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    Using Short-Term Disability for Maternity Leave: A Comprehensive Guide

    Updated 26 August 2021 |
    Published 08 January 2020
    Fact Checked
    Tanya Tantry, MD
    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
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    There are multiple benefits offered by short- or long-term disability insurance, including short-term disability for parental leave. However, taking short-term disability for parental leave is not always available. Read on to learn what exactly it is, when it’s available, and how to apply for it.

    What is short-term disability insurance?

    Short-term disability insurance is a type of insurance that offers some compensation to replace income lost due to an injury or illness that keeps you from working. Childbirth is considered a qualifying reason. This type of insurance only lasts for a short time. Short-term disability is different from workers’ compensation, which offers compensation due to a work-related illness or injury.

    Although employers can offer their workers short-term disability insurance, in the United States, they are not required to by law. However, they can receive a federal tax deduction if they do, so many include it in their benefits package. Some states mandate companies to offer this kind of coverage. 

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    Typically, if your employer doesn’t offer short-term disability insurance, you can purchase it privately. However, this can be expensive, ranging from between 1 and 3 percent of your annual income.  

    Because the amounts paid and lengths of coverage vary, it’s important to talk to your insurance provider or human resources (HR) department about the specific policies. If you want to consider this option, it’s a good idea to find out if short-term disability is available before you conceive. You become ineligible to apply for it after you’re already pregnant. 

    Coverage for short-term disability usually begins between 1 and 14 days after it has been approved. It’s common for employees to use their sick days before short-term disability kicks in. 

    Using short-term disability for maternity leave

    There are several reasons why using short-term disability for parental leave can be an important part of your financial plan. It’s vital to apply for short-term disability long before you begin packing your bag for the hospital.

    Unpaid leave can be an excellent choice for families who can afford it, giving them additional time to bond with their baby. This time allows new mothers to rest, recuperate, and heal after delivery. It also provides extra time to organize your home, look for the right daycare, and prepare to return to work.

    It’s vital to apply for short-term disability long before you begin packing your bag for the hospital.

    Most families are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, but few families can afford to go 12 weeks without an income. The average physical recovery time for a vaginal birth is six to eight weeks (six weeks to a year for a C-section), so you need a lot of that time to heal and bond with your new baby. Returning to work too soon can also take a toll on new parents. For all these reasons, applying for short-term disability for parental leave is a smart choice.   

    Using short-term disability insurance for parental leave is standard practice, as pregnancy is considered a preexisting condition. Many policies also specifically address parental leave. Each plan will explain how much time off is offered, which can vary depending on birth circumstances. 

    FMLA vs SDI

    FMLA refers to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides some employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. But how does it compare with short-term disability insurance (SDI)? 

    FMLA provides up to 12 weeks for families who have recently had a child. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. FMLA can be used in the following circumstances:

    • For the birth and care of a newborn child
    • For placement of a child for adoption or foster care
    • To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
    • To take medical leave when you are unable to work because of a serious health condition

    Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. Whether an employee has worked the minimum 1,250 hours is determined according to Fair Labor Standards Act principles.

    There are exemptions to the law related to company size, length of employment, and level of income. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not eligible for FMLA. Similarly, employees who have worked with a company for less than 12 months or who make income in the top 10 percent of wages are generally not eligible for FMLA.

    FMLA provides up to 12 weeks for families who have recently had a child. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.