Freelancers love the freedom and flexibility of self-employment. But when it’s time to prepare for the arrival of a new baby, the lack of structure (and an HR department) can be daunting. Unlike staffers, self-employed workers aren’t eligible for parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. While some states have parental leave programs that allow freelancers and contractors to apply, others provide little to no support for independent workers. Your options will vary depending on where you live and your work’s exact nature, but taking leave is possible with careful planning. Here’s how you can take paid parental leave as a freelancer.
Currently, five states (California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington state), plus Washington D.C., have active paid family leave programs, and three more (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon) have passed leave requirements that will take effect in the next couple years. The specific benefits and who qualifies for the program vary from state to state. Washington’s program provides self-employed people with up to $1,000 a week for 12 weeks, but you must opt into it. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, self-employed folks and some 1099-MISC workers will be able to qualify for the state’s leave program, but independent contractors will not. The simplest way to find out if you’re eligible is to get in touch with your state’s family leave or labor offices. California, New Jersey, and New York residents are provided with numbers they can call. People living in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington D.C., and Washington state can send their questions via email or through an online message form. And Rhode Islanders can consult the state program’s FAQ page for further info.
Freelancers should start looking into family leave options as soon as possible—even before they’re seriously thinking about pregnancy and parenthood. Unless they buy into the state’s program and purchase a disability insurance policy within the first 26 weeks of starting their business, contractors in New York have to wait two years to access paid family leave benefits. Other states have similar waiting and pay-in periods that prevent self-employed workers from enrolling right away, so it’s never too early to learn how long the process will take in your home state.
If you live in a state that doesn’t offer a paid family leave program for freelancers, your next best option is short-term disability insurance. Most policies cover about six weeks after giving birth. Still, if you encounter complications during delivery or give birth via C-section, you might qualify for more extended periods of coverage. Again, it’s a good idea to look into your insurance options and sign up for a plan on the early side because many policies count pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. If you wait until you’re pregnant to buy a plan, you may only have limited access to your plan’s benefits—and you might be excluded from them altogether.
According to financial expert Rachel Cruze, a healthy emergency fund should cover between three and six months’ worth of expenses. The fund should provide you with enough of a cushion to see you through your leave and into your transition back to work. Fast Company recommends scheduling work for when you return from leave before you even take off so that you can start bringing in more money as soon as you’re back to work.
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