The Best States to Live in for Maternity Leave

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Updated on Monday, October 26, 2015

Overcoming the Struggles of Unpaid Maternity and Paternity Leave

When you’re evaluating job offers or relocation opportunities, there’s a lot you take into consideration. You look at compensation versus cost of living. You compare and contrast the area’s desirability against your lifestyle. You may even think about proximity to your extended family. If you and your partner are planning on having children in the foreseeable future, there is one often-overlooked criterion that you need to research: state maternity leave policies.

Maternity leave is often a deciding factor in a woman’s career trajectory. While the gender pay gap is often misattributed to women taking maternity leave, the policies around it do influence a woman’s decision to either continue her career, or stay at home with her children. Many times this forces households that would otherwise remain dual-income to make a hard decision that will impact their long-term finances.

It’s no secret that the United States’ maternity leave policies leave much to be desired. The only mandatory leave that new mothers get is an unpaid twelve-week period covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA.) The FMLA only covers you if your company has 50+ employees at your work location, or within 75 miles of your location, you’ve been there for at least a year, and you’ve worked 1,250 hours within the previous 12 months.

That’s a lot of qualifiers for a policy that does little more than protect you from being fired for three months. Some states have recognized that the FMLA is not enough. They’ve taken matters into their own hands, and passed legislation that better serves new mothers’ needs. When you’re looking at those potential job offers, sit down with your partner and take these leave policies into consideration.  Your future income may just depend on them.


California has put its own twist on the FMLA. The state’s policy gives new mothers an additional 16 weeks on top of the 12 provided by the FMLA. It extends the unpaid coverage to all public sector employees, and maintains the 50+ employee rules for all others.

If, however, you also meet the requirement of working 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months, part of your leave is going to be paid. For up to six weeks, you get about 55% of your income as disability pay. The minimum payout is $50 per week, and the max is $1,104. The 55% is calculated by establishing your highest-earning quarter from your base period, or the first four of the past five quarters.

The program is known as the California Paid Family Leave Insurance Program, and is funded through employee-paid payroll taxes. Both parents can take advantage of this policy during the child’s first twelve months of life, though women are typically advised by their medical professional to focus on their own physical recovery during the six weeks immediately following the birth.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s unpaid leave option is similar to the FMLA with one notable exception: the hour requirement is cut from 1,250 to 1,000. In a 50-week work year, that translates to an average cut from 25 hours a week to 20.

They also have a paid maternity leave policy. If during the 52 weeks prior to your leave you have worked for 20 calendar weeks, or earned at least 1,000 times the state minimum wage, you are eligible for two thirds of your pay for up to six weeks, with a maximum payout of $524 per week. This leave cannot be stacked on top of FMLA or the state-sponsored medical leave, meaning that the six weeks will count against all three at the same time.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island has also implemented a program similar to the FMLA with unpaid leave benefits. Its rules are both less stringent, and stricter. Instead of 12 weeks, you are eligible for up to 13 weeks during the child’s first two years. Private employees still only have to comply if they have 50 or more employees, but local government employees are eligible if their place of employment has 30 or more employees. State government employees are all eligible. However, instead of the average of 25 hours per week that the FMLA requires, the Rhode Island program requires 30 hours or more per week.

Rhode Island’s paid benefits for new mothers falls under the Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program. Much like California, this program is funded through employee-paid payroll deductions, and both parents can take advantage. It permits for four weeks of unpaid leave, granted that you provide your employer with written notice at least 30 days prior. The law does acknowledge and allow for flexibility in the written notice policy if there are unforeseeable circumstances.

To calculate your benefit, the state looks at your income over the past five quarters, counting only the first four. You qualify if your wages from all four periods meets or exceeds $10,800. Out of those four, they calculate the quarter in which you earned the highest wages. They then multiply your wages for that quarter by 4.62%. This is your weekly benefit. The minimum payout is $84 per week, and the maximum is $795.

Unpaid Options

Unfortunately, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are the only three states that offer state-sponsored leave options. However, many states offer expanded, unpaid protection. When you qualify for both the federal government’s FMLA and the state’s own version, you are entitled to take whichever leave policy is more generous. To read more about the following state’s policies, follow up on the most recent information published by the National Conference of State Legislatures.


While Connecticut ups the employee minimum to 75, they also lower the hour requirements. In the previous twelve months, you must have worked 1,000 hours, which equates to only 20 hours per week. If you qualify, you have sixteen weeks over the first two years of your child’s life rather than the twelve immediately following their birth. 


Hawaii only provides for four weeks of unpaid leave, and only to those who work for private sector employers with 100 or more employees. The positive change in their policy is that it applies to those who have been with their employer for six consecutive months as opposed to the twelve required by federal law.


Maine lowers the employee minimum to 15, or 25 if you work for local government. All state government employees qualify regardless of how many other people work in their office. The leave itself is only ten weeks, so the primary beneficiaries of this modification are those who work for smaller employers.


Massachusetts hasn’t spun their own version of the FMLA, but they do have additional legislation that appeals to parents in a big way. Throughout any given year, parents have a cumulative twenty-four hours to take off of work for children’s educational activities or medical appointments. That’s a huge pro in the Massachusetts column. 


Minnesota also provides school activities leave for parents to the tune of sixteen hours per year. Their FMLA adjustments include lowering the minimum number of employees to 21, requiring employees to have worked a weekly average of half the hours of an equivalent full-time position over the preceding twelve months. The leave period for these employees is six weeks. 


Oregon’s twist on maternity leave cuts the minimum number of employees down to 25, but maintains the status quo of 25 hours per week. Instead of having to work those hours over the course of a year, however, you only need to work them over the course of 180 days, which comes out to roughly six months. The legislation allows you twelve weeks, plus an additional twelve weeks to take care of a sick or injured child. 


When you are expecting a child, Vermont’s plan only requires that your employer have 10 employees or more. You must have logged 30 or more hours per week over the course of the previous year, and will be entitled to twelve weeks of leave. Much like Massachusetts and Minnesota, Vermont also provides a school activities leave. You can take up to twenty-four hours per year, with a limit of four hours per any thirty-day period. This leave can also be used to tend to the medical needs, emergency or routine, of your child.

Washington (State)

Washington state’s leave policy is effective with no minimum employee requirements from your place of business. In addition, they only require that you work 680 hours in the previous year, averaging 13.6 hours a week in the average 50-week work year, in order to qualify for twelve weeks of protected leave. 

Washington, D.C.

Eliminating minimum employee requirements, DC’s policies provide 16 weeks of leave to employees who have worked 1,000 hours per week for their employer in the previous twelve months. They also provide for 16 weeks of leave for your own serious medical condition over the course of two years. Washington, DC also provides a school activities leave of 24 hours over the course of twelve months under the District of Columbia’s Parental Leave Act.


Wisconsin keeps the 50-employee minimum, and requires that you must have been employed with the entity for more than 52 weeks. They do cut the hours down to 1,000 per year, which is effectively an average of 20 hours per week. Benefits are six weeks of unpaid leave. If you have extenuating health circumstances yourself, you can take an additional two weeks per year, and serious health conditions for the child warrant an additional two weeks on top of that.

When maternity leave policy starts to affect a woman’s career choices, it’s time to look at the locations that are most supportive of her biology without reducing her worth as a competent and valuable employee. For that reason, if you have a job offer in California, New Jersey, or Rhode Island and are expecting to start a family, it is wise to take their state policies into consideration as an auxiliary part of the job’s benefit package.

Brynne Conroy of Femme Frugality