Civilian government employees are covered under maternity leave laws that are outlined by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Childbirth and Sick Leave
Both a mother and father are entitled to use various resources when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and newborn childcare. The government is accommodating to numerous circumstances and situations as outlined in the document Leave and Work Scheduling Flexibilities Available for Childbirth.
Highlights of each option are given below. However, speak with your human resources director to find out which part of federal employee maternity leave laws apply to your situation.
A pregnant woman can use up to 12 weeks of accrued sick leave for:
- Prenatal visits
- Hospital appointments
- Medical hospitalizations
- Childbirth and child care
- Postpartum recovery
Fathers can also take up to 12 weeks of sick leave to be used for:
- Prenatal visits
- Hospitalization of the mother during and after childbirth
- The mother's recovery
A doctor's excuse might be requested in order to grant leave. However, the document referred to above stipulates that "parents may not use sick leave to be absent from work to bond with or care for a healthy child." Therefore, sick leave is intended to be used to ensure that the child is healthy before birth, during prenatal visits, for childbirth or to recover from birth.
Accrued annual leave can be used for pregnancy and childbirth by both the mother and the father. Additionally, parents can take this leave to bond with and care for their healthy newborn baby, subject to a supervisor's approval. The OPM has an annual leave chart that outlines policies on leave and its use.
Advanced Annual/Sick Leave
Up to 30 days of advance annual or sick leave can be granted to a mother and/or father for purposes of pregnancy or childbirth. The amount of advanced leave given is dependent upon what the worker would normally receive through the end of the year.
Voluntary Leave Bank Programs
A program exists that allows federal employees to donate unused annual leave to others who have exhausted their current leave. This donated leave time can be used for medical emergencies related to pregnancy and childbirth purposes, but is not to be used for bonding with or caring for a healthy newborn.
Leave Without Pay
Leave without pay (LWOP) is available to parents who no longer have paid leave available to them, but is dependent upon the approval of supervisors and in accordance with internal policies and union agreements. LWOP effects and benefits policies also extend to other areas, so talk to your supervisor to learn what to expect when using this type of time off.
Family and Medical Leave Act
Maternity leave laws for the entire country, including federal employees, are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, employees are given up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12 month period, provided they meet employment conditions.
FMLA leave can be used for the birth and care of a newborn child by either parent. Leave under this act is in addition to any paid time off the employee can draw upon. Advance notification to the employer is required and individuals seeking this leave may be asked to fill out a FMLA Medical Certification Form.
If you take leave under the FMLA, you will not have an income while on leave. Therefore, it might be best to use paid sick or paid accrued annual leave before drawing leave through FMLA. Your workplace may have further internal policies related to taking maternity and family leave, so check with your human resources department for more information.
Each employment branch of the U.S. Government has written rules regarding maternity and family leave policies; one example is the rules presented by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
You will need to speak with your supervisor or human resources department regarding the specific rules and to ask any questions about your maternity leave as well as what you can do to transition from work to maternity leave easily.
Additionally, flexible work options, such as telecommuting, job sharing, or part-time work might be available for working mothers to help them ease back into their position.
Other resources for federal employees expecting a child or planning to start a family include:
- OPM's Leave and Work Scheduling Flexibilities Available for Adoption: This document explains the leave options available to federal employees adopting a child. In most cases, the rules regarding leave are the same as for all parents expecting a child.
- OPM's Sick Leave for Adoption: This document explains the types and lengths of time that a federal employee can use sick leave in regards to adopting a child.
- OPM's Leave Forms: This page contains links to the forms and other documents a federal employee may need to submit to obtain leave to use for having or caring for a child.
Taking Maternity Leave
If you are a federal employee expecting a child, there are several leave options available to you. Whether you use sick leave, paid leave or leave under the FMLA, you may find that you have several weeks in which you can take off work to care for your new child without jeopardizing your job.
Prior to taking leave, consult with your human resources office to determine the exact rules and requirements and any obligations and paperwork you must complete.