A maternity leave is time off from work due to the medical and personal needs of pregnancy and childbirth. This leave might be paid or unpaid depending on company policy.
If financial concerns make you worried about your partner's need to take time off after the baby is born, think again about what you're really losing. Expenses associated with working can really cut into expected income. Child care alone can cost about $700 a month. Add to that a work wardrobe, lunches out, commuting, take-out dinners, and the higher tax bracket the additional income boosts you into, and suddenly the second income can look awfully small.
To gather information about your rights as a pregnant employee, consult the following sources:
- Your company's personnel handbook
- Your union (if applicable)
- State laws
- Other working parents in your company
Telecommuting is a work arrangement that allows employees to work from home using the high-tech advantages of computers, phones, and faxes.
If you expect to return to work after the birth of your baby, the length and conditions of your maternity leave are major issues. The details depend on your personal wishes, your finances, your company's leave policy, and the law. And remember that the specifics of your leave might change if you have a difficult delivery or if your child has a medical complication.
After you tell your boss that you're pregnant, don't make any commitment to a maternity leave plan. If he or she says something like, "Well, of course you're entitled to four weeks maternity leave. Will you be taking it?" don't jump in with an answer. Explain that you'd like to gather more information to help you decide what to do about your maternity leave and you'd like to talk about the subject at a later time. This gives you a chance to do a little investigating. You'll need to find out what the company policy is on maternity leave. What have other women been given in the past? What is the maximum number of days allowed? Is the time extended if you have a cesarean delivery? Is the leave paid or unpaid? Are medical benefits continued during the leave? The answers to these questions will tell you what's best for you.
These are the facts you'll need:
- Make sure you know the law and how it applies to your company.
- Talk to someone from the human resources or personnel department to find out your company policy and your eligibility. (If you work for a very small company, the person to talk to might be your boss.)
- Talk to other women in your company who have left on a maternity leave and find out what terms and conditions they were given.
- Be sure to tap into the grapevine. Women who were able to negotiate cushy perks into their maternity leave might not be open about sharing their good luck, but people around them probably know the scoop.
- Find out if you can add vacation or sick time to maternity leave.
When you have the facts, put together your own plan. Know exactly what you are entitled to and then consider asking for a bit more. Many women have negotiated extra time off because they are valuable to the company. Because it can take several months to hire and train a full-time employee, your boss might be willing to give you an extra month rather than risk having you quit.
If you know you'd like to extend your maternity leave or return to work on a reduced schedule, plan to discuss some options. There's no harm in asking for things such as…
- Job-sharing with another employee, splitting hours and benefits.
- Part-time work.
- Split work locations: part-time on the job, part-time at home.
- Flexible hours: putting in a 40-hour week on your own schedule (going in early and leaving early, for example).
Ideally, these details should be worked out long before your due date. An employer is more likely to be open to a well-thought-out plan (that you've proposed in advance) than one you've put together hurriedly as you walk out the door.