Women who work face a number of issues when it comes to taking time off to start a family. Half of two-parent households in the U.S. have both parents working full-time, yet the U.S. is the only developed nation that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.
So if you’re planning on having a baby, what are the things you should know about maternity leave? How can you cover expenses during a complicated pregnancy?
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Today’s post will focus on how short-term disability insurance can be used to help moms cover time off for new baby.
Maternity leave in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 12% of U.S. private-sector workers receive paid family leave through their employer. Some employees are eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits, which provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with no threat of job loss. However, even when employees are eligible for FMLA leave, often their financial situation means they cannot afford to take so much time off, unpaid.
In the absence of paid parental leave, expectant parents often bank their sick leave and vacation time in preparation for the new baby. This is a good strategy for people who have been at their employer for quite some time, but doesn’t work as well for people who haven’t accrued enough PTO.
That is the predicament Kayla C., a family services specialist, found herself in following the birth of her son in 2016. She had been at her job for less than a year when she went on maternity leave. Fortunately, she had purchased short-term disability coverage before getting pregnant with the intention of using it for pregnancy. Her disability policy provided enough supplemental income to allow her to take eight weeks off following her C-Section.
“I probably would have had to go back to work sooner if I didn’t have short-term disability insurance because I had not been at my job long and had not accrued a lot of time” said Kayla.
Short-term disability insurance for maternity leave
Not sure what disability insurance is? You can think of it as income protection. Kind of like a safety net for your paycheck. According to the career research website FairGodBoss.com, “some companies and employees say they offer paid leave when they are technically offering short-term disability insurance payments that define ‘disability’ to include childbirth and postpartum recovery.” The insurance payments can help cover your expenses while you are unable to work.
If you are counting on employer-provided short-term disability, make sure you understand the policy terms and benefits. Most plans cover 50 to 100 percent of your salary for six weeks of postpartum absence, or longer if you’ve had a C-section or other medical complications.
When it comes to purchasing short-term disability insurance to cover pregnancy, it helps to plan ahead, since you will need to purchase it before getting pregnant.
When Jodi F. purchased her short-term disability coverage, she and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for six years.
“I knew the policy would cover maternity,” she said, “but I didn’t think I’d ever get pregnant. So I got it for general protection with maternity in the back of my mind as a miracle.”
In 2010, Jodi got her miracle and gave birth to her son that October. The short-term disability policy provided by her employer allowed six weeks of parental leave, and she used some accumulated paid time off to take two more weeks off since she’d had a C-section.
“I needed a little more time to heal,” she said, “and I felt like I got cheated a little since I was down from the surgery.”
Is employer-sponsored short-term disability coverage enough?
If you want to cover more of your salary or receive benefits longer than your employer’s plan allows, you may have to purchase a supplemental policy from another insurance company.
Once you buy the policy, be sure to update your coverage as your career progresses and your income grows. Jodi learned that lesson the hard way after the birth of her son. Although having some income replacement while she was out was helpful, she said her “coverage was from a very old policy when I made way less, so it actually didn’t pay that much.”
How do I get more coverage?
If your employer offers basic short-term disability insurance coverage, you may be able to purchase additional coverage through your employer’s plan. Before you do, compare the cost of additional coverage through your employer with the cost of buying a comparable policy on your own.
Also, it pays to plan ahead. Typically, you must obtain the short-term disability coverage before you get pregnant. Otherwise, it is considered a pre-existing condition and won’t be covered.
How soon can I start receiving benefits?
Your disability period typically begins on the day you deliver, although it could start earlier if you have medical complications during pregnancy that prevent you from working.
You may have a short waiting period (called an elimination period) before you start receiving payments. That elimination period could be a week, two weeks, or even a month.
If you are planning on getting pregnant, check with your benefits department to make sure you understand what types of leave are available to you. There can be an enormous amount of variation by employer within the framework of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, FMLA, and short-term disability insurance provisions. Remember, in most states, employers are not required to have a short-term disability policy.
A note about short-term vs. long-term disability insurance
There are two types of disability insurance: short-term and long-term. (You can learn more about the difference here.) This article specifically talks about short-term disability insurance.
The bottom line about disability insurance
Short-term disability insurance is an essential part of planning to start a family, giving you financial peace of mind while you take time off to recover from childbirth and bond with your new baby. The amount you get back typically far exceeds the premium you will pay.
Once your new bundle of joy arrives, the benefits of short-term disability insurance don’t end. Jodi kept her policy — and increased her coverage to reflect her higher salary — and has used the benefits during two surgeries in the past couple years.