10 Steps to Planning Your Maternity Leave

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When you have a career you love, one of the biggest stressors you might encounter as you prepare for your baby's arrival is planning your maternity leave. In addition to the stresses of pregnancy and planning for the new baby, you also have to think about how you are going to handle being gone from the office, who you will ask to take on your responsibilities, and how you will transition back once your leave is up.

How Maternity Leave Is Defined

Typically, maternity leave refers to the period of time that a new mom takes off from work following the birth of her baby. Maternity leave is usually created from a variety of company benefits that include sick leave, vacation days, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability, and unpaid family leave time. It is important to look at your employee handbook or talk to human resources to find out how your company approaches maternity leave. 

Generally, most companies ask you to use your sick pay, vacation days, and holiday time toward your maternity leave. In fact, some companies will even require that you use these benefits first before using any short-term disability or unpaid time. 

Just be sure you know in advance what your company expects. If they have unrealistic restrictions, be sure you research your rights to ensure they are not discriminating against you.

Why You Should Develop a Plan

Although you want to ensure that things run smoothly at the office while you're gone, the primary reason to develop a maternity leave plan is so that you and your family do not experience any unexpected financial challenges, especially if part of your time off will be unpaid.

You also want to be sure your plan allows you to make the most of your time with your new baby. What's more, very few companies offer clear guidelines on how to manage maternity leave. As a result, you likely will have to decide how to prep your co-workers, outsource your work, stay in touch with the office, and transition back when your leave ends.

Just remember, planning your leave is an opportunity to demonstrate to everyone that you are still committed to your career and your job at the company.

When to Take Your Maternity Leave

When it comes to taking their maternity leave, some women prefer to pick a time off such as a week to a month before the baby is expected to arrive. Meanwhile, others wait until the last minute for maternity leave to start so that they can maximize the time spent with the baby at home. Just remember that the FMLA requires you to provide your employer with a 30-day notice before you intend to take your Family and Medical Leave. 

Steps to Planning Your Leave

As you start to prepare your maternity leave plan, you will want to be sure you understand all the factors involved, such as short-term disability, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. For instance, short-term disability is a type of coverage that pays your salary, or perhaps just a portion of it, for a certain number of weeks because of medically-related needs.

Know Your Rights

When you start planning your maternity leave, it is important to learn about your rights. For instance, if you have worked in the United States for more than a year, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, an adopted child, or a foster child. However, these laws apply to companies that have at least 50 employees. As a result, smaller companies may have very different expectations. 

Additionally, it is important to remember that laws pertaining to maternity leave vary by state. So as soon as you find out you are pregnant, you should be researching your state's laws as well as your company's guidelines for maternity leave. Even if there are no formal guidelines for your company, find out what other employees before you have done. Also, keep in mind you will need to negotiate the terms of your maternity leave whether you work at a large company or a small company. 

It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, especially since it is illegal to discriminate against pregnant women. This includes both hiring practices and addressing an existing employment situation. But even with these laws in place, they are still exploited. 

Start a Conversation with Your Boss

You need to let your boss know as soon as possible that you are pregnant. Keep in mind that as soon as the first person knows you are pregnant, you should assume that everyone knows. As a result, you do not want your boss to find out you are pregnant from someone other than you.

Also, make it immediately clear that you plan to come back to work. Emphasize that you are a committed employee and reassure him that you will develop a comprehensive maternity leave plan so that things continue to run smoothly even in your absence. This initial conversation should be the first of many that you have as you work out the details of your maternity leave plan.

Ask an Expert

Before you sit down to write your maternity leave plan, be sure to talk with someone in the office that has gone through the process before. She may be able to offer you some insight and suggestions of things that she learned along the way.

Additionally, you can ask how she was treated during her pregnancy and whether or not the transition back to work was the way she had hoped. The goal is to gather some inside information that will make it a little easier to draft your plan. 

Develop a Game Plan

The first step is to determine how much time you would like to take off and try to figure out if you can afford it. After all, some of your maternity leave might be unpaid. So you want to try to avoid any financial challenges or difficulties while you are out.

Other things to think about as you develop your plan is how accessible you plan to be once you're gone, how much you plan to work during your first few weeks back, and whether or not you want the option to telecommute for a while. 

The second step is to prepare a list of your core responsibilities. Then, divide them into tasks that can be assumed by others as well as others that are not so easy to delegate, such as client relationships and expertise-related functions. Then, start to think about who might be willing to take on these responsibilities while you are gone. If you do not have someone on staff that can handle the work, consider suggesting a temporary employee. 

Get Your Co-Workers on Board

After you have a rough idea of how you would like your maternity leave handled, it is important to get your co-workers on board with the fact that you will be leaving for a period of time. If you have people that report to you, have very candid conversations with them about how this is an opportunity for them to step up and take on more responsibility.

The key is not to just dump a bunch of work on your co-workers, but to get them to buy into the fact that they will have some new responsibilities and some new opportunities. Then, listen to what they have to say. Find out if they want more responsibility or less and then be flexible enough with your plan to try to accommodate them. Keep in mind that not everyone will be eager to take on additional responsibilities. Be open to changes if need be.

Communicate with Outside Clients

Once you have determined which of your co-workers will be handling your clients or outside contacts, reach out to these people as soon as possible. You want them to feel secure that they will still be taken care of even though you will be gone for a few weeks.

Schedule a time for them to meet with the person who will be working with them while you are gone. This way, you can introduce the two parties and slowly allow them to begin working together, even while you are still at the office. This way, you can iron out any kinks and ensure that your clients will be well taken care of. 

Plan Regular Communication with the Office

While it is perfectly acceptable for you to be unavailable for good portions of the work day once you are on leave, you need to have some contact with the office. Doing so provides them with a sense of comfort and security that if they have a question for you, they can get it answered. And if you feel comfortable with it, consider being in contact with the office once a week either through a very short telephone conversation or a regular email.

The key is to be sure your boss knows when and where he can expect to hear from you while you are gone. Remember that it can be extremely stressful to transition back to the office after being out for three to four months. As a result, consider spending 30 minutes to check in and debrief. It can be very beneficial for everyone involved. 

Avoid Overcommitting

Most first-time moms are surprised by how much is involved when it comes to taking care of a newborn baby. As a result, do not expect your maternity leave to feel like a vacation, because it won't.

The thing you want to avoid is making yourself too available to your boss or co-workers during your maternity leave. If you are really concerned about being out of touch, you could commit to responding to emails at least once a day the first few weeks after the baby is born. But try not to commit to more work until you know how parenting feels for you.

Remember that your priority right now is to get comfortable in your new mom role and bond with your little bundle of joy.

Set Boundaries

Make sure you are clear in your maternity leave plan how often employees can contact you. If you don't want to be out of the loop and are OK with a daily call or email, then say so. But if you would like to limit the contact unless initiated by you, then let them know that too.

You want to be sure you have established clear guidelines for contacting you. The worst thing that can happen is that you never hear from the office until your maternity leave is up.

Look Into Child Care

While it may seem like you have a lot of time to find quality child care, the process actually takes a lot longer than you might think—so start searching now. 

Read up on the person or the place and then make a surprise visit. You want to get a feel for what the place is really like and not just assume that it will be an acceptable location. Always trust your gut in these situations too. If you do not have a good feeling about the child care provider, move on to the next one. Your transition back to work will be extremely painful if you do not search out what opportunities are available to you. 

A Word From Verywell

No matter how exciting pregnancy is, preparing for your maternity leave can be stressful, especially if you are fully committed to your job as well. But with careful planning and solid communication, you can put together a maternity leave plan that meets your needs but also is thorough and well written enough that it makes sense to your boss and provides a clear plan for how things will be handled in your absence.

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