Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life that demands complete attention. Regardless of whether the pregnancy was intended or a surprise, everything up until the birth requires careful planning. For working mothers-to-be, that can mean preparation for an extended maternity leave to deliver and care for a newborn. Since this can be a daunting task during a stressful time, here are seven actionable tips to help expectant mothers professionally prepare for taking time off work when baby arrives.
1. Review Maternity Leave Rights & Laws
States have different rules when it comes to taking time off due to pregnancy. In general, an employer with fewer than 50 employees that is located within less than 75 miles from your home address is not obligated to offer you maternity leave. For individuals whose employers meet the criteria, the federal Family Medical Leave Act stipulates guaranteed of 12 weeks unpaid leave without threat to your job or loss of healthcare benefits. States such as Rhode Island, California and New Jersey offer additional benefits for maternity leave, but they are in the minority, so it is important that you research specific rules in your state.
2. Review your Company’s Maternity Leave Policy
Most employers have an employee benefits handbook or website, which would be where to begin your review. This allows for anonymity in case you are not ready to announce your pregnancy. Many women wait until after the first trimester. It is likely that the employee benefit handbook will not offer answers to all of your questions, but check other sections of the handbook, like healthcare plan benefits or short term disability, which may tie into pregnancy policies. Later, your human resources department will be able to fill in any blanks about the company policy, but be sure you are ready for others to know about your pregnancy before speaking with your HR rep. As they say, good news travels fast … especially at work.
3. Research Insurance Health Plans
Even if you already have insurance through your employer, some plans do not offer enough benefits to cover for all maternity medical expenses during your leave. In cases like this, individual health insurance plans can help fill in the gaps, offer supplemental insurance, or you might just find a better health insurance plan than the plan you are currently using.
4. Inform Management, Draft a Letter of Maternity Leave
Before you formally submit a letter, speak informally with your supervisor to let him or her know that you will be asking for leave. Generally, expectant mothers will do this during the second trimester before they begin to clearly show signs of pregnancy. This time frame is optimal as it will allow your employer enough time to make preparations for being without you and they likely will not have guessed your circumstances before being informed. If this were to occur, your supervisor may believe you’ve been intentionally secretive, and you do not want any unnecessary tension before you take leave. After informing him or her, create a document indicating the date of discussed with your supervisor, the time frame for which you plan to be absent, the reason for your leave and clearly indicate that you will be returning to work.
5. Announce Your Leave to Co-workers, Clients
After letting management know of your plans, you will want to inform your colleagues of your maternity leave as well as any clients you might deal with on a regular basis. This announcement must be timed carefully. You want to let them know with enough time to delegate responsibilities or projects, but you do not want to encourage them to pass off work onto you that they may be wanting to avoid. In other words, announce your plans publicly after careful consideration of how your co-workers and/or clients might react.
6. Discuss Flexibility of Work Hours
Though each employer is different, many have policies concerning flexible work hours. These policies are designed to accommodate employees with obligations like pediatric physician visits, parent-teacher conferences, school-related trips and children’s sporting events. It’s not too early to begin looking into the benefits you might use after you deliver, and if your employer will allow for a half day or for you to work from home one day a week, this would also serve as a nice means of easing back into your position after your maternity leave.
7. Dictate Clear Boundaries
Many women do not like the thought of completely disengaging from their jobs during their final trimester. There could be policy changes or a change of management on the horizon, so it is your decision whether or not to check in or to receive updates from your work. Formally request weekly or bi-weekly email updates in your maternity leave letter, if you so desire. If you want to be out of the loop, specify that you are only to be contacted in the case of an emergency. Set the boundaries that make you most comfortable.
When expecting, you have thousands of things to do and a fast-approaching deadline, but preparing for your maternity leave does not have to be stressful. Follow these steps, one by one, to easily prepare to leave your work life temporarily and enter a life of motherhood.