Alabama state employees don’t get paid parental leave, unlike other states

By Sarah Swetlik 

New mothers and pregnant women in Alabama have some new federal legal protections, but Alabama is still among a majority of states in the U.S. that do not offer guaranteed paid leave to new parents who are state employees.

Georgia, South Carolina and New Hampshire have all instituted laws guaranteeing paid leave to state workers that are new birth, adoptive or foster parents, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Georgia’s new law went into effect in 2021 and offers eligible state employees up to three weeks of paid parental leave.

“…Providing access to paid parental leave is one important way to advance gender and racial equity in Georgia, as the public sector workforce is disproportionately made up of women and people of color, both groups that are typically less likely to have access to paid leave,” a press release from A Better Balance, a 501(c)3 dedicated to justice for workers, read.

What are new federal protections for pregnant workers and nursing mothers?

New federal provisions mean that Alabama will abide by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP Act, extending certain protections to new mothers.

The expansions are significant in the state, which previously had no state-specific protections for pregnant workers or for breastfeeding mothers.

“Passage of the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for women and families in Alabama means not having to choose between your paycheck and your health while working and pregnant simply because of a need for a reasonable accommodation, like access to water or a transfer, on the job,” Elizabeth Gedmark, with national nonprofit A Better Balance, said.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act provides “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees and stops employers from requiring an employee to take a paid or unpaid leave if an accommodation is available.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible workers can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. This provision applies to any eligible parent, regardless of gender, that has worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to taking leave, not counting vacation days or other types of leave. Employees in the public sector, as well as those who work for a company with more than 50 employees, are covered under the FMLA.

Certain federal workers may have access to the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which offers paid leave to federal employees that meet the qualifications for FMLA leave. After agreeing to certain stipulations, such as a requirement to work at least 12 weeks after returning from leave, federal employees may be able to receive paid time for 12 weeks beginning after the birth or new placement of a child in their home.

Do Alabama residents have paid family or parental leave?

No additional protections exist for Alabama state employees, and few bills attempting to adjust leave provisions have passed through the state legislature in the past several decades.

Recent laws have focused on specific protections for adoptive parents, but a 2022 law only guarantees unpaid leave.

Laws in Alabama do offer some flexibility for state workers that are new parents. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, state workers may use accrued sick time as long as they work until they are ”actually disabled as a result of their pregnancy” and return to work “as soon as they cease to be disabled for that reason.”

Additionally, Alabama state employees can receive up to 480 hours of leave donations for maternity purposes from another state employee throughout the entirety of their career after all other sick or annual leave has been used.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development consistently ranked the U.S. last in comparison with parental leave provisions among other countries in 2022.

Do any Alabama employers offer paid parental leave?

Yes. While state employees don’t get a guaranteed benefit, many companies offer a wide range of benefits. In 2018, the Women’s Fund of Alabama estimated that about half of employers in the Birmingham area, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham, offered paid leave of at least four weeks.