Parental leave ■
Stacey knows it's against the law for employers to fire her because of her pregnancy, but she hates asking for help lifting patients, and she's not sure how long she'll need to be gone when the baby comes. She's not counting on any paid leave because she knows that's pretty rare.
The United States is among very few countries in the world that doesn't guarantee a paid maternity leave. Some states either have maternity leave laws (California and New Jersey) or are considering them.
But nationally, the only law that gives you any kind of leave as a new parent is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Under this law, employers must protect an employee's job for 12 weeks after the birth of a new baby, but there are still conditions exempting many employers from this law.
All these exceptions translate into just over half of American women being allowed to take advantage of unpaid leave under the law. And even if you can legally take unpaid leave, you might not be able to afford to go without a paycheck for very long. Only 42 percent of working mothers stay home from work during the first twelve weeks after their babies are born.
You might be offered paid leave as a benefit from your company, or you might be able to use accumulated vacation and sick time to give yourself several weeks off. Your employer might be generous enough to give you whatever time you need.
But then again, you might not have access to sick leave or vacation pay in the first place. Or you might have complications during pregnancy which keep you from saving up paid time off after you realize you're expecting.
Regardless of what your employer's official policy is, if you want parental leave, ask for it. Your employer might not be legally required to give you time off, but don't assume that means you're out of luck. Some employers believe that being family-friendly is the right thing to do, and some might think you're an employee worth keeping.
"At my job, I had to go back to work five days (yes FIVE) after giving birth because it was the height of tax season."
Camille B., Utah
"When I had my third child, I hadn't even worked there for a year so I didn't qualify for FMLA. It didn't matter. My boss told me to take as much time off as I wanted and my job would be waiting for me when I got back."
Marisa S., Utah