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What to Do When Your Job Doesn't Offer Maternity Leave Pay

The unfortunate reality — which you may have already discovered if you're a mom — is that the United States lags far behind other prosperous countries when it comes to paid maternity leave. If you're pregnant for the first time and wondering how you're going to manage time off if your company does not offer paid leave, it can be a scary thing to contemplate. But there are a few ways that might help you to make ends meet and leave you time with your baby, too.

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The Family and Medical Leave Act

If your company has 50 or more employees, your maternity leave is covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, but this isn't paid leave — it's just the right to be home with your baby without worrying about whether your job and your same benefits will be waiting for you when you return. The FMLA also covers government or public employers and most schools. If you work for any of these entities, you're entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. You have to have worked for your employer for a year, accumulating at least 1,250 of paid hours. The FMLA applies to about 60 percent of the American workforce, reports the National Partnership for Women and Families. If you or your employer falls into the other 40 percent, you may have to get creative unless you live in one of the few states that have their own laws for maternity leave.

Policies Vary by State

Both California and New Jersey have laws in place that allow mothers some paid maternity leave, although not at full pay. "My state gives mothers 12 weeks in a 24-month period, compared to the FMLA leave of 12 weeks per 12 months," says Nora Giurici, the former managing partner of Homeside Hospice in Clark, New Jersey. Giurici's business was subject to both the FMLA regulations and state law. "New Jersey law provides for paid leave, which is better than what federal law offers, but only up to six weeks, not for the entire 12," Giurici says. California's law allows for up to six weeks at 55 percent of your weekly wage, and Connecticut provides for six to 16 weeks of unpaid time off, depending on how many workers your company employs. The rules vary a lot by state so don't assume that your employer is the final word on whether you're entitled to maternity leave pay. Check your government's website or touch base with someone in the field of employment law to find out what options you have.

Bank Available Days Off

If your employer offers paid sick time, personal time or a combination of both, start stockpiling the days as soon as you learn you're pregnant. You're entitled to this time, and there's no rule that says you can't string all the days together so you can spend more time with your baby. Check with your office manager or human resources department to determine what — if any — disability provisions your employer offers. Pregnancy counts as a disability, so you can take some paid time off before your baby arrives to get ready.

Ask for Accommodation

An often overlooked option is negotiating with your employer. Ask your boss if he'll consider paying you at least a little while you're out. Ask if you can work from home, part time or more flexible hours. Giurici says you might be surprised at the result. "It's to the benefit of any employer to try to work as a team with quality, existing employees," she says. "The return of a seasoned, experienced staff member is always a win-win over hiring a new employee to fill her shoes because you have the long training curve and the questionable success of a new worker." Some employers do give paid leave without being required to by law, typically for positions that require a college degree. You may not receive your full pay, but you'll have a bit of your pay to let you stay home a little while.

RELATED: Unpaid Maternity Leave: How to Make it Work

Make Some Extra Cash

If your job doesn't offer paid disability, sick or personal leave, the least palatable alternative might be to try saving up in advance. You might work a little overtime or take on a second job during the earliest months of your pregnancy — assuming you're not derailed by morning sickness and your pregnancy is healthy. You can knock off the extra hours when they become too much or maybe your baby's dad can pick up some overtime. Just take care to save the money for living expenses while you're out on unpaid maternity leave. Resist the temptation to buy those adorable onesies until you're working again.

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