If you intend to stop working after your baby comes, give your employer plenty of time to find a replacement, and yourself enough time to finish up important projects. Tell them when you plan to quit and ask how they would like you to help make the transition a smooth one. You will act responsibly, but your stated intention to quit makes it clear that your pregnancy and family come first.
If you want to return to your job after the baby is born, use caution. You want to keep your options open for a satisfactory maternity leave and at the same time protect your position. While it is illegal to discriminate against someone who is pregnant, the corporate world is often confused by a worker becoming a mother. A promotion you are in line for may be jeopardized by the fact of your pregnancy. You may risk being given less challenging assignments because of your “condition.” You may be uncertain how your coworkers will take the news. Some may be sympathetic to your occasional memory lapses and your first trimester miseries. Others, you fear, will be worried about having to “cover” for you on days when you aren’t at your best.
The best time to tell is just after people begin to suspect you might be pregnant and before they are sure. Although you are excited about your news, most women recommend against revealing a pregnancy in the early months. Be careful not to wait too long to tell, either. You don’t want to give your employer any reason to think you are untrustworthy; any suggestion that you concealed your pregnancy for your own gain may make you look as though you are not a “team player.”
Don’t expect to function every day on your job at the same level as you did before you were pregnant. If you want to stay employed yet find your current position too strenuous, ask for a temporary transfer to a less demanding job. Better to be honest with your supervisor than be disgruntled and inefficient. If you don’t want to change jobs, ask if you could work part-time, do some of your work at home, or have flexible hours where you could work harder or longer on more comfortable days.
Interview yourself. If you truly know what you want, you are more likely to get it. Determine what you ideally want, what you can afford and what’s best for your pregnancy and your family. Can you grow a baby and do your job? Do you want to? Bear in mind that complications or situations during your pregnancy (or after delivery) may make some of these decisions for you. Unless your doctor or your baby determines otherwise, could you work through most of your pregnancy? Would you rather start maternity leave early? Continue your job on a part-time basis from home? After the baby is born, do you want to come back to your present job, or one that is more compatible with family life? Do you want full-time work or part-time?
Working while pregnant should not mean being torn between protecting your job and mothering your baby, you can do both. Whether you want to take off and return as soon as possible or work as long as possible and return as late as possible, you should be able to work out the best plan for you, your baby, and your family. That plan may be very specific or quite general. One mother we know was certain that she was more committed to her baby than her job, so she had nothing to lose. Not knowing how she’d feel about working, she asked her employer if they could negotiate after the baby came. In the meantime, she offered to keep up with projects from home on an hourly pay basis. After the baby was born, she worked a few hours a week from home, came in for meetings at four and six weeks (with the baby) and at eight weeks knew enough to negotiate a continuation of work from home for an hourly wage — that way she felt neither party would be short-changed. She worked 10 to 20 hours a week from home for the company for four years.
Know what your company’s maternity leave policies are (you should have been given a copy of them when you were hired) and what the laws allow. If you know and trust a coworker who previously negotiated a leave package with this company, ask what she did, what she got, and what she’d advise you to do. If you do not have a copy of the maternity leave policy, you can get one from the personnel director. (However, he or she may also inform your boss.) If the company does not already have a maternity leave policy and is small enough not to be legally required to have one, you may have to be a pioneer, negotiating the policy for the benefit of your future pregnant coworkers. If you can, check out the maternity leave policies of other companies before you talk to your supervisor.
When reviewing your company’s policy, be sure you understand:
- Whether maternity leave is paid, unpaid, or partially paid
- Whether you are eligible for disability insurance benefits, complete or partial.
- Whether the company has a medical disability insurance policy that pays a portion of your salary while on leave. Pregnancy is legally considered a medical disability. Find out which forms you have to complete, and where to send them. Follow up: has the appropriate office received, processed, and finalized your application? Be sure your doctor has signed and completed the appropriate forms stating when you are able to return to work.
- Whether the company’s policy guarantees you can return to your same job or one that is equivalent in pay and advancement possibilities.
- How much time off you are allowed.
- Whether you may use your present benefit days (sick leave, personal leave, vacation time) to extend your paid maternity leave.
- What the company’s provisions are for extended maternity leave — paid, unpaid, partially paid, working from home?
- What the possibilities are of continuing your present job during and after your pregnancy by working part-time at home and being tied into the office by phone, fax, or computer.
- What options are available should medical complications or maternal desires necessitate a change in plans.
- Whether your health plan is still in effect while you are on extended leave, and whether it is partial or full coverage. How long will they keep you on the medical insurance policy at full or partial benefits? Do you share the cost?
After selecting the time and person to tell (and preferably when that person is having a good day), present your case. How to tell depends upon your pregnancy, your job, your wishes, and the reception you imagine you will get from your supervisor and coworkers. As in any negotiations, consider where the other person is coming from. Your supervisor wants to know when you are leaving, when you are coming back, and how best to fill in the gap while you’re gone. Be ready with those answers. Realistically, your supervisor is more concerned about the company’s operations than your personal needs. Your employer must consider the possibility that you may later decide not to return to work (although studies show that attractive maternity leave policies and a family-friendly workplace make it more likely that women will return).
Only you can guess how much maternity leave time you need; only your company can guess how much time they can afford to be without you. Remember, your bargaining power depends not only on how you present your case, but also on your value to the company. If you have a unique skill required for a special job, you have more clout than if there are many others within the company who can do your job just as well. Be realistic about your needs, your negotiating power, and the needs of the company, but remember, too, that companies want to be seen as family-friendly in their maternity leave policies.