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Am I Entitled to Maternity Leave or Parental Leave?

Both District of Columbia and federal law provide protected leave for new mothers and working parents, as well as for employees with other family responsibilities.

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (“DC FMLA”) requires employers to provide eligible employees with sixteen weeks of unpaid leave during a two-year period for (1) maternity or paternity leave; (2) adopting or fostering a child; (3) permanently assuming the parenting responsibilities for a child; or (4) caring for a family member with a serious health condition. D.C. Code § 32-502(a).

DC FMLA leave can be taken consecutively, on a reduced leave schedule (though not to continue for more than twenty-four consecutive workweeks), or, if medically necessary to care for a family member with a serious health condition, on an intermittent basis. D.C. Code § 32-502(c)-(d). However, if DC FMLA leave is taken for the parental responsibilities listed under options (1) through (3) above, that leave must be taken within twelve months of the child’s birth, or within twelve months of the placement of the child with the employee. D.C. Code § 32-502(b).

Additionally, under the recently passed District Government Paid Leave Enhancement Amendment Act of 2022, employees of the D.C. government may take paid leave as follows: (1) two weeks for a pregnancy (“pre-natal leave”); (2) twelve weeks to bond with a new child (“parental leave”); (3) twelve weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition (“qualifying family leave”); or (4) twelve weeks to care for the employee’s own serious health condition (“qualifying medical leave”). Twelve weeks of such leave can be taken during a one-year period. See https://lims.dccouncil.gov/downloads/LIMS/48620/Signed_Act/B24-0615-Signed_Act.pdf.

With respect to private-sector employees in the District of Columbia, the Universal Paid Family Leave Amendment Act of 2016 provides for paid leave, during a one-year period, as follows: (1) eight weeks to bond with a new child, including adopted or fostered children (“qualifying parental leave”); (2) six weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition (“qualifying family leave”); or (3) two weeks for personal medical care for the employee (“qualifying medical leave”). See D.C. Code §§ 32-451.01 et seq. & https://code.dccouncil.gov/us/dc/council/laws/21-264.

The District of Columbia Office of Paid Family Leave (“OPFL”) administers the funds used to compensate workers in the District of Columbia who take these types of paid leave. See https://does.dc.gov/page/dc-paid-family-leave.

Similarly, the Maryland legislature recently passed the Time to Care Act of 2022 (“TTCA”), pursuant to which, beginning on January 1, 2025, Maryland workers will be able to apply for paid leave benefits through a state fund (the “Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund”). The TTCA sets forth five categories under which employees may apply for paid leave: (1) to care for a newborn child or a child newly placed for adoption, foster care, or kinship care with the employee, during the first year after the child’s birth, adoption, or placement; (2) to care for a family member with a “serious health condition;” (3) for a “serious health condition” that prevents the employee from performing his/her/their job functions; (4) to care for a next-of-kin service member with a “serious health condition” resulting from military service; or (5) for a “qualifying exigency” arising out of the employee’s family member’s deployment as a service member. See https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/Legislation/Details/SB0275?ys=2022RS.

At the federal level, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), “an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of [unpaid] leave during any 12-month period … [b]ecause of the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and in order to care for such son or daughter,” or “[b]ecause of the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(A)-(B). FMLA leave is also available to care for a parent, spouse, or child with a serious health condition. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C).

Subject to certain exceptions, both the DC FMLA and the FMLA require that an employee who takes leave under those statutes must be reinstated to the same position that the employee was in before taking leave, or to an equivalent position. 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a); D.C. Code § 32-505(d).

Additionally, under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a pregnant employee may be entitled to use her accrued leave time, or to be granted additional unpaid leave time, as an accommodation for her pregnancy. To be clear, although the condition of being pregnant is not, of itself, a qualified “disability” under the ADA, certain medical conditions related to pregnancies do qualify as “disabilities” under that statute. If that is the case, the employer is required to provide the employee with reasonable accommodations, which could include leave time, for her pregnancy-related disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.

The District of Columbia has further adopted a Parental Leave Act, which allows parents, legal custodians, guardians, aunts, uncles, and grandparents (as well as a person married to or in a domestic partnership with a person in any of those categories) to take up to twenty-four hours of leave (paid, if available, or unpaid) during a one-year period to attend “school-related events” for their kids. D.C. Code §§ 32-521.01 et seq. Such leave may only be denied “if the granting of leave would disrupt the employer’s business and make the achievement of production or service delivery unusually difficult.” D.C. Code § 32-521.02(c). An employee who takes leave under the Parental Leave Act “shall not lose any employment benefit or seniority accrued before or during the date of such leave.” D.C. Code § 32-521.03.

The Parental Leave Act defines a “school-related event” as “an activity sponsored by either a school or an associated organization such as a parent-teacher association,” which expressly includes “a student performance such as a concert, play, or rehearsal; the sporting game of a school team or practice; a meeting with a teacher or counselor; or any similar type of activity” that includes the “child directly either as participant or subject but not as a spectator.” D.C. Code § 32-521.01(3).

Other states provide various types of protected leave, although those state laws are beyond the scope of this blog post.

If your employer is attempting to interfere with your rights to take protected leave, or is retaliating against you for taking such leave, you may have legal claims under one or more of the aforementioned laws. We can help you understand your rights under those statutes, and we can take legal action on your behalf if your rights are being violated.

Submit a request for a legal consultation to speak with us about your employment issue involving protected leave.

For more information on these subjects, see:

  1. Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act
  2. The Family and Medical Leave Act, the ADA, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  3. Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act
  4. Fact Sheet # 77B: Protection for Individuals under the FMLA
  5. Parental Leave Act – Know Your Rights in the District of Columbia

Additionally, if you are interested in learning about legal protections under District of Columbia and federal law for employees who experience discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities, sex, and/or pregnancy, please see our related blog post, Can My Employer Discriminate Against Me for Having a Family? 

This blog post has been prepared for informational purposes only. This blog post is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal advice. The information contained in this blog post is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, and the receipt of this information does not constitute attorney-client privileged legal advice.