Moms and moms-to-be face unprecedented challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, from preparing for a safe birth to preparing for a different postpartum experience than you might have imagined. And if your baby shower wasn’t canceled altogether, it’s a miracle.
So let’s make figuring out what protections, benefits and work leave you might be eligible for a little easier. We asked Elizabeth Gedmark, Vice President of A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center, to answer pressing questions about maternity leave and protections for pregnant workers during the pandemic.
Here’s what to know about maternity leave and workplace protections for pregnant workers right now.
I heard FMLA was expanded—what does that mean for my maternity leave?
Sadly, we’re still waiting on a national paid maternity leave policy. Today, parental leave in the U.S. is still governed by the same patchwork of state regulations, employer policies and short-term disability coverage, in the absence of a federal paid parental leave law. But FMLA has been given a temporary emergency upgrade in response to the pandemic.
Just as a refresher, federal FMLA law already covers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for eligible employees who need time off from work to care for a newborn or other family member. Also, some states already have expanded FMLA laws that offer paid leave, additional time off or both. Most American women who take maternity leave patch together a combination of paid sick leave (if available), paid vacation time (again, if available), partially-paid disability leave (depending on what their state offers), and FMLA leave (which could be paid or unpaid, again, depending on the state).
As of April 2020, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (FMLA Expansion) made some families eligible for additional partially paid leave, if they are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19. This expansion is in effect through December 31, 2020.
Sadly, this doesn’t mean women who use FMLA for maternity leave during the pandemic are getting any extra time off.
What it does mean: After taking two weeks paid sick leave, employees who have been employed for at least 30 days may be eligible for up to an additional 10 weeks of partially paid expanded family and medical leave if they are unable to work because they are sick with COVID-19 or quarantined, a family member is sick with COVID-19, or they cannot work because their child’s school or childcare provider has closed because of the pandemic.
That said, here are two ways in which the FMLA Expansion might help extend your maternity leave, depending on your situation, your employer’s policies and your state (be sure to talk to your employer or get a consult from the Better Balance hotline):
- If you were planning to use FMLA for maternity leave, and you have an older child (or children) whose daycare or school has closed because of the pandemic, you may be able to use the FMLA Expansion to cover up to 10 weeks of partially-paid leave if you are unable to work as a result, without eating into your 12 weeks of regular FMLA leave after you give birth.
- If you were planning to use FMLA for maternity leave, and your partner or another family member gets sick with COVID-19, you may be able to use the FMLA Expansion to cover up to 10 weeks of partially-paid leave in order to help care for your family member, without eating into your 12 weeks of regular FMLA leave after you give birth.
Am I eligible for paid parental leave because of the pandemic?
“Parents are eligible for paid leave under the new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, if they are unable to work because their child’s school or daycare is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” says Elizabeth Gedmark, Vice President of A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center.
If you are unable to work because your child’s school or childcare provider has closed due to the pandemic, you can take up to 12 weeks of this emergency paid family leave, as well as emergency paid sick leave.
Gedmark notes, however, that private sector employers with more than 500 employees are exempt from the law. Health care provider employers and those employing emergency responders may also choose to exempt employees.
There are some additional limitations to paid parental leave under the FFCRA to be aware of as well. Paid leave for people who are unable to work due to their own quarantine or symptoms of coronavirus maxes out at $5,110 for two weeks. And paid family leave for workers who are unable to work because of a childcare or school closure is capped at up to two-thirds of pay for 12 weeks, for a maximum of $10,000, after a 10-day unpaid waiting period.
Are pregnant women and new mothers entitled to any additional legal or workplace protections during the coronavirus pandemic?
“Women are not necessarily entitled to additional legal or workplace protections during their pregnancies because of the coronavirus pandemic, but existing protections do still apply even in the midst of this public health crisis,” says Gedmark.
“For example, you have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of your pregnancy, meaning you can’t be targeted for COVID-19 related layoffs because of your pregnancy. Your employer also can’t unilaterally cut your hours or pressure you to stay home due to your pregnancy,” Gedmark notes.
I’m pregnant and worried about my safety on the job during the pandemic. What are my options?
If you are pregnant during the pandemic and you are thinking about quitting because you are scared of the potential risk to your health, requesting a reasonable accommodation at your workplace may allow you to stay attached to your job while protecting the health of your pregnancy, according to Gedmark.
Depending on the state you live in and your individual circumstances, you may have a right to request reasonable accommodations for your pregnancy under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or a state pregnancy accommodation law. “Reasonable accommodations” could include personal protective equipment, a transfer, a workspace that allows for social distancing or a leave of absence. “In some states, pregnant workers may also be able to receive temporary disability benefits, which could be an alternative to seeking unemployment insurance,” Gedmark says.
What if I’m pregnant and I’m advised by my care provider to self-quarantine—am I entitled to any protections or paid time off?
“Yes!” says Gedmark. “A pregnant worker advised by her healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 may be entitled to job protection so she can’t be fired, and/or entitled to paid time off under federal or state paid leave laws, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”
Find more resources and information for maternity leave during the coronavirus pandemic at A Better Balance.