Pregnant woman at work

Maternity Leave Policies: Understanding Your Entitlements

By Douglas Lipsky

Welcoming a new child into your family is an extraordinary moment filled with joy and challenges. As you prepare for this life-changing event, understanding your maternity leave entitlements is crucial. Both federal and New York State laws provide specific protections and benefits for expectant mothers. Knowing your rights is the first step in making this transition as smooth as possible.

Overview of Federal Maternity Leave Laws

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth and care of their newborn child. To qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and logged at least 1,250 hours over the past year. FMLA applies to all public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. This federal law ensures you can care for your new child without fear of losing your job, although it does not require that the leave is paid.

Understanding New York State Maternity Leave Laws

New York State amplifies the FMLA’s provisions through its Paid Family Leave (PFL) program, which is one of the most comprehensive in the nation. PFL grants eligible new parents paid time off, allowing them to bond with their child during the first 12 months following birth, adoption, or fostering. 

In contrast to FMLA, the state’s program offers benefits for a portion of your average weekly wage, up to a set limit. To be eligible, full-time employees must have worked 26 consecutive weeks for their employer, while part-timers must have worked 175 days. Notably, these benefits are in addition to the federal FMLA entitlements, offering a more supportive maternity leave framework for New Yorkers.

Navigating Employer-Specific Maternity Leave Policies

While federal and state laws provide a foundation, many employers offer maternity leave benefits that may exceed these requirements. It’s essential to understand the specifics of your employer’s policy. For example, you may be able to apply accrued vacation time to your maternity leave. You can usually find this information in your employee handbook or by contacting your human resources department.

Rights and Protections During Maternity Leave 

During maternity leave, you’re shielded by more than just time away from work. You’re entitled to continue your health insurance coverage under the same terms as if you were working. Additionally, upon return, you have the right to be reinstated to your original job or an equivalent position with no loss in pay or benefits. 

It’s also worth considering the interplay of short-term disability and maternity leave, as pregnancy-related conditions may qualify as temporary disabilities. This can provide additional benefits before and after childbirth. 

How to Plan Your Maternity Leave

Planning your maternity leave should start early. Begin by reviewing all relevant policies and speaking with your employer to understand your options. Consider your financial needs during any unpaid leave and explore the possibility of supplementing income with any accrued paid leave. Communicate openly with your employer about your leave plan and expected return date, ensuring all necessary paperwork is completed timely. Preparing for handing over tasks and setting expectations for communication during leave can also facilitate a smoother transition from work to family time and back again.


By understanding maternity leave regulations and policies, you can take full advantage of your entitlements. If you need personalized guidance, our experienced employment law firm is here to support you. Contact us to ensure your rights are fully protected.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.