Paid maternity and parental leave: What are my rights? Can I accrue holiday leave?

Having a child, or adopting or fostering one, brings many responsibilities with it. Often the last thing people want to think about is how this can work with keeping a job, and yet this is a pragmatic consideration that most people in the USA need to take. In this article we will look at the difference between maternal, paternal, and parental leave, as well as the specifics of taking paid parental leave when you have a new child in your life. Finally, there are some specific considerations that it is wise to look at closely if maternity leave falls around the holidays (such as Thanksgiving or Christmas). In these cases it is worth seeing whether you can exempt unpaid or paid maternal or parental leave time from your paid holiday time(or not).

What is the difference between maternity, paternity, and parental leave?

To be sure you know what kind of leave you’re looking into, it is a good idea to get the terminology straight. After all, it is not just pregnant women who may wish to take time off work to welcome a new member of the family. That is why it is a good idea to look at the meaning of these types of leave in closer detail.

Firstly, the one that is most commonly talked about: maternity leave. This is leave for women who have recently, or are about to give birth. The USA is one of three countries in the world not to guarantee paid maternal leave, meaning that a lot of mothers quit their jobs, and therefore are less financially secure, or feel stressed about going back to work and simultaneously adapting to caring for a new child. Technically, maternal leave is for biological mothers.

Secondly, paternity leave is an issue that more and more people are talking about. This leave is for the father of a new child that is biologically theirs. The reasons to introduce this include a reduced gender-wage-gap, better mental health for parents, and a reduction of the stigma around women in the workforce.

Finally, parental leave is the term used for parents of any gender who take time off after a new family member has arrived – be this through pregnancy or adopting. This is an important differentiation, as it applies when children are adopted, or if you want to talk about any parent taking time off.

Which states offer paid maternity, and/or paternity leave?

The United States of America remains one of few countries worldwide not to guarantee paid maternity leave. However, this is not the story for each state within the USA, as some states have rulings which do give their employees a guaranteed salary whilst they adjust to the change in their personal life.


This article is expressly about paid parental leave. The USA does guarantee by law that parents are allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for children. But this can often pose a financial burden, meaning a closer look into paid leave is well worth it.

Some of the states with the most extensive benefits for new mothers are California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, all of which offer guaranteed paid maternity leave which is publicly funded. This means that if a pregnant woman is employed by a company that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, but lives in one of these states, she will still get her pay through public funds. The Department of Labor has aims to increase this, as it has also offered funds to other states to implement this program.

However, paternity leave remains something which still isn’t particularly wide-spread or well developed in the USA. This means that it is best to check in with your company and HR department to get the specifics, as it is unlikely that it will be regulated on a state or local level legally.

The laws around parental, maternal, and paternity leave are changing, and it is always a good idea to check your local county and state rulings with an expert.

Vacation or holiday leave during maternity leave

Generally speaking, if you take parental leave according to FMLA regulations, you are not entitled to accrue extra holiday time if you happen to take maternity leave over the holidays. It does depend on the state and the company that you work for, however, so do check in with your HR department. If you’re unlucky, it could be that your FMLA leave clashes with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a company is technically not obliged to pay during this leave. In most cases, a company will pay for this leave, even if they don’t offer paid parental leave, and in the best case an employer would offer paid leave, and not count it as part of your paid leave. In short, there are no regulations which give us a blanket ruling, but it is still worth checking local and state laws, as well as with your individual employer.

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