How to Prepare for Maternity Leave at Work

Three Parts:Negotiating Your LeaveMaximizing Your Leave TimePassing on Your Responsibilities at Work

There are lots of things to consider when pregnant: what to name your child; how you will raise him or her; what baby supplies to get; what hospital to use. If you’re a working mother-to-be, you’ll also need to set aside time amidst all the chaos to prepare for maternity leave. Most countries grant paid leave, but you’ll still need to plan for how you will pass on your work responsibilities while gone and how you’ll return to work. In the United States, you’ll also need to negotiate your leave and take financial steps to maximize the time you can afford to spend away from work.

Part 1
Negotiating Your Leave

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    Decide how much time and money you need. Discuss with your spouse how much time you would like to take off and what you can afford financially. Be aware that most maternity leave is unpaid in the U.S. Keep track of your monthly expenses in order to estimate how much you are spending, then make a post-baby budget that adds in things like increased insurance premiums, diapers, and baby formula. This will allow you to determine how much money you need to cover you time away from work.[1]
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    Know your rights. In the United States, you may have guaranteed unpaid leave lasting 12 weeks or more, or even guaranteed paid leave, depending on the state where you work. In all other nations save Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea, you are guaranteed paid maternity leave, typically lasting 3 months.[2]
    • In the U.S., if you work at a company with 50 or more employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1983 guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or an adopted child, provided you have worked in the country for over a year.[3]
    • Also check the maternity leave policies in your state. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island provide 4 to 6 weeks of paid maternity leave. Other states have laws offering disability insurance or requiring maternity leave regardless of the size of the company you work for. Check here for an overview of the applicable laws in your state.
    • If you belong to a union, it may also offer maternity benefits.[4]
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    Learn your company’s policies. Consult the employee manual or talk to someone in HR. Your company may offer paid leave or unpaid leave in excess of that guaranteed by law. According to a 2012 study by the Family and Work Institute, the average company policy allows for 14 weeks of leave, though much of that is typically unpaid.[5] If talking to someone in HR, consider asking:[6]
    • Does the company offer paid maternity leave? For how many weeks?
    • Does it offer short-term disability insurance? For how many weeks? At what percentage of pay?
    • How many vacation, personal, or sick days do I have? Are there limitations on how I can use them?
    • Can I take vacation or sick days in advance (i.e. ones you have not yet accrued)?
    • Will taking unpaid leave delay any raises or promotions?
    • Will the company continue to cover my health insurance, or will I need to pay the premiums if on unpaid leave?
    • Will any of my other benefits be affected?
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    Ask other women at your company. Even if there are no official company policies, you’ll want to ask around to find out how other employees have handled their maternity leave.[7] Here are some questions to be sure to ask:[8]
    • How did your boss / the upper level managers respond when you asked about maternity leave?
    • What did you do to ensure your work responsibilities were taken care of?
    • How much time did you take? Did you feel it was enough?
    • How did you transition back? Were you able to arrange a flexible schedule, such as working several days from home?
    • Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
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    Gather information if you’re the first employee at your office to have a baby. You’ll want to be armed with facts and figures so that you can make your case to your manager or the HR department that maternity leave is good for business. Try to find out what companies like yours are doing.[9] Susan Wojcicki, current YouTube CEO and the first woman at Google to take maternity leave, offers some good points on why companies should offer paid leave:[10]
    • A 2011 survey by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that after paid maternity leave became the law in California, 91% of employers experienced increased profits or profit neutrality, while most noted improved productivity and morale.
    • Paid maternity leave also greatly decreases employee turnover – by 50% with new moms at Google.
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    Start with your manager. HR departments are usually pretty rigid when it comes to sticking with policy, so you’ll likely have more luck approaching your manager. Start by assuring him or her that you plan to return to work.[11] And instead of framing your request as an exception to the rule, try framing it as an exciting new approach to solve your problem and to attract other qualified candidates.[12]
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    Be realistic. The healthier your company is financially and the better your job performance, the more you can ask for. So don’t ask for extra time if your fellow employees are being fired or if your boss doesn’t like you.[13]
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    Be flexible. As in any negotiations, you must be ready to suggest or accept alternative solutions. Most companies will be more willing to give additional time than additional pay.
    • Consider asking for a flexible work arrangement, where you ease back into work with several days a week working from home.[14] The days off guaranteed by the FLMA do not have to be continuous. By working 3 days a week, you can stretch the last few weeks of your FLMA time into a month our more.

Part 2
Maximizing Your Leave Time

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    Get short-term disability insurance, or opt into your company’s policy. Some states offer disability insurance, if not, you can get it through your employer or on your own. In return for monthly premiums, an insurance company will pay a percentage of your salary (usually around 60%) for 6 to 8 weeks after you give birth. Don’t wait until you are pregnant. Many companies require you to hold coverage for 10 months or more before you use it. This is something you need to do as soon as you decide to have a child.[15]
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    Save vacation days. This is hard, because you’re life will change dramatically after you have a child, and it may be years before you have another carefree vacation. However, limiting the vacation days you take will mean more time to bond with your newborn. It’s worth it.
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    Work extra at your job to earn more time off. Talk with your company to see if you can take on extra projects and extra hours in order to bank time for maternity leave.[16]
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    Start saving money to cover lost wages. Most women in America will have to take unpaid leave, or if they are paid, it will not be their full salary. Here are some tips to help you stretch your maternity leave by saving in the months before you are due:[17]
    • Track your expenses. Try an app that allows you to see how much you spend or to track purchases. Keeping track of where your money is going is a vital first step in cutting expenses.
    • Cut out recurring expenses that aren’t worth it. Do you really need cable, or can you get by with just NetFlix or HBONow? Are you using your gym enough to justify the cost? How much data do you really need for your cellphone?
    • Cut out extra expenses. Coffee shops and lunches out are nice, but they can cost a lot of money. Do you really need a $10 lunch out when you could be packing your own lunch for two or three dollars? Can you drop the $4 latte and take your own coffee from home in a travel mug?
    • Make your savings automatic. Decide how much you need to save per month, and then have the appropriate amount automatically deducted from your paychecks and put in savings.
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    Look for deals on baby gear. Crib, pack n’ play, stroller, car seat, changing table, nursing chair… it can all get really expensive fast. You can save a lot of money by buying these big-ticket items at a discount. Craigslist is a great place to look. Also, many cities and/or neighborhoods have parenting listservs where you can find good deals.[18]
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Part 3
Passing on Your Responsibilities at Work

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    Plan out how you will divide up your current responsibilities. People will need to do your work while you’re gone; you should make this as easy as possible for them, without overburdening any one person. The Harvard Business Review suggests you “prepare a list of your core responsibilities, dividing them into tasks that can be assumed by other and those that aren’t so easy to delegate, such as client relationships.”[19] Think about who in your organization might fill each role, and consider hiring someone to cover for you if necessary.
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    Inform your coworkers. This involves more than just telling the good news that you’re pregnant. You’ll also need to let them know the additional responsibilities they’ll be taking on. This does not have to be a burden for them. Especially for subordinates, it can be an opportunity to take on new, higher-level responsibilities and to progress their career.[20]
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    Talk with clients and other outside contacts. You’ll need to let your clients know that you will be stepping away, and also introduce them to the person who will be taking over for you in your absence. If you serve as the primary contact for anyone else – suppliers if you’re a restaurant manager, for instance – you’ll need to let them know your plans, too.
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    Bring as many projects to a close as possible. The more you can tie-up before you leave, the less you will have to stress about while gone, and the easier the transition will be for your coworkers.[21]
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    Make plans to stay in touch. It can be very hard to step right in after 3 months away if you have not kept in touch. You’re company should know that you will not always be available, but do plan to check in regularly by email or via a short, weekly scheduled call.
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    Consider your reentry strategy in advance. If you are going to be heading back to full-time work, there is a good chance you will need to enroll your child in daycare or to find a nanny. You don’t have to wait until your child is born to start looking.[22]
    • Daycare – Ask for friend’s recommendations. Look for a daycare that is near your home or work, and which offers flexible pick-up and drop-off times. Visit and talk to the staff about their philosophies on childcare and discipline.
    • Nanny – Nannies are more expensive, but they also offer more flexibility for working parents. To cut the cost, consider a nanny-share. These work best if the children are about the same age and the parents have similar child-raising philosophies, so choose people you know, or be sure to interview both the nanny and the parents you will be sharing with.
    • Partner - Your partner’s company may have better leave policies than your own. If your partner can get paid leave, then consider having him or her stay home with the baby while you transition back to work. Knowing your partner is home with the baby can make for a much less stressful transition than sending your child to daycare.
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    Remove personal property from your desk and set your out-of-office voice and email. Don’t forget the little things. It’s best to take any personal belongings you treasure home, as you can’t be certain they won’t be disturbed. In some cases, another worker might even be using your desk when you’re gone, so be sure to also remove personal files like performance reviews. And don’t forget to set out-of-office messages that tell the caller or emailer who they can contact in your absence.

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Categories: Motherhood | Work World