Understanding Maternity Leave Laws

While knowing your rights and understanding maternity leave laws is important with any pregnancy, it is absolutely critical early on when you are expecting twins or more. The rate of pre-term births--those at less than 37 weeks gestation--are more common when a pregnant woman is carrying twins, triplets or more.

In 2000, the rate of preterm births among twin pregnancies was 57 percent; for triplets, 93 percent. On average, twins are born at 35 to 36 weeks. Triplets tend to be born at 32 to 33 weeks, and most quadruplets arrive around 30 to 31 weeks.

Although you may be able to carry your twins to full term, you should prepare yourself and your boss for the possibility that you may deliver your babies earlier and, therefore, need to take maternity leave sooner than most pregnant women.

While your state or company may have rules or policies that apply only to them, there are federal maternity leave laws that must be followed by most businesses.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law passed in 1993, requires most employers to provide their employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The law applies to both male and female employees.

This law also mandates that your employer allow you to return to your position or a similar one after your 12 weeks leave with the same compensation package. Keep in mind, though, that there are some exceptions to this law. They are:

  • Companies with less than 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace are exempt from FMLA.
  • If you worked less than 25 hours a week for 50 weeks, your company is not required to cover you under FMLA. They also do not have to cover you if you have worked for the company for less than 12 months.
  • If you and your spouse work for the same company, you are entitled to a total of 12 weeks leave combined for the birth of your child(ren), not 12 weeks each.
  • If you are an executive at your firm (among the highest 10 percent of wage earners at your company) and your employer can prove that your absence would cause them financial harm, you may not be entitled to your job when you return but still qualify for unpaid leave.

Your company must keep you on its health insurance plan while you are on leave under FMLA. However, you may need to send in your monthly contribution while on leave if you are no longer on the payroll. (Some companies may require you to be on COBRA instead, which can be much more costly. Make sure you check with your human resources department about your company's policies.)

Other things to keep in mind are that you will probably not accrue vacation time while you are on leave and your contributions and/or vesting in your 401(k) plan will likely be affected. Most companies do not allow you to count your time out toward your length of service. Also, under FMLA, you must provide your company with written application of your intent to take leave at least 30 days in advance.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Passed in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides pregnant women with the same rights as others with "medical conditions" by prohibiting job discrimination. It applies to companies with 15 or more employees. Basically, the law protects you from being treated differently than other employees because you are pregnant. Your company must provide the same job security and benefits to pregnant women as it does to other employees with a medical condition.

Paid Maternity Leave

While federal maternity leave laws do not require paid leave, some companies offer plans that allow you to receive some or all of your pay for at least a portion of your maternity leave. Many companies will pay short-term disability (STD) benefits to mothers after the birth of a child for six weeks (some plans pay more for a C-section or other complications). The benefits paid typically range between 50 to 100 percent of your pay. You may also be covered for additional weeks under this type of plan before the twins' birth if you are put on bed rest by your doctor. Check with your human resources department to see if they offer STD benefits.

If you plan to stay out longer than six weeks (most mothers of multiples do), you may be able to use any accrued vacation, sick time or personal days to allow for more paid time off.

Talk to your company's human resources department

Your human resource representative at your company can be a strong ally to help you understand maternity leave laws and plan for your time away from your job. In some cases, your company's or state's policies may be more liberal than those provided at the federal level. Early communication with this team and your boss about your leave will give you one less thing to be stressed about later in your pregnancy.

How to tell the boss you're pregnant

Did you experience workplace discrimination while pregnant with twins?

Share your story about pregnancy workplace discrimination with our readers. What happened? How did you deal with it? Did human resources help? Or did you need to seek outside legal help? Your story can help other moms of twins who may be facing similar issues in the workplace.

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