Am I entitled to pregnancy leave?

Question: My doctor has told me I will likely need to be on bed rest for the last month of my pregnancy. I am planning to use FMLA leave to take time off after I have the baby, but I'm not sure what to do for the time before. I've only got a couple of weeks of vacation time saved up. Does my employer have to give me more time off?

Answer: There are a few options to look into, depending on your state's laws and your employer's policies. First of all, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers not only parental leave, but also pregnancy leave. You can use FMLA leave to take time off when you need it for a serious health condition, and pregnancy counts as such a condition.

You've said you are already planning to use the FMLA for your parental leave, so I'm guessing you have already figured out that you are eligible for this type of leave and your employer is covered by the law. The catch to using FMLA leave for your pregnancy is that it will eat into your total allotment. The FMLA gives employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off in one 12-month period for any covered reason (the only exception is for military family leave, which doesn't apply here). So, if you use four weeks during your pregnancy, you will have only eight weeks left after you have the baby, assuming you haven't used FMLA leave for any other purpose.

Some states have their own family and medical leave laws. Some are very similar to the FMLA, in that they allow employees to take time off for a variety of health and caretaking reasons, typically including pregnancy. If your state law gives employees the right to take more time off, you might find some additional rights there.

Some states have separate laws that apply only to pregnancy disability: the period of time when you are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Usually, however, this type of time off runs concurrently with FMLA leave. In other words, you won't get more time off overall. You will still have a total of 12 weeks of FMLA leave, even if part of it is also guaranteed by state law. That's not always true, though: In California, for example, the state's family leave law doesn't cover pregnancy leave. This means you can take the time off you need for pregnancy disability (up to four months, in California) and you will still have 12 weeks of state family leave to spend with your new child. To find out what your state allows and requires, see Nolo's  State Family and Medical Leave Laws  page.

You should also check your employer's policy. If it offers parental leave, you are still entitled to that time, even if you use some FMLA leave during your pregnancy. Also, employers are not allowed to discriminate based on pregnancy. This means that if your employer gives time off to other employees who are temporarily unable to work (for example, because of a stroke or surgery), your employer must also give time off to employees who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy, as you will be during your final month.

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