FACT CHECK: Is Bernie Sanders right? Does the U.S. fail to provide paid pregnancy leave?

Q:     FACT CHECK:  Is Bernie Sanders right?  Does the U.S. fail to provide paid Pregnancy Leave?

A:     This week, Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, tweeted that China provides 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, while the U.S. provides none.  Actor James Wood did not like the tweet and called Sanders a moron[1].  That said, Sanders’ tweet is partially true, albeit somewhat disingenuous.  There are a rubric of Federal and State laws that protect both expecting and new mothers.  In California, if an employee qualifies for CFRA[2], FMLA[3]  and PDL[4] then the employee may be eligible for up to 6.7 months of time off.  Even in instances, where an employee does not qualify for CFRA and FMLA, an employee would still be eligible for up to four months of leave.  Whether the employee is eligible for 6.7 months or 4 months, she could also be entitled to additional time off under the ADA[5] or FEHA[6]..

As far as compensation during the leave, both Federal and State law require employers to continue to pay for health and life insurance premium payments and, if applicable, pension accrual and profit sharing plans (albeit not salary).  These laws also permit the employee to choose whether she wants to use any sick or accrued vacation leave during her time away. In California, employees are provided income replacement through SDI[7] or PFL[8].  This, in essence, is paid maternity leave.

In short, pregnancy leave is complicated and almost impossible to reduce to a 140-word campaign tweet (or even a short blog).   There are many different laws protecting both expecting and new mothers.  To say the United States does not provide paid maternity leave ignores the fact that the United States operates in a Federal system in which individual states are left to draft laws which best protect their own citizenry.  As noted, California, like some other states, does provide wage replacement for those on maternity and baby bonding leave.  Both Federal and State law also require the continued payment of benefits during this leave.  However, Bernie Sanders is technically correct that there is no Federal law that provides for payment of an employee’s salary during maternity.  That said, his comment does not account for benefits administered by the States.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/20/politics/james-woods-bernie-sanders-twitter/index.html

[2] The California Family Rights act (CFRA) (Gov. Code section 12945.2)

[3] Family Medical Leave Act of 1993

[4] Pregnancy Disability Leave

[5] Americans with Disabilities Act

[6] The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code section 12940 et. seq.)

[7] State Disability Insurance

[8] Paid Family Leave

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