Maternity leave, also known as parental leave, is a time to relax and prepare for your new baby, as well as care for your child after he or she arrives. The following tips may be useful in finding an agreement that works for you, your employer, and your new child.
Estimate How Much Leave You Will Need
One of the first things your employer will ask you is how much time you need to care for your child. Many companies provide 12 weeks, but some women may need up to six months. Parents.com suggests asking your boss for as much leave as possible. After all, it is better to have some extra rest and relaxation time than to feel unprepared to return to work. If you decide you do not need to utilize your full six months, it is easy to inform your employer that you are eager to return to work a bit earlier.
Know Your Rights
Unfortunately, there is no universal code when it comes to maternity leave. Regulations vary depending on company size and that state you are in. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 states that a company cannot fire a woman for being pregnant or force a woman to take maternity leave. It also guarantees that a woman’s job will still be there when she returns from maternity leave. Another relevant law is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which mandates that you are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave provided your company consists of over 50 individuals and you have worked there for over one year. More about the FMLA is available here.
Plan Your Finances
At most companies, maternity leave is unpaid—and four months is a long time to go without a source of income. Because only 16 percent of companies in the United States offer paid maternity leave, sort out your finances before going on maternity leave to account for costs of food, rent, diapers, toys, etc. Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island are four states with disability laws that include pregnancy and maternity leave. More information on maternity leave policies in your area is provided by the National Conference of State Legislators.
Tell Your Employer As Soon As Possible
The FMLA requires an employer to be notified of maternity leave at least 30 days in advance, but it is courteous to let your employer know as soon as you can. Many women choose to do so after the first trimester. Doing so will enable you to leave on a positive note with your employer and give you both ample time to accommodate for your absence.
Consider Going Back to Work in Stages
Instead of staying at home one day and leaving for full time employment the next, consider going back part time a few days a week, then every day part time, until you go back full time. That will allow you to make any adjustments in child care and likely be better for you, too.
Telecommuting May Be an Option During a Transition Back to Work
Many employers will accommodate a new parent with telecommuting options. See What is Telecommuting? for some ideas.
Notify Your Employer If You Won’t Return to Work
Even with the best of intentions, some women find going back to work after having a baby undesirable or even impossible. If so, give your employer notice as soon as you make that decision. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it can also help you if you need a reference later.