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Maternity Leave Benefits – What Are Your Small Business Obligations and Options?

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Maternity Leave Benefits – What Are Your Small Business Obligations and Options?

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 31, 2013 Updated: July 31, 2013

Do you know what your legal obligations are to provide maternity leave to your employees? There are laws that dictate what maternity leave benefits you should be providing to your employees. However, they don’t apply to all business owners.

For example, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain companies are required to provide unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. This includes 12 workweeks of leave for the birth and care of a child in its first year.

However, FMLA only applies to companies with more than 50 employees – a fact that excludes many small businesses and their employees. 

Federal law aside, your state may have more favorable laws for maternity leave. In California, for example, women may collect state temporary disability payments of about two thirds of their wages for the time during which they're physically disabled due to pregnancy and childbirth (usually six to eight weeks). To find out what laws apply in your state, check out this list of State Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Adoption Leave Statutes published by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Should You Provide Maternity Leave if the Law Doesn’t Require It?

If your business is not covered by FMLA or state laws, what steps can you take to ensure that employees get the appropriate level of maternity leave?

Providing maternity leave is a smart option for small businesses.  Even if FMLA does not apply to you, according to a U.S. Department of Labor survey, providing both maternity and medical leave is proven to make a positive impact on the lives workers without placing an undue burden on employers. Abuse of these policies is also much lower than expected, and 90 percent of workers return to their jobs after taking FMLA leave.

Setting a Maternity Leave Policy

If you decide to offer maternity leave benefits (and assuming you don’t already have to comply with federal or state maternity leave laws), the FMLA and state laws are useful models on which to base your policy. Consider the following guidelines (as set by FMLA):

  • The employee has been in your employment for at least 12 months and works a regular work week (FMLA requires an average work week of around 24 hours to be eligible, although state policies often don’t require an hourly minimum).
  • The policy applies to both men and women to give them reasonable time to bond with the child (newborn, adopted or fostered).
  • The leave must be taken as a continuous block of leave.
  • Determine the amount of time off you wish to offer and whether it will be paid, unpaid or paid in part. FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks a year. State laws vary between 6-12 weeks.

Whatever you decide, apply your policy consistently with no special favors for certain employees. Include your policy in employee handbooks and terms of employment.

If you think this will be too much of a stretch for your business, consider alternatives such as allowing new parents to work from home or part-time during the initial weeks of new parenthood.

Prepare Your Business

The thought of doing without any employee for several weeks can be daunting, but there are a few things you can do to ensure your business stays productive during an employee’s period of extended leave:

  • Get High Performers to Step Up – If someone on your team is looking for an opportunity to take on extra responsibility or has shown an aptitude for growth, consider asking them to step into the shoes of employees who take maternity leave. Plan the transition in advance and be sure to have a plan to hand back the role when the absent employee returns to work so that they don’t feel that the position is in jeopardy.
  • Cross Train – Cross training should be a key part of any business and will help your business handle the strain of short and extended leave more seamlessly. Your employees don’t need to be able to do everything; instead, spread the load by Identifying a back-up team member for certain key tasks.
  • Hire Independent Contractors – Contractors specialize in being able to come into a company and learn the ropes fast. It’s always worth building relationships with contractors across several disciplines just to ensure you have coverage – both for maternity/medical leave situations or to help out when you need an extra pair of hands.

Related Resources


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


In Portugal the equivalent law is much more strict and the mother have less space for working but in my opinion every mother should have that right a not be discriminated. Everybody should support the parents and the raise of the new children.
Beneficial blog on maternity leave benefits & simultaneously cross training other staff to take the position of the person on maternity leave for some time being, which not only helps the business to run smoothly but a mother can also get evident relaxation & good time with time baby, in the absence of such beneficial ideas both the newly made mother & the business will suffer, but to provide maternity leave to the expecting person is the first hand right of every other women.
The law is somehow similar to the one we have here in the UK, just the one we have over there is a bit more strict and leaves a little less space to employers. I think everybody should have the right to maternity leave and we as employers should do our best to support the parents.
We are very fortunate in Canada to be able to spend the first year with our children and not have to worry if we will have a job to go to or worry about getting some sort of wage. 0 votes Great article. I especially like the idea about Cross Training and spreading the load to a back-up team member for certain key tasks.
If your business is not covered by FMLA or state laws
A long waited one. Well impressed with new way ideas compatible with social media news and web tips. Get instant backlinks for your site at social bookmarking site of This post was edited to remove a link. Please review our Community Best Practices for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you.
We think it's very important to support those who choose to become parents!! Here in Canada we are required to hold the employee's position until they return form Maternity leave. Maternity leave actually consists of one full year of leave with a percentage of your yearly wage paid by the Government under Unemployment. We are very fortunate in Canada to be able to spend the first year with our children and not have to worry if we will have a job to go to or worry about getting some sort of wage.
Thanks Caron for informative share! In my point of view, Whether you’re selling your business, passing it on to your family or others, closing for good—or when bankruptcy is the only option—it’s important to consider the legalities of relinquishing ownership.
I think this is a fascinating issue, but my question is how do we determine the legitimacy of claims on discrimination in relation to pregnancy and parental responsibilities. I think it horrible that anyone would ever discriminate against someone for being a parent, but are there suggestions or resources that anyone would suggest for monitoring discrimination?
Hi there, check out the following blog “Employer's Guide to Discrimination: Pregnancy Discrimination” to get an idea of what constitutes as discrimination


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