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Maternity Leave – Know Your Rights

Some factors, like your position and salary, the amount of working hours per week or the size of your company will influence the time you can spend with your baby at home after giving birth. Before we get into details, let’s get the vocabulary right:

Maternity Leave is the time you get off from work in order to spend time with your newborn (or adopted) child. In most states, maternity leave is not granted for more than 6 weeks (8 weeks if you had a C-section or other complications). Other than in Germany, where the “Mutterschutz” starts 6 weeks before the expected due date, American Moms-to-be work almost until it’s time to hit the delivery room. That is – in many cases – because they do not have more than these 6 weeks off in total – and who would not want to spend that short amount of time with the newborn baby girl or boy rather than without?!

In terms of salary, American Moms or German Moms working for American companies, can expect getting paid during the maternity leave if their employers offer short term disability (STD) insurance benefits. STD insurance is a company’s insurance that kicks in once you are disabled to perform your work due to sickness or the birth of a child. But don’t expect too much – very often, it’s just a certain percentage of your salary you will receive during your absence. Larger companies, however, often offer paid maternity leave at your full salary (from 6 weeks to about 4 months, with some exceptions).
The minimum time off is six weeks which sounds quite shocking from a German perspective. No worries – the American government thinks so, too. That is why you might have the possibility to extend your leave through the family medical leave act (FMLA) – at least in some states!
So good news after all: there is a law that allows employees to stay at home for up to 12 weeks after birth or adoption of a child in order to bond with the child. And that law is not only for new moms, but for dads as well (at least if the two of you don’t work in the same company)!

The bonding time, however, is unpaid – unless you have a really really nice employer that will pay your salary or a portion of it anyway. The FMLA period usually starts when the short term disability period ends, but you could take off any time during baby’s first year. Here are some other restrictions:

  • You are only eligible if you have worked a minimum of 25 hours per week over the past year
  • You are only eligible if your salary is not amongst the highest 10% of the company
  • You are only eligible if your company has more than 50 employees and they must live within 75 miles of your workplace

What else is good to know?: Talk to your HR representative to check on your health insurance and 401k. While many companies offer to keep you on the insurance plan, they will require you to pay for your insurance during your absence and – if you decide to add your baby to your plan – for baby’s insurance as well. Regarding the 401k: Since you won’t have an income, you very likely won’t be able to make any payments for that period of time.

Last but not least, if STD and FMLA is not enough for your German genes, you can think about using up all of your vacation or discretionary days upfront or after birth. But be aware that some company policies will require you to use up a certain amount of your vacation or discretionary days during your maternity leave.

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