It is a sad reality that the United States is one of two countries in the world (the other is Papa New Guinea) that does not guarantee paid maternity leave to new mothers. This is an astonishing fact considering that the US ranks second in the world for highest GDP, while Papa New Guinea ranks 139th.
A report by the Department of Labor showed that 1 in 4 new mothers were back at work within only 2 weeks of having a new baby. This is a pretty shocking statistic, especially when you look around the world at countries like Spain, Japan, and the Netherlands, where mothers (and fathers) can receive as many as 52 weeks (and sometimes more) of paid leave!
While the US still has a long way to go in supporting new parents to adjust to parenthood and bond with their new babies, it becomes imperative for birthing people to be aware of what provisions are present in your state or by your employer and put your best foot forward to ensure you get the most out of the benefits to which you are entitled. But don’t worry… with a couple of solid tips under your belt, you can position yourself to get every day of paid parental leave available to you.
Below are a few tips on how to negotiate your maternity leave like a boss:
1. Arm yourself with the facts: Unfortunately, many employers may not be straightforward about all that you are actually entitled to. It’s up to you to make sure you are well-informed about your employer’s maternity leave policies, in addition to what is offered through the state. While certain conditions may apply (like the amount of time you have been working prior to when your leave will begin), many states offer at least a few weeks of short-term disability to new mothers, which is a PAID benefit. NJ has some of the more progressive laws, and is one of only a handful of states that provides as much as 16 weeks of paid leave (and even a much as 20 or more, if you have a c-section). This consists of 4 weeks of short-term disability prior to your due date, 6 weeks of short-term disability after birth, and an additional 6 weeks of what is referred to as “bonding time” through the Family Medical Insurance Leave, which can be taken consecutively or intermittently within the first year postpartum. However, leave such as this must be negotiated carefully with your employer and it is not to be confused with FMLA, which is an unpaid federal level protection, but is the only kind of leave that guarantees job security.
Also, more and more, many companies are beginning to enter the 21st century and have started to offer maternity leave options to their employees. Be sure to check in with your HR department and read your employee handbook carefully so that you are fully aware of what is available to you; contact your HR representative with any questions you may have.
2. Make a plan: You are absolutely entitled to get as much time as is available to you… and to be honest, it still may not feel like enough. Even still, what can be top of mind to many employers are concerns about how your duties will be carried out while you are gone. The best way to position yourself to be advantageous in getting the most leave possible is to answer your employer’s questions before they even ask them.
What should you plan out and troubleshoot solutions to? Consider questions like these: How long will you be gone? Are you willing to work some days from home? Who will assume your day-to-day responsibilities in your absence? A co-worker? Or maybe a temp can be hired? What will you complete prior to leaving, and how far ahead of the game can you complete projects to position your employer well to move forward in your absence? Will you be available by phone or email to answer questions while you are gone?
Other things you should have written out in a clear plan of action:
Timeline of major projects during your maternity leave with deliverables, due dates, point people, and necessary resources and location of where to find files associated with these projects (make it easy for people and try to put everything on one flash drive or one physical location in your office or cubicle)
List of ongoing daily responsibilities and who will manage them in your absence
A list of projects, deliverables, and items that you will complete prior to your maternity leave… try to complete as many items as you can that will be due while you are gone… get ahead of the game!
3. Start Early: Give your employer as much time as possible. So even if you haven’t gone public with your pregnancy, let your direct supervisor know as soon as possible. Inform your supervisor you will be interested in looking into maternity leave, and schedule a meeting to go over expectations in planning for your absence. Be proactive, and above all, be positive! Don’t come to the table feeling ashamed for asking for the time. Carry an upbeat tone and assure your boss that your absence will not negatively impact the company. Make your plan (per Advice #2) as early as possible and review with your boss to make any necessary edits. Use your plan as a blueprint for what you will accomplish at work through the remainder of your pregnancy and what you will put in place to make your absence smooth and seamless.
4. Ask for the MAX! Let’s put it this way… “If you don’t ask, the answer is NO.” You WILL NOT get what you do not ask for. Ask for exactly what you want, with no shame or guilt. Why? Because you deserve it! Your baby deserves it and your family deserves it. Hold this intention in your heart, and ask for EVERYTHING you are entitled to. The plan you create to make sure your job is comfortable with your leave will create the doorway of possibility for you to be granted the maximum leave you are entitled to. And guess what? You can always scale back time if for whatever reason the full leave is not feasible. But stick to your guns and be confident. If your supervisor expresses concerns with the length of time you are requesting, ask them in a straightforward manner, “What needs to be done/ prepared/ completed to make this request possible?” And then do it!
With these above tips, new parents can take responsibility and control in advocating for themselves to make sure they have as much time as possible to heal from birth, bond with their new babies, and begin the often difficult transition into parenthood. While there are no guarantees about what your employer will ultimately agree to, putting your best foot forward is the best way to making it possible. Give it a shot with an open mind, and share with me on Facebook any other tips that may have been useful to you in negotiating your own leave!
Do you think paid parental leave should be a right for all? Need more resources on parental leave in the US? Check out these great links to learn more about parental leave and advocacy to make paid parental leave possible for every parent: