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 for 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 in common: You are entitled to 3 months of maternity leave. Your employer is required to secure your employment at the same pay rate. Visit your state’s Department of Labor website.
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 that 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 they 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 please 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.
You should come up with your ideal maternity leave situation. Then, review it through a ‘reality check’ lens and figure out which points you are willing to do without in order to get things that you really need. I wanted to stay home as long as I could so instead of taking 3 months of maternity leave, I asked my employer for 2 full months and 2 part-time months of maternity leave. He gladly accepted because I would at least be back in the office within 2 months.
Once you have a plan, make an appointment to discuss it with the appropriate individual at your place of employment. Do not leave it for the last minute! The outcome of putting off the conversation because you don’t want to negotiate has one loser: YOU! Give yourself some time to negotiate.
Last but definitely not least, no matter what agreement you reach, maternity leave is still leave! If your employer starts calling you everyday to get you to do things from home or come in 1 day a week, PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN! This is your time and it will be over before you know it. Kindly remind them that you just had a baby and that you are in no condition to do anything but take care of yourself and your child.
I have a friend who was getting paid maternity leave. By the 2nd week they had already asked her to com in to work for a day. By week 4 she received a call letting her know that ‘a month was enough’ and that they wanted her back at work. She refused and offered them to stop paying her while she was out. She made 2 enormous mistakes: 1- She went into the office on her 2nd week of maternity leave. She was pregnant for 9 months; they had enough time to prepare for her absence. She is not the owner or principal of the company; and 2- she willfully gave up her paid maternity leave! She should have refused to go back, period! If they wanted to stop paying her then they would have said something, but she put that offer on the table, so guess what happened? They stopped paying her.
So remember, do your research, make a plan and negotiate. But most importantly, STAND YOUR GROUND!
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