6. NCLS. "State Family and Medical Leave Laws."

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