Wellness·12 min read

Your Ultimate Guide to Navigating Paid (and Unpaid) Family Leave in the US

Pregnant woman looking at document
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Jul 15, 2022

ICYMI: Paid family leave is still not a guaranteed federal right in the US. Even though about 70% of moms work full time or part time, and nearly half of two-parent families have both partners working full-time.

So if you’re wondering what your paid or unpaid (yep, that’s a thing) benefits are as a parent, you’ve got to look to your company, your state, or the federal government for details. 

So which states offer paid family leave? 

Only ten states and Washington, D.C. offer some form of paid family leave. But each place offers a different number of weeks, and a different percentage of your salary. Plus, only some workers qualify. Note: We mention a “base year” below, which refers to the full calendar year prior to you applying for leave (to the date). 

California

  • Number of weeks covered: Up to eight weeks per year. 

  • Income allowance: 60-70% of weekly income earned five to 18 months prior to your claim start date. Calculate how much you’ll be given here

  • Who qualifies: CA workers need to be employed or looking for work when their leave begins, have lost wages due to taking leave, made at least $300 during your base period, and had state disability insurance deductions withheld. 

  • When to apply: No earlier than your first day of leave and no later than 41 days after your family leave began. Apply here

  • Documents needed: SSN, CA driver’s license, employer’s info, wages you’ll receive from your employer, worker’s compensation claim info, proof of relationship, and more

  • Things to know: Your citizenship or immigration status doesn’t impact your eligibility for paid family leave benefits. 

Colorado:

  • Number of weeks covered: 12 weeks (people with pregnancy or childbirth complications are eligible for four extra weeks).

  • Income allowance: 37-90% of a worker’s wages, with a weekly cap at $1,100. Go here to find out how much you would receive. 

  • Who qualifies: Colorado employees who have earned at least $2,500 in the state over a period of a year.

  • Things to know: Colorado’s paid family leave policy won’t go into effect until January 2024.

Connecticut:

  • Number of weeks covered: 12 weeks (people with pregnancy complications are eligible for an additional two weeks). 

  • Income allowance: The weekly wage benefit depends on income level. Go here to calculate how much you’d earn per week. 

  • Who qualifies: CT workers that have earned “at least $2,325 in the highest quarter of the first four of the five most recently completed quarters and are currently employed, or have been employed within the last 12 weeks, or are self-employed, a sole proprietor and a Connecticut resident enrolled in the program.”

  • When to apply: 30 days before your first day of leave, or as soon as possible if leave is unexpected. Apply here

  • Documents needed: Birth certificate, bonding statement, employment verification (plus one for sole proprietors or self-employed workers), and third party authorization to release form. 

Maryland:

  • Number of weeks covered: 12 weeks (or up to 24 in some circumstances).

  • Income allowance: Up to 90% of your weekly pay and a max of $1,000 per week and a min of $50 per week.  

  • Who qualifies: Employees who have worked at least 680 hours in the year preceding when their leave would begin, and who have elected to participate in the program by filing a written notice to the Secretary of Labor. 

  • Things to know: Maryland’s paid family leave policy will go into effect January 2025.

Massachusetts

  • Number of weeks covered: 26 weeks per benefit year.

  • Income allowance: Weekly income cap at $1,084.31. If you aren’t sure how much you could get, use this online calculator

  • Who qualifies: “Most employees who have earned at least $5,700 over the past four calendar quarters.” Plus, you have to have earned “at least 30x the benefit amount” you’re eligible for. 

  • When to apply: 60 days prior to taking leave. Apply here

  • Documents needed: ID (like a driver’s license or state ID), bank account info, plus documents from your doctor about your reason to take leave. See the full list of docs needed here

  • Things to know: The official site says workers that need to take paid family leave should inform their employer before doing anything else. Once you do this, your job is protected

New Jersey:

  • Number of weeks covered: Up to 12 weeks.

  • Income allowance: Your base year earnings divided by your base weeks gives you your weekly wage. You are then paid 85% of that weekly wage, with a max of $993 per week for 2022. 

  • Who qualifies: NJ workers who have paid into the program through their job. You have to meet minimum wage requirements. As of 2022, you have to have worked 20 weeks and earned at least $240 a week. Or have combined earnings of $12,000 for the base year. Note: Federal government, out-of-state, faith-based org, and contract workers aren’t eligible. 

  • When to apply: 60 days prior to taking leave. If you apply for leave after your leave begins, you have 30 days from your first day to apply. Apply here

  • Things to know: In NJ, your leave doesn’t have to be taken in one swoop. You can take it day-by-day, all at once, or in chunks of days or weeks. Note: If you take non-continuous leave, you can only take up to eight weeks of paid family leave. Plus, you will file those days after you take them. You have to inform your employer 30 days before taking continuous leave, and 15 days before taking non-continuous leave.

New York

  • Number of weeks covered: 12 weeks max. Based on how many days you work per week. Example: 3 days average x 12 weeks = 36 days of leave (or about 7 work weeks). 

  • Income allowance: 67% of your pay. The maximum weekly benefit is $1,068.36. Calculate how much you’d get here

  • Who qualifies: NY employees who have worked 26 consecutive weeks for 20 or more hours per week, or have worked 175 days with regular hours under 20 per week. Self-employed workers and NY workers who live out of state are eligible. Note: Domestic workers who are hired by a private homeowner were added in 2022. 

  • When to apply: Tell your employer 30 days before taking leave, or as soon as possible. 

  • Documents needed: Request for Paid Family Leave (Form PFL-1), Bonding Certification (Form PFL-2), and your baby’s birth certificate (if you’re the birthing parent). For non-birthing parents, you must show a copy of the birth certificate naming you as the second parent or the birth certificate plus a document that shows your relation to the birth parent. 

  • Things to know: Paid family leave in NY can only begin after your baby is born and must be taken within the first year. NY allows workers to take intermittent leave, but if more than three months pass between when you take another period of leave you must file a new claim. And your citizenship or immigration status doesn’t impact your eligibility. 

Oregon:

  • Number of weeks covered: 12 weeks (in some circumstances you may be eligible for an extra two weeks).

  • Income allowance: Based on how much you make. Many workers will earn 100% of their pay. 

  • Who qualifies: OR Workers who earned at least $1,000 in the previous year and have contributed to the paid leave trust fund through paycheck deductions. PS: Self-employed workers and tribal governments can opt into the program. 

  • When to apply: Inform your employer at least 30 days before you take leave (if you can). If you have to take unexpected leave, tell your employer within 24 hours of taking leave and give written notice within three days of your leave start date. 

  • Things to know: Oregon’s paid family leave policy won’t go into effect until September 2023. 

Rhode Island:

  • Number of weeks covered: Five weeks (it’ll bump up to six weeks in 2023). If you’re a birthing parent, you can receive six weeks for a vaginal birth and eight weeks for a c-section (through the temporary disability insurance program), then you can apply for four weeks for bonding (through the paid family leave program).

  • Income allowance: 60% of wages. The max amount is $795 per week and the minimum is $84 per week. 

  • Who qualifies: You must be an RI employee (this includes people who work in RI but live outside of the state), have paid into the TDI/TCI fund, and earned at least $11,520 in your base period. If you didn’t earn the qualifying amount, you can still be eligible if you meet these requirements. Federal, state, and some municipal workers, plus “partners and non-incorporated self-employed workers” don’t qualify. 

  • When to apply: You can apply for leave during the first 30 days of your leave, but have to be out of work for 7 days before you can apply. Apply here

  • Things to know: Rhode Island calls its paid family leave policy “temporary caregiver insurance” (TCI), so look out for this name when applying. 

Washington

  • Number of weeks covered: 12 to 18 weeks. You can receive 16 weeks of leave for childbirth and bonding, and 18 weeks of leave for childbirth or pregnancy related issues that leave you incapacitated. 

  • Income allowance: Up to $1,327 per week, or 90% of your weekly pay. Find out how much you’d earn here

  • Who qualifies: WA employees who worked a minimum of 820 hours during their qualifying period (aka the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters or the last four completed calendar quarters prior to your application for leave). FYI: full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers are eligible. Federal workers, workers for businesses on tribal land, self-employed workers who opt-out of the state program, workers covered by their employer’s plan, and “workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement that hasn’t expired, been reopened or renegotiated since Oct. 19, 2017” aren’t immediately eligible. If you’re still unsure if you qualify, take this quiz to find out. 

  • When to apply: After your first day of leave. Apply here.  

  • Documents needed: ID (like a driver’s license or passport) and certification of birth form. See full list here

Washington D.C.

  • Number of weeks covered: Eight weeks per year for parental leave, six weeks per year for family leave, two weeks per year for medical leave. But you can only take a total of eight weeks per year. 

  • Income allowance: Max of $1,009 per week. Calculate how much you’ll earn here

  • Who qualifies: Workers for a DC employer that reports your wages to the Department of Employment Services and pays taxes to DC based on your pay. Your employer is required to tell you if you are covered or not. You must have been employed prior to taking leave in order to be eligible. 

  • When to apply: You must inform your employer at least 10 days before taking leave. But under FMLA and DCFMLA, it’s required that you give at least a 30 days’ notice to your employer. You can apply for leave only after your leave begins. Apply here

  • Documents needed: Some include a birth certificate, hospital admission form, “document from a medical provider who provided care to your newborn child,” court doc showing custody of the child, and document from an adoption or foster care agency. 

  • Things to know: Apply for your leave ASAP after welcoming your new baby. If you wait longer than seven days, you won’t receive benefits for those days. 

PS: If both your company and state offer some form of paid family leave, talk to your HR department on what your compensation and benefits look like combined. 

But what if my state doesn’t offer paid family leave?

If your state doesn’t offer leave (or enough financial compensation for you to take leave), your employer might chip in. As of last year, 23% of private industry and civilian workers had access to paid family leave. 

The number of weeks and percentage of pay available depends on the company, but check your company’s employee handbook to see if they offer paid family leave. And if they don’t, check out our proposal deck on how to advocate for paid family leave within your company. Plus there are resources like Sparrow that can help you and your company navigate taking leave. Or check out our database of over 500 companies that do offer paid family leave plus more for working parents. 

How do I access the federal government’s unpaid family leave policy?

If your state or company doesn’t offer any form of paid family leave, you can still look into applying for unpaid family leave through the federal government under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Just like with state policies, stipulations apply.

How many weeks of unpaid family leave am I eligible for from the federal government?

Up to 12 weeks for:

  • The birth and care of a newborn (within one year of birth). PS: Time taken off for pregnancy complications counts against the 12 unpaid weeks. 

  • Placement of a child through adoption or foster care (within one year of placement).

  • Caring for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.

  • Recovery from a serious health condition.

  • An event that occurs from the worker’s family member being a covered military member on active duty. And if the worker’s family member is a service member, then they can take up to 26 weeks of leave within one year to care for the service member if they have a serious injury or illness. 

PS: If you and your spouse work for the same company, you can only take a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year. Same goes for caring for a covered service member. 

Who qualifies for unpaid family leave from the federal government? 

To qualify you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs at least 50 people within 75 miles. Btw: this applies to all public agencies and public and private elementary and secondary schools. 

But FYI: If you work for the federal government, you may have access to paid parental leave through the The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act. Which grants eligible federal workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. To be eligible, you must meet all of the requirements above, plus work for the federal government (in case that wasn’t obvious). 

When do I apply for the federal government’s unpaid family leave?

Let your employer know as soon as you can that you need to take family leave, whether it’s expected or not. If your leave is anticipated, it’s required that you let your employer know at least 30 days before your leave start date (like for a surgery). It’s important to give your employer all the info they need to determine whether you qualify for unpaid family leave or not, otherwise your leave could be unprotected

Reminder: Your employer is obligated to give you information about the federal leave policy. Some forms they may give you can be found here

theSkimm 

The cost to put yourself and your family first during milestone moments like starting or adding to your family is still not covered at the federal level in the US. But some states (along with some companies) are trying to lessen the financial burden for working families. Whether you’re planning to take paid or unpaid family leave, step one is to figure out what you qualify for by talking to your HR department, then applying through your state’s website if they’re one of the ten states, plus Washington D.C., that offer financial support. 

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