Working Mother Rights: What moms need to know

Today’s working mothers spend more time at work and in child care than their mothers did in the ‘60s. According to Pew Research Center (PRC), working moms spend about 25 hours a week at their job in 2016, compared with nine hours in 1965. They also spend 14 hours a week on child care, compared with 10 hours a week 56 years ago. Here, we look at your basic rights as a working mother.

An alarming rate of women are leaving the workforce than men. Just in September, 865,000 women left the U.S. labor force, compared to the 216,000 men – a drop that’s four times higher. A study shows that one factor which had the greatest influence on women’s decision to stay in the workforce or leave is ‘children.’ And so we ask ourselves: how can American employers reinforce that we are serious about supporting working moms?

A stream of columns on the Internet suggests how working mothers can work from home, maintain better work/life balance, and handle stress. Yet when we search for basic rights as a working mother, we learned that there is a dearth of information on workplace legal rights.

know your workplace rights as working mothers

Which is why we’ve created this mini-guide to workplace rights for working mothers.

Maternity leave

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that most women turn to for information on the basic rights of working mothers, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth, delivery and postpartum recovery as well as birth-related medical complications before you must return to work. Once you’ve come back to work, your employer must follow certain rules and guidelines to ensure you are fairly treated in the workplace.

The FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. Your employer must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
  • For placement with the employee 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; or
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

It is important to note that the FMLA leave granted is not paid leave. While it’s generally the norm in most states across the country, there has been a sea of change in recent times. Many companies are now voluntarily offering up to 52 weeks of paid paternity and maternity leave.

Return to work

You’ve safely delivered a little munchkin, finished your maternity leave and now you’re planning to return to work. These are your basic rights of pregnancy leave under the FMLA:

  1. The right to return to the same or equivalent job
  2. The right to not be discriminated against based on the fact that maternity leave was taken or that you were pregnant.
  3. The right to return to an altered schedule of intermittent or part-time work.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), any woman returning from maternity leave must be treated the same as other workers allowed leave for a temporary disability.

Moreover, a to-be-mom must be allowed to work as long as she can perform her job functions before she takes maternity leave. In a sense, an employer may not force a worker to leave work because she is pregnant nor can it force her to take reduced pay, discriminate against her due to the pregnancy or opportunity to take maternity leave.

Taking time off work

A 90-page report, “Failing its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the US,” documents the health and financial impact of the wall of bias working mothers face in the modern workplace. The report outlines the effects of little or no paid family leave after childbirth or adoption, employer inhibition to offer breastfeeding support or flextime, and prejudices that new parents are up against, especially mothers.


Working mothers are now the breadwinners for 40 percent of American households with children under 18 years of age. In order to meet work needs, personal and familial obligations, and life responsibilities conveniently, women require flexible work schedules.


American employers must build an inclusive culture that helps parents, especially new moms, easily integrate into the workplace, claim their identity as a working parent and map renewed career goals. Working mothers often struggle to find their new normal during the initial weeks after maternity leave, with many feeling inadequate for not being able to juggle work and life.

It is up to leaders to have mothers’ backs, and ensuring that they’re doing what is right for their people in the workplace. The right way to begin is by making them aware of their workplace rights as working mothers.

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Jane Harper
Writer. Human resources expert and consultant. Follow @thehrdigest on Twitter

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