Pregnancy and Parenting Leave: Benefits for Families and Employers

Legal Aid at Work directs a collaboration of nonprofits, government agencies, and employers called the Healthy Mothers’ Workplace Coalition that was created to improve the working conditions and health of new parents and support employers in changing their policies. This fact sheet was developed in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. Here are answers to some common questions about family leave policies. You can find the sources for this information at the end of the fact sheets.

    What is pregnancy and parenting leave?

    Parenting leave, which is covered under family/medical leave laws, allow men or women to take time off from work to prepare for, bond with, or care for a new child. The child may be biological, adopted, or be a foster child. Parenting leave, which may be paid or unpaid, also covers care for a seriously ill spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent (1). Pregnancy disability leave is unpaid and allows women to take time off from work if they are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. In some cases, women may not take leave and instead request a reduced work schedule or a transfer to a less strenuous position at work. If the request can be reasonably accommodated, employers must grant it (2). Pregnancy and parenting leave may also be referred to as maternity leave, paternity leave, or family leave (1).

    Why is leave important?

    Maternal-child health isn’t just an issue inside a family’s home. 66% of women work during their pregnancy, and more than 40% will return to full-time work in less than three months (3). Mothers and pregnant women are part of the workforce and their ability to take leave has a direct impact on their health, their productivity at work, and the health of their children. Also, the ability for men to take time off from work is important for their roles as fathers. Working parents’ access to adequate pregnancy and parental leave is a public health imperative.

    What laws* should employers know about?

    Federal Family and Medical Leave Act/California Family Rights Act: In the US, eligible workers can take 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid family or medical leave. Paid Family Leave Program: In California, eligible workers can receive partial wage replacement for up to 6 weeks to bond with a new child (or to care for a seriously ill family member). California Fair Employment and Housing Act: If a woman is disabled by pregnancy, she may be entitled to up to 4 months of pregnancy disability leave. Leave may be taken for a single block of time or for multiple, shorter periods. *These laws have varying eligibility requirements and as a result, do not apply to all workers.

    What are the benefits for employers?

    Work Retention: Workplaces should provide policies that allow men and women to remain employed and compensated while caring for their children. Paid Family Leave has been shown to reduce employee turn over. According to a survey of California businesses, Paid Family Leave had either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on company performance (4). This suggests that time away from work allows employees to be more present and productive while at work. Competitive US labor market: US employers trail behind most industrialized wealthy nations in terms of leave allowances. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), US employees can take 12 weeks of unpaid, job protective leave. However, only 60% of workers are eligible for FMLA (5). The US is the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid pregnancy and parental leave. Most industrialized countries, including the United Kingdom and Sweden, offer between three months and one year of paid leave for a two-parent family. Many industrialized countries also offer more unpaid leave than the United States (6).

    What can employers do?

    Offer pregnancy and parenting leave to all employees: All working parents deserve an adequate amount of time away from work to care for and bond with new children. Currently, many employees are excluded from pregnancy and parental leave benefit policies (4). Therefore, employers should offer some type of job-protected leave, for all their employees (12). Extend quality employer-provided leave: To promote optimal health conditions for mother and baby, the Healthy Mothers Workplace Coalition recommends that employers extend job-protected leave to 4 to 6 months and continue to pay salary and benefits to all employees on leave (12). Employer provided leave policies should also be available to employees with older children who are in need of additional care as well as to employees with sick spouses, partners, or parents. Advise low-wage workers about Paid Family Leave: Employers should advise all workers of their rights to take leave under state and federal laws and programs. Low-wage workers, or those earning less than $20/hour, in particular have a lot to gain from California’s Paid Family Leave program. Studies show that eligible low-wage workers benefit from partial wage replacement and the program has a positive effect on their ability to care for their child (4). Grant pregnancy accommodation requests: Employers should provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, such as allowing pregnant workers to sit on a stool or transferring pregnant workers to a less hazardous position, if available (12). Employers may request a medical certification to verify that the employee is either unable to work or needs a modified work schedule (2).

    What are the benefits for families?

    Strengthened economic security: Having a job increases the amount of household resources and allows a family to financially care for their children. Family leave laws ensure that when an eligible employee takes time off from work he or she will not lose their job. Thus, family leave laws provide employment security (4). Paid leave contributes to immediate economic security and better retirement incomes for families (1). Health Outcomes: Pregnancy and parental leave offers many physical and mental health benefits for families. It is important that mothers have safe and healthy pregnancies. Parents also must have adequate time to bond with a new child especially during the first few months of a child’s life.

    What are the health benefits of leave?

    Healthy Pregnancies: Leave taken before the birth of a child is positively associated with lower perinatal mortality (7). Pregnancy disability leave helps mothers cope with pregnancy complications that in turn can impact the survival and health of a newborn child. Physical Health: Leave decreases infant mortality and increases the likelihood of child immunizations, child preventative care visits, and breastfeeding initiation and duration (4). Physical Recovery from Childbirth: Leave allows women to recover from common maternal health problems that arise within the first 6 to 7 months post-delivery. They include tiredness, back pain, minor illnesses, and also pain associated with caesarean sections (8). Emotional Well-Being of Parents: Parents can bond with children without fear of job loss or total wage loss. Longer maternity leave may also decrease depression in mothers (7). Infant Brain Development: Within the first six months of life, infants experience complex development of the senses, which are critical to attachment with their parental caregivers. Disruptions in attachment are linked to a number of mental disorders such as depression and autism (9). Child Development Milestones: Mothers’ return to work within 3 months of giving birth has negative effects on child cognitive development, especially on vocabulary (10). Gender Equity: Leave programs available to men and women extend childcare roles to both genders1. Since 2005, men have been taking longer family leaves (4). Care for Children with Serious Health Needs: Parents who had paid sick or vacation leave are more than 5 times as likely to care for their sick children compared to those without leave (11).

    Here are our sources

    1. Kamerman, Sheila. “From maternity to parental leave policies: women’s health, employment and child and family well-being.” American Medical Women’s Association. 55.2 (2000): 96-99. 2. Taking Leave from Work: Pregnancy/Prenatal Care/Bonding with a New Child.” Legal Aid at Work. Nov 2013. 3. Lynda Laughlin. “Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns of First-Time Mothers.” Current Population Reports. Washington DC: Census Bureau, 2008. Web. 11 Oct 2013. 4. Appelbaum, Eileen, and Ruth Milkman, “Awareness of California’s Paid Family Leave Program Remains Limited, Especially Among Those Who Would Benefit From It Most.” Center for Economic and Policy Research. Center for Economic and Policy Research. (2008 Sept) Web. 7 Oct 2013. 5. A Look at the US Department of Labor’s 2012 Family Medical Leave Act Employees and Worksite Surveys.” Research Library. National Partnership of Women and Families, 01 February 2013. Web. 27 Nov 2013. FMLA_Survey_2012_Key_Findings.pdf?docID=11862 6. Ray, Rebecca, Janet Gornick, and John Schmitt. “Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity and Gender Equity.” Paid Family Leave. Center for Economic and Policy Research, 1 Sep 2008. Web. 22 Oct 2013. 21Countries.pdf 7. Staehelin, Katharina, Paola Coda Bertea, and Elisabeth Zemp Stutz. “Length of maternity leave and health of mother and child – a review.” International Journal of Public Health. 52. (2007): 202–209. Web. 22 Oct 2013. 8. Brown, Stephanie, and Judith Lumley. “Physical health problems after childbirth and maternal depression at six to seven months postpartum.” British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 107. (2000): 1194-1201. Print. 9. Schore, Allan. “Perspectives of Regulation Theory: Early Brain Development and the Increased Prevalence of Severe Mental Disorders in U.S. Youth.” UCLA Extension and Lifespan Learning Institute. UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Los Angeles. 10 Mar 2012. 10. Baum CL. 2003. “Does early Maternal Employment harm Child Development?” An Analysis of the Potential Benefits of Leave Taking. Journal of Labor Economics. 21(2);381-408. Web. 7 Oct 2013. 11. Heymann SJ, Toomey S, Furstenberg F. 1999. “Working parents: what factors are involved in their ability to take time off from work when their children are sick?” Arch Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 153:870-4. 12. Healthy Mothers Workplace Coalition, “Self-Assessment for Excellence as a Health Mothers Workplace: Criteria for 2013 San Francisco Healthy Mothers Workplace Awards.” 3 Jun 2013.


This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.