People from outside the USA may be surprised to know that there is no mandatory paid maternity leave in America for workers in privately owned and operated enterprises.
Expectant mothers are entitled to 12 weeks’ leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, during which time their job is guaranteed (provided certain conditions are met), but there is no obligation for employers to pay workers during this time — in fact, it is thought that only 23% of employees in the private sector receive any form of paid maternity leave (the figure is higher for government workers).
Therefore, American moms-to-be who will be going on maternity leave need to do some fairly intensive planning ahead of time in order to minimise the financial impact your time away from work will have on your budget.
- Find out what your employer provides
One of the first things to do as part of your planning for maternity leave is to ascertain precisely the conditions that your employer will provide.
For instance, is your organisation one of the relatively few in the US that provides paid maternity leave? If so, at what rate of pay? Are there any options to have the leave period extended? If so, will this be paid or unpaid?
Knowing this information well in advance of your maternity leave will enable you to make more effective financial plans.
- How many days are you entitled to?
If your employer does offer paid maternity leave, you should have discussions with HR ahead of time as to the precise conditions of the leave policy, e.g., can you request longer than 12 weeks, can you take longer on a reduced rate of pay, is there other accumulated leave you can also use as part of your maternity leave, etc.
It is always worthwhile to take the time to have a sit down with HR, as it may be that there are additional entitlements that you are simply not aware of.
- Can you take advantage of short-term disability leave?
If you are self-employed, a freelancer, or your company does not have sufficient maternity provision, it could be possible to take out a short-term disability insurance policy ahead of becoming pregnant.
This is because some insurance policies classify both pregnancy and the postpartum period as a ‘disability’ that stops you from being able to work. In general, a short-term disability leave policy will provide six weeks’ maternity leave at a reduced rate of pay (potentially longer for a caesarean birth).
However, it is important to proceed with caution, and to ensure that you understand the full terms of any policy, in order to make sure that you are being covered to the extent that you need.
- Take advantage of a more flexible work environment
There have been significant changes in the work environment worldwide, with flexibility becoming the new watchword. More and more people are working as freelancers or independent contractors, or have redefined the terms of their employment so that they work fewer hours or days per week.
If you are planning on becoming pregnant and your current employer does not provide paid maternity leave (or other working conditions that meet your needs), there are more opportunities than ever to work flexibly in a way that better suits your lifestyle.
Therefore, it might be worth thinking about changing your job, and/or the way you work, ahead of getting pregnant, in order to mitigate the financial impact of taking time off work to have a baby.
- Other steps you can take
There are some other steps that expectant moms can take in the face of unpaid maternity leave, and it can pay to be creative.
For instance, look into whether it’s possible to save up your vacation days and other PTO entitlements, and add that to your maternity leave. Find out whether vacation days can be carried over from one year to the next and be accumulated, so they can be used all together.
You should also consider setting aside a proportion of your salary every week ahead of time to use specifically during maternity leave. It doesn’t need to be a huge amount each week, but the earlier you start, the more you will accrue. Doing this is unlikely to fully take the place of your salary while you are off work, but it will certainly make it easier to cope with financial impact of going without pay.
Maternity leave elsewhere in the world
As stated at the outset, many people are surprised at the paucity of maternity leave provision in the USA, especially when compared to other similar countries around the world.
Most other similar industrialised economies mandate a period of time during which women can have have time off work after giving birth and continue to be paid, either at the full rate, a reduced rate of pay, or a combination of both.
For example, there is government paid maternity leave in Singapore for 16 weeks, which also applies to self-employed workers. This can cover a period of up to four weeks before the birth, and up to 12 weeks after.
In Australia, new mothers are entitled to 12 months of unpaid maternity leave, and an additional 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave can also be requested. In addition, maternity pay is available for up to 18 weeks, and is paid based on the national minimum wage. There is also the option to take some of your maternity leave entitlement at any time within two years of the birth of your child.
The UK provides new mothers with up to 52 weeks’ unpaid maternity leave (26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and a further 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave). Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) provides paid leave for up to 39 weeks, at 90% of the average weekly earnings before tax (AWE) for the first 6 weeks, then £156.66 or 90% of AWE (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
In Canada, the amount of paid maternity leave can vary depending on certain conditions, but it will range between 14 and 22 weeks. Standard maternity leave is paid at a rate of 55% of average insurable weekly earnings (up to $638). For extended maternity leave, the rate is 33% of average insurable weekly earnings (up to a maximum of $383).