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Maternity leave is the period when an employee takes leave for some time before and after the birth of her child. Every company, be it a public or a private one, is directed to follow the maternity leave policies that come under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This act was passed by the US Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration in 1993. It defined leave strategies for sick leaves, vacation leaves, and maternity leaves in companies having more than fifty employers. All companies have to abide by the rules of the FMLA, sparing a few changes according to their HR strategies. These entitle a pregnant woman to a minimum of 12 weeks leave. The FMLA sees to it that every woman employee benefits from this without the fear of losing her job.

Eligibility
According to the FMLA, a pregnant woman or a person who is going to adopt a baby has to be given twelve weeks, that is, 3 months of leave without pay by the company she's employed with. However, to be eligible for this, the employee has to complete at least 12 months at the company and should have worked for 1,250 hours at that place. Though this remains the basic law on maternity leave for almost all states in America, the number of leaves that one can take would differ from state to state. For instance, in Tennessee, the same policy allows a woman to go on leave for 16 weeks for childbirth.

Anti-discrimination
Every employer also comes under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which forbids them to discriminate between the pregnant and the other employees. Though almost all companies abide by this rule, there have been cases where women have lost their jobs or chances of promotion due to pregnancy. Employers should remember that such kind of discrimination is unlawful and can put them in legal trouble.

Benefits
Though this is an unpaid leave, the employer has to continue the health insurance payment of the employee. This ensures that the person is insured even when she cannot come to work. The non-payment factor leads many women to opt for a combination of paid leaves instead. This includes vacation leave, sick leave, maternity leave, and short-term disability. However, companies in some states consider maternity leave in the short-term disability category wherein the employee would be paid some percentage of the salary for the period when on leave.

When to Apply
The FMLA requires the employee to give a written application to the company at least 30 days before taking leave. However, in the case of maternity leave, it is always better to discuss with the employer about the leave after the first three months of pregnancy or at the time when one has applied for adoption. Some employers also require the employees to visit the company regularly during the leave period to report on their condition and their expected date of joining.

Though pregnancy discrimination still exists in many places, many employers have recently made flexible leaves and working conditions available for employees who are expecting childbirth. However, to avoid this condition from affecting one's career, it is very essential to know the maternity leave laws of the country as well as HR policies of the company.