Working Moms: What Are Your Rights at Work?

Learn your Rights as a Working Mother to Overcome Discrimination, Harassment, Daily Prejudice, and Bias at Work

For years, employees across the United States have attempted to balance a career and caring for their children. Since 1993, federal and state laws enforce a mother’s ability to take leave from work for childbirth and afterbirth care. Laws are even in place to protect a woman’s right to pump during the workday.

Yet, many expectant moms and new mothers are unaware of their rights. In some cases, federal laws do not apply. However, many state laws pick up where the federal law leaves off.

In reality, caring for a newborn does not end after you give birth. The first year of a child’s life is a critical bonding year.

As the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office stated, “No parent should be forced to choose between their job and caring for or breastfeeding their child….” Read on to understand your employment rights regarding maternity leave, paternity leave, and breastfeeding in the workplace.

Does Federal Law Provide Mothers a Right to Maternity Leave Before and After Childbirth?

Federal law provides unpaid leave from work to care for yourself or bond with a new child. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides qualified employees with the opportunity to take time away from work for up to 12 weeks to care for themselves and their newborns.

However, not all parents have the right to use FMLA. The FMLA only applies to qualified employees. Qualified employees must work for companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

Therefore, the FMLA would not bind a company with 15 employees in Philadelphia and 35 employees in another office in New York City. However, if the company had a location in Philadelphia with 35 employees and another office in Camden, NJ with 15 employees, the FMLA would apply.

What Other Ways Can Mothers Receive Paid or Unpaid Maternity Leave?

In addition to the 12 weeks of job protection for child bonding provided under the FMLA, pregnant workers may also be entitled to paid maternity leave based on:

  • The employer’s private maternity policy,
  • The employer’s private Short-Term Disability policy,
  • Your state’s Paid Family Leave options, and
  • Your state’s Short-Term Disability options.

How Does Short-Term Disability Help Mothers Receive Maternity Leave?

California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island offer paid family leave to employees. These states use employee-paid tax dollars to distribute money for family leave as either disability payments or separate family leave payments. The time is used to heal from childbirth and spend time with a new child.

There are many variations of short-term disability or temporary leave benefits to help with parental leave. The benefits may depend on the following:

  • Your company policies
  • Your union policies
  • The number of years you have worked with your companySpeak with someone within your HR department to determine your maternity leave options.

How Much Time Off Does Short-Term Disability Provide for Family Leave?

Short-term disability benefits provide paid time off to many mothers to heal from giving birth and care for a newborn. Your state laws determine the length of leave provided to new mothers.

In most situations, mothers receive a percentage of their salary (as with all disability payments) to stay home for six weeks or longer after giving birth. Some states offer up to 4 weeks of paid leave before birth.

If a mother undergoes a c-section or experiences complications during birth, the leave may provide an additional two weeks of paid leave.  Your human resources professionals can help you apply for short-term disability leave as per your state’s laws.

What Other Options Exist for Mothers to Take Paid or Unpaid Maternity Leave?

Once you have utilized your state-funded family leave or short-term disability and Federal FMLA leave, you may still want time to bond with your child. Several options allow you to extend your maternity leave, depending on employer policies and availability. You may take:

  • Vacation time
  • Sick Leave
  • Personal days
  • An unpaid leave of absence
  • Unpaid disability leave

Finally, if you cannot afford to use unpaid time off from work, discuss the option to work from home. Working from home may help ease the transition of going back to work after childbirth.

Can Nursing Mothers Pump at Work During Working Hours?

Federal laws have addressed the need for working mothers to pump throughout the day. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act prohibits most employers from preventing women from pumping during the workday. If the company must adhere to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) laws, it must provide pumping breaks for nursing mothers.

The law also insists employers provide a private space for women to nurse. The room must have covers on the windows and locking doors. This space cannot be in the bathroom.

The space can be a temporary space that employers can use for other purposes once a mother is finished pumping. However, it must be available whenever a working mom needs to express her milk.

Pumping breaks are not required to be paid breaks. However, a mother must receive a break as long as needed to pump fully. The federal law applies for up to one year after a child is born. Furthermore, if paid breaks are the norm in the company and a nursing mom chooses to use that break for pumping, she must get paid.

Each state has its own variation of the law. Some states offer longer than one year. Others may require additional privileges for nursing mothers.

Can Employers Demand Breastfeeding Mothers Travel While Nursing?

Federal law does not prohibit employers from requesting daily or extended travel from breastfeeding mothers. As difficult as it may be to pump and breastfeed while away from the office or home, it is not impossible.

Therefore, employers may require you to take business trips or conduct daily travel while nursing.

However, some states may allow medical exceptions. In other words, if you have a medical reason, as per your doctor, that you cannot travel while nursing, your employer may have to comply.

If you are not in a state that provides medical exemptions, you still have options. You can discuss your concerns and situation with human resources, your boss, or anyone else in a position to help. Determine if the travel is necessary. If it is, see what accommodations may be available.

Maybe your employer can help you pay for childcare to bring your child with you. Maybe they can pay for your spouse to attend the event if he can take time off work.

Maybe your employer can shorten your trip, so you do not need to be away from your baby for too long. In the meantime, your employer should insist you are provided with time to pump your milk as needed. He should also ensure you have a proper location to store and/or freeze your milk to bring home to your child.

Does a Father Have the Right to Take Leave to Care for a Newborn?

State and federal family leave laws allow parents to take time away from work to bond with a newborn child, a newly adopted child, and a newly fostered child. Therefore, a father working for a qualified company has the right to take this time to bond with his new baby.

In some cases, the father may be the only person available to care for a newborn. Denying a father, the use of FMLA for any reason would be a cause for a sex and gender discrimination claim.

Do the Laws Require Employers to Pay You During Your Parental Leave?

Federal law does not require employers to pay employees for parental leave. However, employers must allow employees to use any paid time off (PTO) that they may have to receive some pay during this time off.

Some states offer different options for employees to receive pay while out on leave. Each state is different regarding parental leave benefits. Therefore, check with your state or a qualified employment attorney to help determine if your state offers paid benefits for parental leave.

What Can You Do If You Get Fired from Work for Taking Leave for Your Newborn?

Federal and state laws prohibit wrongful termination and other forms of retaliation against employees that take parental leave as allowed by law. Such actions may relate to pregnancy discrimination laws as well as violations of the FMLA. Whether an employer fires you, demotes you, or otherwise punishes you for taking leave, you have the right to justice.

If your employer retaliates against you for taking leave as allowed by law, you should call a compassionate family and medical leave act and discrimination attorney. This attorney can help you determine your rights under state and federal law. While federal laws may not help your case, some state laws may.

Do Not Let Your Employer Take Away Your Legal Rights!

You should never feel forced to choose between taking care of your newborn and keeping your job. Breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege.

Therefore, if your employer infringes upon your rights, you can stand up and demand justice. The dedicated FMLA and discrimination lawyers at the Derek Smith Law Group can help.

You Have the Right to Care for Your Child and Work. Reasonable Accommodations for Nursing Mothers and Family and Medical Leave Can Help. Please Call Us at 800.807.2209 to Learn More About Your Rights.