If your company offers paid maternity leave, they will likely have explained the conditions you must meet in order to secure that leave when you first got hired. However, paid maternity leave is an employer benefit. Even if you don’t have any paid leave, you still have the right to take time off of work when you add a new child to your family.

The right to take family leave is a federal worker protection created under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, qualifying individuals have the right to take unpaid leave when their family grows. Denying a worker FMLA leave upon the arrival of a new child could constitute discrimination and on the violation of that worker’s rights.

FMLA leave isn’t just for childbirth

The right to take leave under the FMLA is not exclusive to biological women who give birth. Instead, it applies to new parents who have had a child, as well as those who have recently had a child placed with them through foster care services. Additionally, those completing an adoption also qualify for leave under the FMLA.

It is possible for new parents and any of these circumstances to take up to 12 weeks of time off in order for their family to adjust to their new circumstances, provided that their employer and work history qualify them for this basic right.

You should be able to return to the same job or an equivalent position

Some employers readily approve a worker’s request for unpaid leave but still retaliate against them for asserting such a basic right as the right to spend time at home with a new child. They could retaliate by making it hard for you to return to work or refusing to allow you to keep your former position and rate of compensation.

Your employer will likely have to temporarily arrange to have someone cover your responsibilities. However, you should be able to resume your position with the company once you are able to do so. If they refuse to allow you to return to work or if you must accept a demotion or a cut in pay after your unpaid leave, those could all be signs of employer retaliation and either pregnancy discrimination or discrimination against you as a new parent.