Personal Finance

Your Guide to Planning for Maternity Leave

baby-bump-heartsA new addition to your family brings with it a multitude of emotions and new responsibilities. You’re now in charge of another human life. That can be both amazing and overwhelming at the same time. If you’ve just found out the good news, you’ve undoubtedly been flooded with a range of emotions from excitement to fear to anxiety to joy. Your mind is racing and you’re so ecstatic you want to do everything you need to prepare all at the same time. First things first, take a deep breath and relax…and congratulations!

Now sit down and write out a list of all the stuff to do as you prepare for the arrival of your new baby. There’s no shortage of tasks that will demand your attention in the lead up to the big day. From all the gear and furniture you’ll need to buy to getting your home ready for a new child, you have a lot on your plate.

Of course that’s not all, either. You may be one of the millions of women in today’s workforce who will need to take some form of maternity leave to give birth to your baby. Preparing for that time off can be a logistical and emotional nightmare. Not to mention the potential financial implications that are often part and parcel with being away from work for any extended period of time.

There is a lot of ground to cover no matter what type of job you have — whether you work at a small firm or a major Fortune 500 company there are still some hard and fast guidelines in which you will want to adhere so that your transition goes as smoothly as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re planning on leaving your job for good or if you’re coming back once the baby is born, you’re still going to want to follow the steps in this guide when planning for your maternity leave.

Proper planning to take your leave is about more than just telling your boss you’re pregnant (although it is certainly an important step). You need to know your rights under the law, corporate policy and protocol for taking an extended absence for a pregnancy, and figuring out who will be doing your job while you’re away.

This all sounds like it can get very stressful and for some women it may well be a tougher challenge than for others depending on where you work. However, the sooner you get started on figuring out all of the crucial components that are part of the maternity leave process the happier and more relaxed you’ll be. That way you can focus solely on your new baby and getting everything else ready for his or her arrival. Oh, and sleep. You’ll want to get as much of that as you can now because you won’t be getting any once your child enters the world.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Before you do anything, review and understand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which outlines all of the rights that you are provided by federal law as a working mother. The FMLA establishes a standard of requirements by which your employer must abide if you wish to take a leave of absence to give your birth to your child.

These provisions are in place to help protect you from pregnancy discrimination and ensure you aren’t dismissed from your position simply because you’ve taken leave for an extended period of time. Under the rules, your job and your insurance cannot be discontinued and both will be here for the duration of time you are absent. Your employer is mandated to provide you with your current job upon your return or offer you a similar position with the same salary and benefits.

FMLA Provisions

The Family and Medical Leave Act mandates that employees receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave over the course of one year for any of these reasons: to give birth and care for a newborn, to care for a foster or newly adopted child, to care for a seriously ill or infirm member of the family such as a parent, spouse, or child, or if you have a serious medical issue that prevents you from coming to work.

FMLA Leave Eligibility

Any person currently employed by a branch of government at the local, state, or federal level qualifies for FMLA leave. Companies with a minimum of 50 employees must also provide their workers with FMLA leave. In either case, there are stipulations that must be met by the employee. To qualify for FMLA leave you must meet the following three criteria: you have worked for your employer for a minimum of one year, put in a minimum of 1,250 hours of work during the past year, and work in a location that employs the minimum 50 workers within a 75 mile radius.

Employees may elect to take the entire 12 weeks consecutively or take it intermittently to fit in with your schedule. Any employee who wishes to break up their time may do so for one of the reasons listed above for eligibility. Intermittent FMLA leave can be used if you wish to space out your leave of absence or return to work instead of declaring one single date. You may also substitute any paid sick leave or vacation time that you have accrued for FMLA leave so that you are getting the compensation you would have received during that time.

Members of the military are afforded additional time under FMLA laws. All service members and immediate family can qualify for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave from duty in all branches of the military and the National Guard or Reserves.

Additional Rights and Laws

Another thing to keep in mind before you prepare to temporarily depart from your job for up to three months or longer is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This legislation makes it illegal for your employer to discriminate against you in any way due to your pregnancy.

An employer may not fire you from your job, may not treat you any differently, refuse to take you back, or even force you to take or not take your maternity leave. Under the law, you may also request that your workload be lighter or your duties changed during your pregnancy. Conversely, if you are able to continue performing your current duties as usual your employer may not take them from you while you are still working during your pregnancy.

The Act states that you may continue to fulfill your duties for as long as you wish and are able to complete your assigned tasks. Just as it states in the Family and Medical Leave Act, your position is guaranteed to be there for you when you return to work and that goes for your compensation, your insurance, any promotions you were given or promised prior to your leave, as well as your level of seniority in the company.

There are other state laws surrounding maternity leave that provide further protection in addition to the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Check your state laws to see which ones exist and qualify for under state legislation. Different states have different provisions that include paid leave through government programs and other benefits for workers who need to leave work to care for the well-being and even the education of a child.

Review Your Company Policy

Every company is different when it comes to maternity leave, so it’s critical that you know what your employer offers and allows for as part of corporate policy. This information is typically outlined in the employee handbook under sections that discuss paid maternity leave, short-term disability insurance, applying sick days and vacation days as part of your absence, and so on. The amount of time you’re given may also depend on how you give birth and the recovery time required. The company may lump all your days off into the FMLA leave requirement so you get a maximum of 12 weeks leave in total.

Companies with good parental leave may choose to pay a portion or all of your salary during the time you are gone for maternity leave, but this may also come with restrictions and requirements in order to qualify. Once you know your legal rights and provisions and company policy for taking time off to have your baby you can begin to set a plan of action for taking your leave of absence.

mom-with-baby-sleepingSetting a Plan

You have a lot on your plate each day you go to work. Now you’re going to need to start delegating some of your duties to others and figure out what has to be completed before you depart. Start by listing all of the things that will need to be handled in your stead and begin to think about who you can hand off certain projects and responsibilities to while you’re out of the office. You may even want to think about hiring a temp to take over for you.

Your plan should also incorporate your exit schedule. Think about how much time you’re going to take off from work.  Do you want the full 12 allowed through the FMLA or would you want to return in a shorter period of time? Maybe just 6 or 7 weeks is sufficient enough to make you feel comfortable with your recovery time and your baby settling in at home.

You may also want to think about what you are able to accomplish by working from home. In today’s technologically advanced world, telecommuting is not only easier to do but more companies are embracing the modes of communication that make it easy to work remotely. As always, refer to your employee handbook and see what the company policies are regarding telecommuting and working remotely.

Time to Tell Your Boss

You’re super excited and ready to share the news with the world. One of the first people to inform is your boss, manager, or supervisor where you work. That is after you tell your parents and immediate family members first, of course.

Set a time to meet with him or her to discuss your maternity leave and the game-plan you’ve devised in terms of getting your work covered and who you’d like to delegate work to during your time away. Your boss will likely have his or her own ideas and opinions where all of that is concerned and the two of you can hash all of that out either in the first meeting or subsequent meetings in the lead up to your departure.

The most crucial topic you want to discuss is the status of your employment with the company. You must stress that you are planning on returning by a certain date and that this isn’t an indication that you want to resign from your position or in any other way quit the job. Reassure your boss that your job is important and you understand that all of your projects will need to be covered while you’re away. It’s important to take this tone whether you are planning on returning to work or considering leaving the workforce to care for your new child as it will provide you with the flexibility you might need should your plans change.  Being proactive in finding sufficient support while you’re away will show your boss that you are committed to your job even while you’re also extremely excited and enthusiastic about the child you’re about bring into the world.

You should also have some general dates in mind for your departure and return, so your boss can get an idea of how long you expect to be gone. That way you can both decide if you should hire a temp, which should also give you enough time to train the new hire before you leave.

Also discuss your plans for leaving and returning.  Will they be gradual or have you set a hard date to leave and a specific return? The earlier you have this conversation, the more time your boss and the department and people who will be stepping in to assist while you’re gone will have to prepare accordingly and effectively.

Thinking of Quitting

Some new mothers come to this point in their lives and find themselves at a crossroads. You may have always wondered what it would be like to exit the workforce entirely and become a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). Perhaps you and your significant other have even discussed the possibility.

Are you financially stable enough to leave your job? Would leaving your job really be a good idea? There are a lot of questions to ask yourself and your spouse before you make a final decision.

Many women who are taking an extended leave such as this begin to think about the alternatives to their day job and some entertain the idea once again as they’ve been mulling it over for a while now. Motherhood represents a significant lifestyle change and it might be more attractive to commit yourself full time to that instead of your job.

Before you decide one way or another, give it some time. Figure out your finances and see what it’s like being at home all day, every day as you care for your child. You may find you’re not as prepared to leave it all behind as you might think or it’s sheer bliss and you’re happier being a full time mom. Find out which is more akin to your situation before you inform your boss it’s time to go. On the other hand, if you’ve charted this course and you’ve had your heart set on leaving your job when you have your baby, then you have to discuss your exit plan with your boss now.

Tell Your Department and Co-Workers

Now that you and your boss have hashed things out, at least initially, start to tell everyone else around you who may be expected to step in for you while you’re gone. Discuss the reality of your being out of the office for a few months and impress upon each of them that this is their time to reset their particular goals and be ready to assume a larger role in the company. They have an opportunity to step up and show what they can do when given extra responsibility with an eye on moving up in the firm.

Inform Vendors and Clients

After you have arranged for your projects and workload to be covered by other co-workers and you’ve discussed your departure and return dates with your boss internally, start to make contact with all outside personnel who need to be made aware of your absence. Depending upon the nature of your job you may need to arrange for clientele and any other pertinent parties to meet your replacements.  At least make an introduction between the two early enough that you can intervene should there be any issues in the transition from being in the office to being away.

This is one reason why some women choose to space out their maternity leave to help make their departure more gradual. They can still be part of the conversation between clients and new hires or co-workers who are working on their projects during the absence.

Stay in Contact

Workaholics in particular are going to have trouble just disconnecting from their job. You may have a lot on your mind already but that doesn’t mean you’re expected to just drop everything at work once you’re on leave. You wouldn’t be blamed for doing so as you have every right not to check in and be left alone during your maternity leave.

However, if you want to ensure that your accounts and projects are being handled to the level of your standard, feel free to stay in contact with your team from time to time. An email here or a phone call there can help to iron out any problems before they occur and work out any issues that are developing while you’re out of the office.

This will also help you readjust when you do return to work because being out of the loop for three months can take a long while to come back from. Staying in contact can keep you up to date on what’s going on at the office.

baby-nighttime-feeding-clockTime to Go Back to Work

Time flies when you’re having fun. Now that you’re nearing the end of your maternity leave there are still a number of things that need to be covered. First and foremost, you must find some kind of suitable child-care option. Whether it’s a daycare facility where you drop your child off or you have help coming into the house each day, you need to find that person and trust them.

Chances are you made this one of your top priorities and you found someone great weeks ago. Perhaps you have family in town, parents or siblings who have come to visit and are responsible enough to watch your child. Whomever it may be you want to be sure your routine is established and this person knows what is expected of them throughout the day.

Then start planning your own days for your return. You’ve been keeping in contact with the office on a semi-routine basis so you’re up to date on the agenda. Start scheduling your calls and meetings to begin the transition back to work, re-assuming your duties from those who were covering for you, and create a daily routine that will let you ease into the day to day hustle and bustle while still leaving you enough time to be there for your child.

Our Final Thoughts

Having a child is an exhilarating yet harrowing experience, especially when you have so many other commitments on your plate due to your job. However, as long as you plan far enough in advance to address all concerns and activities from every party inside and outside of your company, you can leave work more confident and relaxed.

Preparation will put you in a stronger and healthier mindset for having this baby and proper planning will also put in a better position to take the reins at work once again. That is, when you’re ready to come back. Don’t ever feel rushed, either. Take as much time as you need to heal and bond with your child. Your job will be there when you get back. This is a special and unique moment in your life. Enjoy it.

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