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Navigating Maternity Leave in Oregon

So, yMaternityou’re pregnant, or maybe you’re planning on being pregnant in the near future. All you can think about is how you can’t wait to see that sweet baby in adorable tiny clothes or maybe you just cannot wait for this morning sickness to let up. But in addition to all the excitement and anticipation, there are so many important questions that are running through your mind.

Some fun ones: Is our baby a boy or a girl? Which parent will he or she look like? 

Some practical ones: Which car seat is the safest? How many pairs of baby shoes does a baby REALLY need?

Some tough ones: What if we don’t get the birth we were hoping for? What if something goes wrong?

But, if you’re a working mom there is one more important question you should add to your list of those million things that are running through your head. What do my maternity leave rights look like?

Don’t just assume the basics–the 12 weeks of job protected Family Medical Leave (FMLA) that is standard in most states. Why? Because if you work in Oregon you are potentially eligible for longer under the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA).

I’m not talking about paid leave. Unfortunately, Oregon is not one of the five states that offer paid family leave. I’m talking about the amount of job protected time you are allowed to be off work under the law while you are pregnant and following the birth of your child.

How do I know if my employer is covered under OFLA (which means they have to adhere to the Oregon specific leave law)?

You are working for a covered employer if they employ 25 or more employees in the state of Oregon.

Ok, my employer is covered, how do I know if I am personally eligible to take OFLA leave?

You must be employed for the 180 calendar days immediately preceding your maternity leave, and within those 180 days you must work at least 25 hours per week  on average during that time.

Great! I meet the requirements. Now what? How long do I get? 

When people think maternity leave they almost always think 12 weeks, because that is the federal version of the law, FMLA, for which you may also be eligible. You could be eligible for both OFLA and FMLA, but they run concurrently, so being eligible for both it doesn’t mean you will get time under FMLA and then additional time under OFLA. However, under OFLA you are potentially eligible for MORE than 12 weeks, so even after your FMLA has run out at 12 weeks, the clock keeps ticking on for OFLA. Yay!

So, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. With no other extenuating circumstances this is how the most basic OFLA Maternity Leave looks:

Portland Sign 2 copyUp to 12 weeks of leave for Pregnancy Disability

What is this “pregnancy disability” under OFLA? I mean, I felt disabled from the first moment I started throwing up every morning with my first pregnancy, but the law looks at it a little bit differently than my vomiting in a  trashcan every day at my desk. Pregnancy disability is considered a “serious health condition” under OFLA and it is the duration of time you are considered disabled by your pregnancy.  So, this could be for time missed before you deliver i.e.: routine doctor’s appointments, missed time for morning sickness, mandatory bed-rest, etc. Then, once the baby arrives the standard pregnancy disability is 6 weeks following a Vaginal birth or 8 weeks following a C-Section birth.

Your pregnancy disability time would need to be certified by your doctor using forms provided by your employer, so your exact time really would depend on what they authorize on a medical certification form.  So, for the pregnancy disability portion of your leave you could potentially use the full 12 weeks or you may just need 6. It depends on your situation!

An additional 12 weeks for Parental Leave

Under OFLA, if you have used pregnancy disability leave you are also entitled to 12 additional weeks of leave for any other qualifying purpose within that leave year. So, for maternity leave this usually means after you have been released by your doctor from your pregnancy disability you are then eligible for Parental Leave to bond with your new child. Crying! Diapers! Spit Up! A whole 12 additional weeks to get those things down to a science.

So, let’s do the post delivery Maternity Leave math:

Vaginal Birth – 6 weeks Pregnancy Disability + 12 weeks Parental Leave = 18 weeks total

Cesarean Section Birth – 8 weeks Pregnancy Disability + 12 weeks Parental Leave = 20 weeks  total

Also, as an added bonus, even if by some chance you use 24 weeks of Pregnancy Disability + Parental Leave, if you have a sick child at home who cannot attend school or daycare you also have protected time off to care for the child as well.

Because we all know that kids get sick, a lot. If eligible, OFLA law allows you to take a max of 36 weeks of OFLA leave in one leave year. This would include up to 12 weeks of pregnancy disability leave, 12 weeks of parental leave, and up to 12 weeks of sick child leave.

So what exactly does “protected leave” do?

It means your employer  must return you to your former position that you held immediately preceding the leave, if the job still exists. So it doesn’t protect from layoff of job elimination that would have otherwise happened had you not been on leave. Do your benefits continue while you’re on leave? That depends, if your employer offers benefits for employees on non-OFLA leave (like for personal leave/sabbatical), then your employer would need to treat an employee on OFLA leave the same. Time to ask HR!

What about the benjamins, baby?

So again, this is NOT addressing the hot topic of $PAY$ during family leave. This is simply the most basic explanation of the maternity leave rights you may be eligible for as an employee of a OFLA covered employer in Oregon. The pay issue is up to our legislators to start recognizing that the United States is embarrassingly behind almost every other developed nation in terms of offering paid leave. This isn’t to say you’re not going to get paid – your employer may offer a Short Term Disability benefit, a paid Maternity Leave benefit or a Paid Time Off bank that you can utilize while you’re off work. If you don’t know, it’s time to ask! Are you taking notes yet?

mat2Who the heck are you?

No, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t take my experience as legal advice. What I have done during my career in HR is administered FMLA/OFLA (among other state leaves) for both a large, multi-state employer and then for a local mid-size company for 8 years. During this time I’ve administered over 125 maternity/paternity leaves, and gone out on three of my own!

Want to do your own research? A little light reading perhaps?

Check out the Bureau of Labor and Industries’ Administrative Rules on the Oregon Family Leave Law or the OFLA Poster. On the poster it’s right there under “How Much Leave can an Employee Take?” – bullets 2 and 3.

What if my situation is more complicated?

Yes, every situation is different and there may be extenuating circumstances that reduce your total amount of leave (like if you have taken it for another qualifying purpose, if you are a teacher or  if you are held to a collective bargaining agreement). But this is the most generic break down I can give without going into “if this happens” and “if that happens” territory, because that would take hours. Leave laws are incredibly complicated and people tend to interpret them very differently, this is mine from my experience and my communication with BOLI directly.

What to do next?

Go speak to your HR department, and if they give you the generic 12 week FMLA spiel, you might want to print out those links above and just have a chat.  If they insist that it’s 12 should you go in all gangbusters? Probably not.  But it can’t hurt to point out your rights and maybe shed some light on a complicated law than many employers don’t necessarily understand.

Have questions? Post them below!

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2 Responses to Navigating Maternity Leave in Oregon

  1. Claire October 14, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Hi there,

    I found your post when trying to figure out the answer to the following: The OFLA applies after 180 days. Is this counted as 180 days actually worked, ie, not counting weekends/holidays? Or is this 180 days from the start date of employment, regardless of how many days are actually spent in the office? I’m not concerned about the other requirement of minimum 25 hours/week, since I’m expecting to work full-time, and it doesn’t apply to parental leave anyways. Thanks!

  2. Christina December 3, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    Thank you so much for the useful illustrations!! My current employer has a family leave specialist and she confirmed everything you outlined. I am ecstatic to have some room to negotiate. That being said, my prior employer didn’t even know OFLA provided additional coverage until I inquired. We have so much to navigate as moms.