Maternity Leave Basics

As soon as you see that second pink line on your pregnancy test, a thousand questions begin running through your mind. You’ll jump from excitement to fear to excitement and back to fear several times over. One of the biggest sources of anxiety that expectant moms face is maternity leave. Arm yourself with knowledge and conquer those fears.

Maternity leave varies from employer to employer and from state to state. Your status as a full time employee versus as a part time employee also affects your maternity leave. In addition to maternity leave, you may be able to use a portion of your vacation time and sick benefits as well. Because of all the variables, it pays to do a little research and find out what you are dealing with and how to maximize your time.

First, while you may be bursting with joy, you may want to keep your condition under wraps for a few months. This gives you time to review your employee handbook, research your options, and ask others what their experiences have been. Don’t let your boss be the last to know. The boss deserves to be the first to learn – directly from you – before obvious symptoms appear.

If your company offers maternity leave, find out how long and what percentage of pay is offered. You can talk to your human resources department for details. Not all companies offer paid maternity leave but take heart, state disability typically kicks in. Check with your state’s unemployment and disability department to find out about your short term disability options. Most states will pay you a percentage of your income based on your earnings. You, or your human resources department, will need to provide appropriate documentation of your wages. Be sure to ask if this benefit is taxed or not because you don’t want to be surprised with a tax bill at tax filing time.

Another option involves the Family Medical Leave Act where you can extend your leave to up to twelve weeks This option is an unpaid option but you have certain rights if you work in a company that qualifies.

Some states, California in particular, offers paid family leave. For example, California’s Paid Family Leave Law allows new moms-and dads-up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with their new baby. A California mother can take her six weeks of disability payments and then collect six weeks of California Paid Family Leave for a total of twelve weeks of maternity leave. In addition, the father qualifies. Pay attention though, while California disability is not taxable, the Paid Family Leave is This law replaces 55&of an eligible parent’s income.

Once you’ve determined what your options are, you’ll need to consider when to take the leave, how long to take, and work out a plan. Your budget will likely take a hit if you aren’t fully compensated. Do the math and see how much of a hit you’ll take and begin planning for that shortfall.

Other considerations involve your current workload and who’s going to cover for you while you’re gone. You may find yourself working longer hours during the time when you need to be taking it easy. Plan early for this and communicate with your boss. Listen to your body and find a colleague who can help you with the burden when you need it most.

Another consideration involves childcare. When you go back to work, you’re not going to be able to tote Junior along unless you’re one of the lucky ones Childcare isn’t cheap, especially for newborns. This is another time to sit down and do the math. It may not make sense to pay for childcare so that you can work at a low-paying job. What alternatives do you have? Do you have relatives nearby? Can you telecommute some days? Is your schedule adjustable? Can you work days while your husband works nights? These are all options to explore.

Find out if you can use vacation time and sick leave to extend your stay after you’ve exhausted all of your maternity leave.

Finally, when you do go back to work, you will need to deal with nursing if you are still breastfeeding the baby. Is there a private space where you can pump occasionally? Is there a place where you can safely store the pumped milk and the equipment?

Once you understand all that’s involved and have done your homework, you will be well-equipped for the decisions to come.

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