Organizational Wellness

Employer’s Guide to Maternity Leave

Oct 3, 2023
Last Updated May 17, 2024

A new baby joining the family is something that everyone can celebrate – and a change that comes with a lot of questions. When maternity leave starts, how long it lasts, and if it’s paid all vary depending on where you live and company policies, so HR departments are responsible for helping working parents to make the most of the company’s employee benefits.

In the modern workforce, the balancing act between work and family is more complex than ever before, yet more and more companies are making it a priority to ensure employees have a healthy work-life wellness. Employees want to know that their employers support them in their decisions to raise children and that work will not be expected to take priority over their family lives. Therefore, it is no surprise that one of the most important benefits to offer as an employer is maternity leave.

If you are looking for a way to offer a more robust benefits package and support employees looking to grow their families, maternity leave is a great place to start. Let’s discuss what maternity leave is, why it is important, and the benefits that it can offer to both employees and employers.


What Is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave refers to the time that a mother takes off after either giving birth or adopting a child. It is typically used for women who are pregnant, giving birth, or caring for a newborn child to prepare for and recover from childbirth. It can also be offered to women who adopt so they have time to bond with their child and to help them adjust to their new home.

Maternity leave is an important benefit for a variety of reasons. The demands of caring for a newborn child, the physical recovery from childbirth, and the need to bond with a new baby all make it difficult for mothers to return to work immediately. Taking maternity leave can improve postpartum mental health and contributes to lower infant and child mortality rates. And in addition to the significant benefits it provides the mother, baby, and their family, maternity leave can also benefit the employers that provide it.

Benefits of Maternity Leave for Employers

While maternity leave provides varied and obvious benefits for new parents, it also carries with it certain advantages for employers. Companies that offer maternity leave increase the chances that employees will stick around long-term, as it demonstrates that the organization is committed to supporting its employees through major life transitions. If employees know that there is a policy in place to help them transition back to work after taking a leave, they are more likely to stay with the company.

It can also help attract new workers. A specific and generous maternity leave policy makes your company more competitive and can sway potential hires that have more than one lucrative job offer.

Another benefit to offering maternity leave is the way it can help increase employee loyalty and job satisfaction. This in turn can lead to reduced employee turnover and increased productivity overall. Companies that provide maternity leave to their employees typically experience a healthier and more inclusive workplace as well. So whether you are looking to improve employee retention or increase wellbeing in the workplace, taking a look at your maternity leave policy is a worthy endeavor.

How Long Does Maternity Leave Last? Your Maternity Leave FAQs Answered.

Is it required to offer maternity leave? 

There is no national policy specific to maternity leave, but the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off which can be used for new parents. Many companies also allow employees to use their sick, vacation, and holiday time towards maternity leave. Some organizations require employees to use these benefits before they can take unpaid time off or use disability benefits.

How long is maternity leave? 

The length of maternity leave — and even when it starts — is different for each organization and can range from a few days or weeks up to a full year. Although the national average is ten weeks and the FMLA provides up to 12 weeks, not everyone can afford to take that much time away from work if it is unpaid. Twenty-three percent of women return to work within ten days after giving birth, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Labor, often due to financial necessity.

Is maternity leave paid? 

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C. have some version of paid family leave on the books; these laws are in-effect in eight states and the District of Columbia. Each jurisdiction has its own eligibility and pay requirements. In the rest of the U.S., whether maternity leave is paid or unpaid is the choice of the employer. 

Companies are always welcome to offer benefits packages that are more robust than required minimums. As many companies do not offer any maternity leave, it is a top benefit idea for companies looking to improve their offerings.

When does maternity leave start? 

This also depends on several factors, including how much time the mother wants to prepare before the birth or adoption and what the organization’s policy allows. There is no set standard for when an employee should begin their maternity leave. Some women begin their leave a month before the expected birth while others wait until they go into labor or reach their due date. Maternity leave start dates can be adjusted based on the needs of the individual so that new parents can make the most of their time away from work to recover and bond with their baby.

When should employees take maternity leave? 

The decision of when to take time off and when to return to work after having a baby is a personal one that must take into account a range of factors, including the physical recovery process, the needs of the child, and financial considerations. For example, some women may want to take a few weeks off before the baby is born to prepare for the new arrival, while others may save up their available leave to use after the birth and maximize their time with the baby. Some women experience physical discomfort the closer they get to giving birth which makes it difficult to perform daily tasks at work and may need more time off before the expected birth.

It is important to note that the FMLA requires employees to provide at least a 30-day notice to employers if they plan to take maternity leave. Any additional notice can give employers time to prepare and adjust the schedule and expectations in the lead-up to an employee taking leave.

In order to avoid confusion, HR departments should outline clear standards and requirements for taking maternity leave, including how much notice is required, when the leave can begin, and how long it can last.

Family and Medical Leave

In addition to maternity leave, there are other types of family and medical leave that employers should be aware of to help employees make the most of their benefits. These other types of leave include caregiver leave and paternity leave. Caregiver leave allows employees to take time off to care for a sick family member, such as a child or parent. Paternity leave is similar to maternity leave, but it applies to fathers and allows them to take time off after the birth or adoption of their child. This gives them valuable time to bond with their baby and help the mother recover and heal.

Under the FMLA, there are a few different types of leave available that can have benefits for different situations. The types of FMLA maternity leave are continuous leave, intermittent leave, and reduced-schedule leave. Continuous leave is the most common and the one that mothers are most likely to use when taking maternity leave. It is when an employee takes a block of time off all at once, ranging from three days to 12 weeks. Continuous leave enables employees to take time off for the full length of their maternity or paternity leave. 

Intermittent leave is when an employee takes time off in smaller increments, such as a few days a week or half days, as needed. This can be a great option if the employee will be away from work with an irregular schedule. It may also be suitable for fathers that need some time to help care for a new child but can still work occasionally.

Finally, reduced-schedule leave is when an employee reduces their number of working hours or the number of days per week that they work for a certain period of time. This can be useful if a new parent needs to come in to work later or leave early to care for their baby.

It is important for employers to understand these different types of leave and to have policies in place for handling them. Employers should also be aware of any legal requirements for providing family and medical leave, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. A clear understanding of the different types of leave and regulations for each can help HR managers answer any questions that employees have about maternity leave and help them choose the best option for their needs.

How to Help Employees Transition Back Into Work After Maternity Leave

One of maternity leave’s major benefits for employers is improved employee retention, but a large part of this is helping create a smooth transition back into the workplace. There are many ways companies can approach this.

Similar to a reduced-schedule leave, employers can offer part-time work or a flexible schedule so that employees are not overwhelmed during the first week back. This allows mothers to spend time with their child while easing back into work. Since maternity leave is unpaid at many companies, a flexible working schedule enables employees to start getting paid again even if they only work part-time at the beginning.

Employers can also make it clear to employees that they have the necessary support, such as encouraging employees to ask for help from a trusted coworker or the HR department if they are struggling with the transition back to full-time work. You can also help keep employees returning from maternity leave comfortable by providing a private area where breastfeeding moms can pump milk.

What This All Means for Your Company

Maternity leave is an important benefit for new parents and employers alike. It provides new mothers with the time and resources they need to care for their newborn, while also helping employers retain top talent. 

The workplace continues to change and adapt, and evaluating your maternity leave policy is just one part of redefining workplace trends. Assessing all types of family and medical leave, such as caregiver leave and paternity leave, can help you provide your employees with the tools and support they need to be successful. This can make it easier to attract and retain top talent, promote a positive company culture, and support employees wellbeing.

If you want to foster workplace wellness, you can rely on the expertise of Wellhub. Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist for our help implementing an effective wellbeing program!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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