What Rights Pregnant Freelancers Have

If you’re pregnant, freelancing might be your only income or at the very least, your primary income. It’s important to know what your gig rights are as a pregnant freelancer so you can be both confident and protected in your work. 

Here’s what you need to know about being pregnant and working as an independent contractor or an employee in the United States.

Can you get maternity leave from clients as a freelancer?

If you are a freelancer, your clients or the companies you work for do not have to pay while you’re on maternity leave. You should contact your insurance company to see if they offer maternity benefits that will cover you during this time, also known as approved Paid Family Leave (PFL) policies.

However, these decisions may depend on the type of contract that you have with your clients or any business you freelance for.

If you have a freelance contract with a larger company you may want to speak with someone in the human resources department at the company about what type of benefits you might be entitled to and whether they can help out in some way. They may be able to recommend other types of plans or put a plan into place for freelancers in the future that would cover maternity leaves.

Even though your clients are not required by law to pay you while you’re on maternity leave, they might do so anyway. It may also be possible to arrange for paid time off in advance, before becoming pregnant or going on maternity leave. One rather negative point is identifying pregnancy discrimination – when you might feel as if you’re losing freelance work or future opportunities having disclosed that you are pregnant. 

How much maternity leave am I entitled to as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, you are not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, but many states do provide some form of protection.

In California, for example, freelancers can qualify for up to four weeks of job-protected disability leave if they’re unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth complications. This leave is available whether or not you have worked at the company for one year and protects you from being fired because of this request.

Freelancers are not usually entitled to maternity leave. However, if you are employed under a freelance contract, then it depends on what kind of contract you have with your client. If you have a contract that offers some form of paid time off that can be used for childbirth and recovery from childbirth in the form of paid sick days, vacation days or personal days.

Getting health insurance as a freelancer

It’s important to get health insurance as a freelancer, and being pregnant is one of the best reasons to do so! The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that insurance plans cannot refuse coverage or charge more based on a pre-existing condition. Maternity leave is considered a pre-existing condition and therefore you should be covered for it. 

For the first 12 weeks of maternity leave, you’ll be able to take unpaid leave from freelancing and still maintain your health insurance. You can also opt for short-term disability, which will provide up to 60% of your income during maternity leave if there are no paid sick days available in any given state.

The ACA also mandates that insurance companies cannot charge women more than men for coverage. This is especially important when it comes to maternity leave, which can be expensive if you have to pay out of pocket. 

How to approach work as a pregnant freelancer

Pregnant freelancers have to come up with their policies depending on what’s right for them and their clients.

What’s key is being fair with clients and outlining exactly how much time you’ll be away from client work while you’re on maternity leave. It can be tricky, but to retain current clients (or at least those who like working with you), it’s crucial that they know how much time off you’ll take and what happens after that period expires. 

Make sure that everyone involved knows about any necessary changes or deadlines ahead of time so there’s no confusion once maternity leave is over. Having this information ready when starting a new project will help give your client an idea of the timeline involved. 

Be honest with yourself when determining how much work is truly possible while you’re expecting – take breaks and allow plenty of buffer time to accommodate unpredictable events, such as severe bouts of morning sickness, swollen feet, sensitive teeth or any other unexpected health check-up. 

It might also be wise to put on hold projects that require lots of concentration so you don’t end up being uncomfortably stressed. Any worry or stress can aggravate preeclampsia, a condition where high blood pressure poses serious health risks for mom and baby alike.

Is it possible for me to stop working completely while I’m on maternity leave?

Yes, it is possible to stop working completely while on maternity leave. Many freelancers pay for their maternity leave by saving up money before it. This way they can be supported by their partner and family while getting the time they need to adjust to new motherhood. 

If you don’t have the financial ability to stop working and take unpaid leave, then just try to work as little as possible before or after the baby comes.  

What happens if my business folds while I am on maternity leave?

It is important to have a plan in place if the business folds while you are on maternity leave. This could happen if you have been away from the business for a while and clients have left, or if the economy has taken a downturn.  If this happens, it’s best to contact your client base before starting maternity leave to get an idea of how many will be around when you return.  

For those who are still there, you may want to set up a contract to handle specific tasks during maternity leave so that they know what they can expect when it’s time for you to come back.

When should you return to work after having your baby?

The best time to return to work will vary for everyone and there is no real right answer. The consensus, however, is that you should give your body time to rest and yourself and your baby time to bond before returning. 

This allows you to recover from birth and prepare for the day-to-day stresses of being back at work.

Coming back to work after maternity leave

Think about when you’ll get back to work and how you’ll do it when you return. Many freelancers struggle with regaining momentum after coming back from parental leave and it is important to understand what your rights are. Make sure not to overcommit yourself or take too many small jobs until you’ve built up momentum again – stick to deadlines rather than trying for larger jobs which will allow more room for error.

When returning to work after giving birth, it is important to discuss with clients how you will handle business in the future. Before starting work again, it is also advisable that you talk with your doctor about any potential risks associated with continuing work while pregnant and postpartum.

In terms of your rights as a pregnant freelancer, they are the same as any other freelancer. It largely boils down to the type of contract you have with your client or the company you work for. It is not legally required for your clients to pay anything for maternity leave or to offer you any paid leave. Companies that have freelancing contracts may have something in place for maternity leave. 

Of course, you could plan ahead by saving up money, getting health insurance, looking into disability benefits, and the like, but that all assume you know you’re planning to get pregnant. For example, some states may provide benefits that apply to pregnant freelancers, so it’s always worth looking into. 

The best approach when working while pregnant is to not overwork yourself and be as organized as possible to avoid stress on your body. It is also safe to continue working throughout your pregnancy, but only if you feel this is sensible and feasible for your freelance business.

About the Author: This blog was contributed to Workplace by contributor Dakota Murphey. Published with permission.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.