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Parental Leave in Sports: Where Does the Club Fit In?
Parental Leave in Sports: Where Does the Club Fit In?

With the seismic growth of professional women’s sports leagues, specifically soccer, it is crucial for clubs to ensure they remain just as focused on employment laws and human resources as they do winning.

This is the first of a three part series on the specific topic of parental leave. This includes leave related to birth, adoption, foster care, miscarriage and complications related to giving birth. This series is meant as a high level overview for organizations operating in the professional women’s sports space.

This first blog covers the role of a CBA, a Player Contract, and the club as it relates to parental leave.

The next two blogs will get into the nitty gritty of the two important laws that organizations must be familiar with: (1) the Family Medical Leave Act, and (2) the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Governing Documents: Standard Player Agreements & Collective Bargaining Agreement

There are two general governing documents in sports leagues: (1) The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and (2) Standard Player Agreements (SPA). As we’ll discuss below, in order to have a true understanding of the CBA, clubs must understand the SPA.


The two major women’s sports leagues, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) have CBA’s. Both agreements address parental leave. (See WNBA CBA and the NWSL CBA).


Since the World Cup is upon us, let’s check out what the NWSL CBA says about parental leave and pregnancy.

#1: Pregnancy Leave. Section 9.8 of the CBA covers the Pregnancy Benefit and reads as follows:

A player who cannot render services required in the [Standard Player Agreement] as a result of the player’s pregnancy shall receive 100% of the base salary that the player would have received under the [Standard Player Agreement] had the player rendered the required services.

What are “required services?”

The first question that must be addressed is what are these “required services?” The CBA instructs us to look at the NWSL Standard Player Agreement (SPA). The SPA does not define “required services.” Section 2, however,  covers a player’s general duties and responsibilities.

Section 2(b) requires, among other things, the following of the athlete:

(1) “…devote whatever time is necessary to perform their duties as a Player and promoter of soccer, the Team, and the NWSL…”

(2) “…faithfully, diligently and competently, and to the best of the Player’s ability, experience and talents, perform all of the duties that may be required of and from the Player…”

(3) “…the Player shall report to the Team in good physical condition..”

This is a fairly broad definition of “services rendered.” Should a player not be able to perform the above services “as a result of pregnancy” they are entitled to this Pregnancy Leave benefit.

As a Result of Pregnancy

What is striking about this paragraph is that it covers situations “as a result of a player’s pregnancy.” It must be noted that is does not simply read “as a result of childbirth.” This means that if a player has complications relating to a pregnancy or childbirth, including miscarriage, they are entitled to this benefit.

#2: Parental Leave. Section 9.11 of the CBA relates to Parental Leave and reads as follows:

Any player who births or adopts a child during the NWSL League Season shall be entitled to the shorter of (a) up to [8] weeks paid at [100%] of the Player’s NWSL base salary…or (b) the remaining term of the Player’s SPA (which may be paid in part by an applicable short-term disability policy). Paid leave shall run concurrently with any entitled to unpaid leave in accordance with applicable federal and state law.

A few things to note about this Parental Leave Policy:

  • Foster Care. While this CBA does not explicitly reference foster care, organizations must remember that the FMLA provides for protected leave for fostering of a child. We will discuss the FMLA in the next blog.
  • “…during the NWSL League Season.” Article 3 of the CBA defines the NWSL League Season as “…the period in any year commencing with the first date of pre-season and ending on the date of the NWSL championship.”
  • Short-Term Disability. Short-Term Disability Benefits and Long-Term Disability Benefits (collectively “Disability Benefits”) are crucial for organizations and players. Prudent organizations will educate their employees (athletes) on these benefits and why they are important.
  • Paid Leave Shall Run Concurrently with Unpaid Leave. The above section reads that any paid leave, in this case the Parental Leave, will run concurrently with other protected leave (such as FMLA). Organizations must be aware of the other unpaid leaves available by law to employees (athletes). We will discuss this in the next blog.


So what do league-wide documents mean for a club?

  • Back Office Employees. While the CBA and the Player Contracts cover the players, the clubs must ensure that their own back-office employees (coaching staff, management, executive personnel etc.) are covered. Prudent clubs will have handbooks that adhere to the applicable federal and state laws.
  • As briefly discussed above, it is crucial that all employees (athletes) understand the benefits that they can elect, such as short-term and long-term disability. This is important for all employees, regardless of whether they give birth.
  • State and Federal Law. Organizations must educate themselves on the applicable state and federal laws that cover parental leave and leave that is related to childbirth, foster care or adoption. Some states have specific laws as it relates to parental leave. A CBA or a Player Agreement does not shirk responsibility away from the club to adhere to state and federal law. There are overarching laws that must be followed by all organizations.

The next blog will get into the details of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and an organization’s responsibility when it comes to employees (athletes) who are eligible for such leave.

  • Susie  Cirilli

    For more than a decade, Susie Cirilli has served as a trusted advisor to employers, employees, and other professionals to resolve their employment and labor-related matters, including hostile work environment claims and issues ...

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