Magazine article Working Mother

ULTIMATE GUIDE TO Maternity Leave

Magazine article Working Mother

ULTIMATE GUIDE TO Maternity Leave

Article excerpt

PREGNANCY IS FILLED WITH THRILLS, from hearing the tiny staccato of your baby's heartbeat to feeling that first kick. For working moms-to-be, there is the added anticipation of maternity leave-the wonderful hiatus from your job that gives you and your new baby time to bond.

Today, there are more time-off options than ever for working women, especially since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993. But there's also a lot of variability, depending on where you live and the size of your company. We've gathered the best advice and smartest strategies from top experts and working moms to help you negotiate a great maternity package and make the most of your time with your baby.

When's the best time to talk to my boss about my maternity leave?

Since unpredictability is part of any pregnancy, most experts recommend waiting until after the first trimester to let the world-and your employer-know that you are pregnant. Then, with your company's leave policy in mind, devise a personal plan that notes approximate leave and return dates. "Don't make grandiose promises like Tm coming back in six weeks, full-time,'" advises Nancy Collamer, founder of www.jobsandmoms.com and a career consultant in Old Greenwich, CT. "You may get a baby who doesn't sleep at all, which means you'll be exhausted and unable to work." Instead, come up with a realistic plan-adding a couple of extra weeks off, then coming back part-time, for example.

Your plan should also include a list of job responsibilities-such as maintaining client contact, updating account information and answering mail-that will be affected by your leave. Indicate which projects you will complete before you leave and then outline how remaining duties can be covered during your absence. Providing this kind of detail is especially important if you are trying to get more time than your company usually offers or if there is no set policy in place. It shows your boss that you have anticipated her needs by addressing questions she may have and also says that you are serious about coming back.

This strategy paid off for Rebecca Jami, a production manager in Alexandria, VA, who had to craft her own maternity policy because she was the first in her 46-person office to have a baby. She used a template downloaded for free from www.workoptions.com to help design a detail-filled pamphlet that she presented to her management team. Besides offering ideas about work coverage, Jami provided examples from the Work Options site to illustrate how paid maternity leave can lead to gains in productivity and a company's success in retaining women. "I made it clear that my happiness with this arrangement would ensure my loyalty to the company," says Jami, who ended up with 12 weeks of paid leave and returned to a schedule that lets her work half-time from home.

How much time can I take off?

It depends. It's best to consult your employer's benefits handbook or human resources department to see what's offered as soon as you find out you're pregnant, or even when you first start thinking about having a baby, so you can plan ahead. For example, if your leave will be largely unpaid, you may want to put off major purchases such as a house because your income will be reduced and you'll most likely be responsible for paying your portion of health insurance and other benefits while you're gone.

When your company pays For many women, the basic maternity leave package includes six weeks of paid disability (eight weeks for a cesarean delivery) provided either by the state or an employer's private insurance program. Not all states or employers provide short-term disability pay, and it's usually limited to a percentage of your salary. Some companies offer more paid leave than disability allows, but if yours doesn't, you may be able to buy more time by combining sick days, paid vacation time and personal days.

When leave is unpaid For women who would like to add even more time with their babies or who work at companies that don't offer leave with pay, absence without pay may be an option. …

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