Some people are under the mistaken impression that Social Security pays benefits to employees who are out of work temporarily due to pregnancy and childbirth. Although Social Security has a disability program, however, it applies only to long-term disabilities. The Social Security program pays disability benefits to those who are unable to do their usual jobs, are unable to adjust to other work because of their impairment, and have a disability that is expected to last for at least a year or result in death.
Unless giving birth causes a disability or the child is born with a disability (for which benefits may be available from the Supplemental Security Income program), pregnancy and childbirth don't qualify for Social Security benefits.
That doesn't mean no benefits or time off are available, however. Some states offer benefits for short-term disabilities, including pregnancies. Your employer may have a short-term disability benefit program. And, you may have the right to take time off under state and federal laws.
Short-Term Disability Benefits
A handful of states -- California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island -- have state-mandated short-term disability programs. In these states, employees may be eligible for benefits if they are temporarily unable to work due to a disability, including pregnancy. These benefits are usually paid from a state fund, which comes from payroll withholding.
Although the eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, and duration of benefits vary from state to state, the parameters of the programs are similar. An employee must file a claim for benefits, supported by a statement from a physician regarding the employee's condition. If the claim is approved, the employee receives a percentage of his or her usual wages (55 to 60% is common) while the employee is unable to work.
These programs do not provide for parental leave once you are able to return to work. However, California and New Jersey have paid parental leave programs that are run through the state disability insurance office. The benefits are similar to those allowed for disability leave, but both states pay benefits for only six weeks of parenting leave. A similar program has been enacted in Washington state, but it has been suspended through 2015 due to budget shortfalls.
Your employer may also have purchased short-term disability insurance for employees. If you are covered by such a program, contact your HR department or benefits provider to find out about the eligibility rules, benefit amounts, and so on.
See our articles on state short-term disability benefits and family leave.
Time Off Work for Parenting
Whether or not you have a right to be paid for your time off, you might have a right to take leave for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to time off for their own serious health conditions (including pregnancy) and for parenting, among other things. An employee may take up to a total of 12 weeks off in a 12-month period. However, this leave is unpaid. Although you may be able to use any paid leave you have accrued through your employer's leave plan, you do not have the right to be paid otherwise.
A number of states also provide unpaid time off for pregnancy and parenting. Some states have pregnancy disability leave laws, which require employers to allow employees to take time off while they are temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy and childbirth. Some states also have laws similar to the FMLA, which allow new parents to take time off. To find out about your state's laws, check out Nolo's page on State Family and Medical Leave Laws.