The United States ranks as one of only a few countries in the world without some sort of paid maternity leave program for new mothers. As Angie Mohr reports in a May 2012 article in "The Globe and Mail," the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was the first federal law mandating maternity leave, and it still has gaps, such as exemptions for small employers. Even when you're covered under FMLA, involving your boss is a smart move toward resuming your career after childbirth.
The best way to secure your job after maternity leave may be at the front end, before pregnancy is even a thought. While most Americans are entitled by law to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, many companies use maternity leave policies as hiring perks to attract top candidates, says Ronda Kaysen, writing in "Forbes" in 2013. She points to Yahoo's 16-week paid leave for moms, matched by Facebook, and 20 weeks offered by Google. The tech giants made the move to preserve the talent and experience of workers having babies, who were more likely to quit before the introduction of progressive leave programs, Kaysen says. If starting or expanding a family is even remotely on your radar, ask about company policies at hiring.
Preparing for Rehire
"A successful return to work really does start with the beginning of your pregnancy, but don't jump the gun with announcing it at work," says Cheryl Montgomery, assistant human resources manager in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Pregnancy and childbirth [are] just not a complete year of down-time, so you want to know how you can minimize the impact to your company while maximizing care of your baby. Your first trimester is a good time to research what benefits are available through your company. Disability leave, sick leave, vacation time and unpaid leave may be available for use with maternity, and company policies on part-time work, telecommuting and flex time are good to know. Look at what other moms in the company have experienced."
Negotiating Your Leave
When the time comes to make the announcement, Montgomery suggests talking to your supervisor first. "Your baby is exciting news, but get your professional issues under control first," she says. "Your boss will be affected, so it's important to take that into account. Your flexibility about when and how you can return to work may affect how sympathetic your manager will be. Use the research you did to suggest ideas and listen to his, but consider everything thoroughly before agreeing to any arrangement." You and your manager may be able to create a hybrid solution, says Montgomery, such as a mix of complete leave, telecommuting and gradual return to work, for example.
The FMLA provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period, but there are qualifications in the number of months and hours you must work before maternity leave, says Jada Graves, writing in "U.S. News and World Report" in 2013. Companies with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from the provisions of the FMLA, and many states have different provisions. If you and your company qualify, your job is secure. When you don't qualify for leave, you may have to re-apply with your former employer for rehire after your leave. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or health issues arising from it, so an employer could not, for example, use your previous maternity as reason for turning down your application. You must be treated consistently with company policy, the same as for any other temporarily disabled employee.
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