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Before your baby is even born, it is very likely that you will need to make a decision about when, or if, you will be returning to work. Lots of moms return to work full time, but others opt for a part-time schedule, some work from home, and some forgo work altogether and become stay-at-home moms.
But how do you know what you want to do with your job when you don’t even have a baby yet? And what if you change your mind once the baby is born? Don’t feel as though you need to rush your decision – you have your entire pregnancy to consider all the options.
Do Your Homework
Read your human resources materials to determine if you qualify for the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for a baby. The criteria for whether your company is covered and what your entitlements would be are available at www.dol.gov/esa. In addition, 11 states have adopted similar statutes to the FMLA, and the federal Web site gives a comparative analysis of state-specific versus federal provisions. Many times, state and federal statutes can be applied concurrently, or you can follow the one that serves you best.
“If you are with a small company or organization that is not covered by the leave act, look for medical or personal leave,” says Beth Brascugli Hirsch, SPHR, a human resources compliance expert. See how many vacation days you have left for the year and whether you are eligible for any short-term disability leave before the birth. All told, you may be entitled to more time away from the office than you think.
Once you decide how much time you’ll have off, start thinking about coming back. Find a co-worker who’s a mom, and ask her about her experience returning to work at your company. When you’re ready, approach your human resources department with a realistic plan that you have discussed at length with your partner. Many women choose to “go public” during their fourth or fifth month, once they start showing.
“Maintaining confidentiality with your human resources department at first is a prudent strategy,” says Hirsch. “This way, if you end up with an adverse supervisor, your HR person knows and can help you through the process.” Speak confidently and be firm but flexible. Hopefully, they’ll treat you the same way.
A Full-time Comeback
The FMLA generally requires that employees be restored to the same position they held before their leave or an equivalent one. But even if your job is the same, your life will be dramatically different. If you can, give yourself time to readjust. “Try to structure your return so that you have some flexibility during the first year,” says Joan K. Peters, author of When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Our Selves. “The more realistic you are with your boss, the more serious she’ll be about your intent to rejoin the workforce.”
“My company allows me to work from home on days when I can’t make it to the office and also offers discounts for nearby day care,” says Leanne Humphries*, 29, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, who returned to her full-time job at a textbook publishing firm after her maternity leave. “It makes financial sense for me to keep my salary, health benefits and 401(k).”