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Leave Only a Mother Could Love: The Care of Pregnancy and Parental Leave

Explaining the terms associated with leave taken for pregnancy or childbirth-related purposes.

Pregnancy and parental leave are among the most common types of leave that employers must manage today. At the federal level, they are governed mainly by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); however, leave may be awarded under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) or Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) as well.

When it comes to these types of leave, similar-sounding terms can get thrown around, such as “pregnancy leave,” “parental leave,” “maternity leave” and “childbirth-related medical leave.” They do not necessarily have different meanings under the various pieces of legislation. In fact, the laws do not explicitly mention these terms, but instead provide circumstances under which leave may be entitled.

What’s the difference?

“Parental leave” or “family medical leave” are synonymous and fairly broad, and can be associated with leave taken for childbirth, for the care of a newborn or for other purposes unrelated to pregnancy, such as adoption placement. Both terms are gender-neutral, so they may be taken by both mothers and fathers.

Pregnancy leave can be a form of parental leave, but also encompasses leave taken only by a mother for a disability or serious health condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

In general, leave provided under FMLA can be termed overall as “family medical leave” or “parental leave,” but a slight distinction can be made in certain circumstances. Although vague, the distinction under FMLA between parental and pregnancy leave comes into play when a pregnant employee and her spouse both work for the same employer. In such cases, the FMLA limits the combined amount of leave they may take for some qualifying reasons, and the spouse will be limited to a combined amount of leave taken for the birth and bonding.

However, the time taken by a mother for her own serious health condition related to pregnancy or for prenatal care will not be included in this combined limit. Therefore, the distinction between leave used for pregnancy-related medical conditions and parental leave used to bond with a newborn can have a significant impact on the overall amount allowed.

Whats the difference between the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act? 

“Pregnancy disability leave” is a term that has gained recent popularity. As the name suggests, this leave correlates to a pregnancy or childbirth-related disability that prevents the employee from performing essential duties of her job.

Employers may have their own policies in place to provide for types of leave. In these instances, terms like “maternity leave” or “paternity leave” may emerge. In general, these types are encompassed under the terms “parental leave” or “family medical leave,” but employers may choose to define them differently.

Ultimately, many terms can be used to categorize leave taken by employees for pregnancy or childbirth. The terms themselves generally do not have significantly differing meanings, but small distinctions may exist when it comes down to the specific reasons for taking such leave.

For more about the EEOC’s current focus on pregnancy-related limitations and how to address potential confusion with pregnancy related laws, be sure to read EEOC Cracks Down on Pregnancy Discrimination,  Addressing Employer Confusion With Pregnancy Related Laws: What to Expect When Your Employees Are Expecting, and Pregnancy Leave: What’s Required?

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.