Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and I do not work at the Department of Labor. This is an informational article and should not be used as a substitute for real research! Visit your state’s department of labor website for more information.
The pregnancy test reads positive and we all, or at least most, jump for joy with excitement and anticipation of the journey we are about to embark upon until we are reminded of... Maternity Leave.
The appropriate time to share your pregnancy with your employer varies depending on your situation and your personal preference. I had been working at a small office for about four years and considered my coworkers to be friends, so I shared the news right away. However, when the time came to negotiate my maternity leave, you better believe I played hard ball!
I hate to admit this, but women tend to be subservient in some ways at the workplace. We work hard and sometimes are not compensated as we should. I have been reading Suze Orman’s Women and Money (a must read by the way!) and in one of the first chapters she talks about how women are always hesitant to ask for the raise that they deserve and normally take less without complaining. So, it does not come as a surprise to me that women have a hard time negotiating their maternity leave.
The most important step you must take before negotiating is: Research.
Laws vary from state to state. Some require paid leave other don’t, but they all have one thing in common: You are entitled to three months of maternity leave. Your employer is required to secure your employment at the same pay rate when you return. (Visit your state’s Department of Labor website for more information.)
If you work for a large company, they probably have a maternity leave policy. Find out what it is. Talk to other women in your office who have had a baby while working (even if they gave birth while working at another office). I was the first person in my office to go on maternity leave, so there was no one I could ask and my company did not have a maternity leave policy. Luckily, a client contact of mine had recently returned from maternity leave and she was willing to give me all the details of what she had worked out.
Make a plan. Figure out what you want/need before you meet with someone to discuss your maternity leave, but be realistic about your expectations and what you are offering. Don’t go in there and tell them that you will be working from home a few hours a day when your baby is asleep in hopes that they will offer you paid maternity leave. Once you are settled in your new routine, if you feel like you can do it, your employer will most likely be pleasantly surprised to receive a call from you offering to work from home. However, if you offer it before hand and cannot fulfill your promise, that is going to make you look very bad and create some unnecessary tension for you when you return to work.