How long do teachers get for maternity leave? That’s a complicated question that depends on factors like state law, local teachers’ unions, and each family’s financial situation. Keep reading for the full breakdown below, and to learn more about federal protections for every teacher in the United States.
Also included in this article are helpful examples of maternity leave policies from school districts across the country, and tips on how to find the information relevant to your local area and unique situation.
Maternity Leave Job Protections for Teachers (FMLA)
The United States guarantees all new mothers 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, as long as they have been with their employer for a full year and worked a minimum number of hours.
While FMLA usually only applies to employers with 50 or more employees, all elementary and secondary schools (whether public or private and regardless of size) must offer FMLA. Some states have additional protections in place to extend the time with a new baby or adoptive child, and even have cash benefits to supplement or replace lost income.
In the United States, you have the right to stay home for up to 12 weeks, and your job will still be waiting for you at the end of your FMLA leave. Health insurance benefits continue during FMLA, so if the teacher is enrolled in a medical plan, it stays in place while the employee is at home on leave.
However, many teachers simply cannot afford to take the full 12 weeks off from the school year without a paycheck, which leaves them wondering how many weeks of paid maternity leave they will be able to enjoy before needing to return.
The short answer here lies within both state law and individual school districts’ sick leave policies. Fortunately, these can be quickly found on each school district’s human resources page.
Do teachers get full pay during maternity leave?
In the United States, teachers very rarely get full pay during maternity leave unless they have lots of accrued sick time and personal days to use up at the beginning of their 12 weeks. States with strong teachers’ unions might get a portion of their income while on maternity leave.
There are only 11 states that offer paid family leave: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington—plus the District of Columbia.
In states without any paid family leave, many teachers will not take the full 12 weeks offered by FMLA. Instead, out of necessity, they choose to return to work at the end of 6-8 weeks.
Using Sick Leave Wisely
Public school employees can use up their paid sick days before taking unpaid leave, but in many states, 12 weeks off is the maximum available. For example, if a teacher has saved up 3 weeks of sick days over the course of multiple years, she can use those first, although FMLA begins her first day out of the classroom. If she stays out of the classroom for the full 12 weeks available, 9 of those weeks will be unpaid.
Understanding Collective Bargaining Agreements
Many school districts have a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union that outlines the specific policies regarding maternity leave and paternity leave.
While the bare minimum they must offer is FMLA, there is often some negotiation over paid parental leave. Many times, teachers’ unions will negotiate for a percentage of the teacher’s regular pay to be continued after sick days have been spent.
5. State Laws for Paid and Unpaid Maternity Leave
State law is sometimes more generous than federal law, and teachers may be eligible for job protections for longer than the mandated 12 weeks under FMLA.
Yet again, there are 11 states that offer paid family leave: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington—plus the District of Columbia.
6. Examples of Maternity Leave Policies Across the United States (Paid and Unpaid)
Fortunately, most school district maternity leave policies are very easy to locate on their websites. I have taken the time to quote and link to several teacher handbooks and collective bargaining agreements from across the country, using examples from small, mid-sized, and large school districts.
Anchorage Public Schools in Alaska:
Anchorage is the largest school district in Alaska. Family Medical Leave (Alaska) allows an employee to take up to 18 workweeks (90 workdays) during a 12 month period for pregnancy childbirth, adoption or placement of a child in the employee’s home for foster care.
Anchorage School District’s website states: “Union contracts usually allow employees to use up to six weeks of their accrued sick leave for a vaginal delivery or up to eight weeks of their accrued sick leave for a cesarean section.”
Paradise Independent School District in Texas:
Paradise is a very small town in Texas. They have a PDF available on their homepage that outlines all the maternity leave policies. Here is an excerpt:
Use of Paid Leave. FML runs concurrently with accrued sick and personal leave, temporary disability leave, compensatory time, assault leave, and absences due to a work-related illness or injury. The district will designate the leave as FML, if applicable, and notify the employee that accumulated leave will run concurrently.
This means that like most school districts, employees are allowed to use up their paid sick leave and personal days before using unpaid FMLA time. However, since the time off runs concurrently (at the same time), employees will still get no more than 12 weeks off in Texas.
Combined Leave for Spouses. Spouses who are employed by the district are limited to a combined total of 12 weeks of FML to care for a parent with a serious health condition; or for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. Military caregiver leave for spouses is limited to a combined total of 26 weeks.
Austin Independent School District in Texas:
Here we can see how a large urban school district compares to a rural school system in Texas. It’s basically identical.
“A leave of absence may be available for a serious health condition of your own or an eligible family member. For purposes of FMLA, a serious health condition is defined as ‘an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves: inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility; or continuing treatment by a health care provider.’ Additionally, leave is available for caring for a child under the age of 6. Leave is unpaid and requires the use of your accrued leave for pay.”
Richmond Heights Local Schools in Ohio:
Richmond Heights is a school district with only about 700 students. Here is where they keep their FMLA policies, and below is a helpful excerpt:
“If the staff member has not earned or accrued adequate paid leave to encompass the entire twelve (12) week period of FMLA leave, the additional weeks of leave to obtain the twelve (12) weeks of FMLA leave the staff member is entitled to shall be unpaid. Whenever a staff member uses paid leave in substitution for unpaid FMLA leave, such leave counts toward the twelve (12) week maximum leave allowance provided by this Policy.”
Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania has a pretty powerful teacher’s union and their maternity leave benefits seem better than many other states.
Central Bucks is a large suburban school district. Here is where they house their employee leave policies, within a larger collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the teachers’ union.
The leave section outlines the following policies:
1) All paid and unpaid leaves run concurrently with FMLA, meaning that if you have paid leave balances that you have earned, you’ll be paid for that time while the 12 week clock is running.
2) Employees at the secondary level can request another leave of absence for child-rearing purposes after using FMLA not to exceed 3 semesters. As long as they give 90 days notice, the school board “shall not unreasonably deny the request.”
3) At the elementary school level, teachers can request up to 5 trimesters with 90 days notice and the board should approve the request. Additionally, employees can reserve 5 paid sick leave days to be used upon their return rather than being required to use those up before beginning unpaid leave.
Philadelphia Public Schools in Pennsylvania:
Philadelphia Public Schools also has a pretty generous maternity leave policy relative to other school districts across the country. There is a difference here between parental leave and FMLA. Here is where you can find their policies.
Upon delivery, parental leave is offered for new parents for 6 weeks following a vaginal delivery and 8 weeks for a C-section. The 6 or 8 weeks is paid only if the employee has accrued sick days or wage continuation benefit. If the employee does not have accrued benefits, they can still have the 6-8 weeks, but it’s unpaid.
At the conclusion of the 6 or 8 weeks, they can begin FMLA if they choose to do so, and they also have the option to continue extending their unpaid time off for school, and can be reasonably assured that a similar position may be available when they return from an extended time off.
Palo Alto Unified School District in California:
Here is the collective bargaining agreement that outlines all the available maternity leave to teachers in the Palo Alto Unified School District.
First, employees can take pregnancy disability leave, and the number of days is at the discretion of the mother’s provider. Any employee of the district who has been employed for a full year is also eligible for up to 12 weeks of family bonding leave. This applies to fathers and adoptive and foster parents, as well.
If an employee uses up all their accrued sick leave before the 12 weeks is completed, they may receive about 50% of their regular pay for the balance of the time spent at home.
Teachers can continue their leave beyond the 12 weeks if several other conditions are met, but it will not be paid time off.
Maternity Leave for New Jersey Teachers:
New Jersey has excellent maternity leave and something called “bonding leave.” For more information than what is offered here, please see this flyer and try out their Maternity Coverage Timeline Tool.
State law mandates that New Jersey teachers can get job protection for 12 weeks through FMLA (like all other states), but it also offers an additional 12 weeks for bonding via the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). In total, teachers’ jobs can be protected for a full 24 weeks.
Furthermore, there are cash benefits that can be accessed via the state of New Jersey to help make time out of the classroom more affordable. These benefits pay around 85% of your regular wages.
Teachers can use Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) usually 4 weeks before the due date and then 6-8 weeks after delivery, depending on whether the new mother has a vaginal or cesarean section delivery.
The leave can be longer than 8 weeks, but it’s up to the medical provider to determine what is necessary. This leave is only available to birthing parents, so fathers and adoptive families do not qualify.
However, after that leave runs out (or if it doesn’t apply), family leave can be taken for bonding purposes and applies to fathers and adoptive parents. This leave can be taken during the baby’s first year, or during the first year an adopted child receives placement. All 12 weeks can be taken at once, or parents can choose to take only 8 weeks but spread it out over the year.
In total, maternity leave in New Jersey can be mostly paid and is quite a bit longer than most states. Throughout most of the United States, paid family leave is rare.
Jordan School District in Utah:
Here is an excerpt from the Jordan School District HR page:
As allowed under Federal Law, employees who meet eligibility requirements may be granted leave for a maximum of 12 weeks in a school year and may be a combination of paid and unpaid leave.
During this leave, the District will continue to cover its portion of the medical insurance benefits.
Eligible employees must use all accrued paid leave days concurrently with FMLA leave within the provisions of District leave policies. If an employee has exhausted all leave benefits, the remaining FMLA leave will be unpaid.”
Lafayette County Schools in Florida
Lafayette County is very similar to many other states with weak teachers’ unions; teachers are permitted to use up their paid sick leave before beginning unpaid leave through FMLA. One difference here is that the district will allow teachers to stay home for up to a year and be guaranteed a job upon their return, provided certain requirements are met. Here is the exact language from their policy statement:
“Teachers will be granted a leave of absence for up to one year at the discretion of the School Board. A teacher returning from an approved leave of absence shall be returned to employment, without prejudice, provided written intent to return is filed within six (6) months of approved leave. If the teacher returns within one year, they will return to their current contract status prior to leave.”
7. Long-Term Substitute Requirements for Teachers on Maternity or Parental Leave
Long-term substitute requirements vary not by state, but by the district. Some school districts will require teachers to find their own long-term sub for when they’ll be on maternity leave, while most will manage the placement through the district office.
In some cases, teachers are expected to provide lesson plans for the entire time they’re on maternity leave. This expectation may even vary within a school district and be up to individual principals’ discretion.
Curious about public education policy?
Teachers are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave at the federal level, and you can find your school district’s FMLA notice on their human resources page. Typically, in that same document, you can enter “leave” into the search bar and find a cluster of paragraphs all about what is offered at the state level (if anything) and how the school district manages both paid leave and unpaid leave. In smaller school districts, it can sometimes be simpler to pick up the phone and call the head of human resources to ask questions if something isn’t clear on the website.