Some individuals mistakenly believe that Social Security will pay them benefits if they miss work due to a pregnancy or childbirth. While pregnancy can greatly impede one’s ability to maintain full time employment, it is generally not considered a disability under the Social Security Act. Social Security’s disability program only applies to long-term medical conditions. To establish a disability, a claimant must demonstrate a severe medical impairment expected to result in death or lasting at least twelve continuous months. A pregnancy or childbirth will not meet the duration requirements for disability benefits, unless the child is born with a permanent disability or giving birth causes a long-term impairment.
As is the case with Social Security, pregnancy is typically not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), though pregnant workers may suffer other impairments related to their pregnancies that qualify as disabilities.
Where then, can a pregnant worker turn for financial aid? Many employers offer short-term disability plans through private insurance plans, though pregnancy may only be included at a premium price. For public assistance, a handful of states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have mandated short-term disability programs which include pregnancy. These benefits are typically financed by a state fund, but do not provide for parental leave once you are able to return to work. However, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave those unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or adoption. Employers are also federally prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
If you are planning a leave of absence from work for pregnancy or childcare, discuss the options with your employer and document your communication in order to ensure they can properly accommodate your needs.