Stay safe on the job
Your employer is required by law to provide a safe workplace, which means that in some cases, accommodations will have to be made due to your pregnancy. If your job involves exposure to chemicals, infection risk or intense physical demands, you can ask to be reassigned to a safer situation.
What if you’re not sure whether you’re in danger? For starters, ask your human resources department for a list of all potentially toxic substances to which you might be exposed (another legal requirement). Discuss it with your doctor or midwife and always wear safety gear and follow safety precautions to minimize your risk, says Greenfield. (For thorough data on workplace and environmental toxins in relation to pregnancy, visit Motherisk.org.)
Many working women, including nurses, restaurant employees, teachers and hair stylists, are on their feet a lot. That’s OK to a point—being active may help prevent excess weight gain, Greenfield says. But if you’re standing for long periods, wearing support hose will help prevent swelling. As your pregnancy progresses, wearing an elastic maternity support belt can help support your abdomen and redistribute weight to prevent back pain. And sit down every chance you can!
Planning and paying for maternity leave
While nearly all countries provide nationally mandated paid parental leave, the U.S. guarantees only unpaid leave to employees of companies with 50 or more workers under the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, you must have been with the same employer for at least one year and worked a minimum of 1,250 hours. Nearly 40 percent of the American work force is not eligible for the 12 weeks of job-protected leave.
The good news is that many companies—69 percent, according to one recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management—offer short-term disability coverage, which pays employees a portion of their salary when they are unable to work due to a medical condition, including pregnancy. Generally, pregnant women qualify for disability leave through six weeks postpartum after a vaginal birth or eight weeks after a Cesarean section. Keep in mind that any leave you use before delivery may diminish what you can take afterward, Greenfield advises.
Some states and companies offer maternity coverage that exceeds federal requirements. Your HR department is required to give you written policies regarding maternity leave—no questions asked. However, smaller companies may not have a formal policy or necessarily be up-to-date on state laws, says Greenfield. Regardless, do some legwork to ensure you’re aware of every possible benefit. Good resources include your state’s department of labor and the National Partnership for Women and Families’ website at nationalpartnership.org (click on “Library,” then “Family Medical Leave Act”).
Fortunately, partially paid parental leave is gaining momentum. California was the first to provide 55 percent of wages for six weeks to care for a newborn. Paid leave in New Jersey and Washington state is slated to begin in July, and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation.
Act Now for an Easier Return
Although much has been made of the trend toward well-educated women dropping out of the work force after having children, a recent analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that fewer than 8 percent of professional women born since 1956 leave the work force for a year or more during their prime childbearing years. To smooth your return to the job:
1. Plan for the maximum time off. If you end up returning earlier than planned, you’ll look like a hero.
2. Leave your desk well-organized. Your replacement should be able to access key documents easily, says Ann Douglas, author of 2002’s Mother of All Pregnancy Books. Also leave a memo describing the status of all your projects and a list of contacts for your substitute.
3. Don’t promise to work while you’re on leave. “Many women who are very career-driven are surprised to find out how tiring and all-consuming taking care of a newborn can be,” says Greenfield.
As your pregnancy progresses it may help you to know that while women now are working longer into their pregnancies, employed women are actually less likely to have a pregnancy complication than their nonworking counterparts. Just remember to put yourself—and, by extension, your baby—first.
Flexibility is in
More companies are adding parental perks, such as flexible start and end times, telecommuting and compressed work weeks, according to a recent national survey. Here are three ways to make the trend work for you:
1. Discuss easing back in and/or aiming for a regular flexible schedule. Your boss may fear you won’t return at all, so she may be more receptive than you think to the idea. “If you’ve been a high-performing employee, your bargaining position is strong,” says Sally Thornton, a former human resources director and president of Flexperience Consulting in San Francisco. “But don’t say, ‘I can only work three days a week.’ Instead, focus on how a more flexible schedule will help you and the company meet specific results and potentially save costs.”
2. Consider taking your baby to work. Yes, it really happens, and people really get work done, according to the Parenting in the Work place Institute. More than 100 organizations allow babies in the workplace; visit babiesatwork.org to learn how to manage it successfully at your company.
3. Check out part-time and freelance opportunities. Several companies that match professionals with temporary, part-time and project-based job (as well as full-time) positions have sprung up in recent years. MomCorps.com, On-Ramps.com, FlexibleResources.com and FlexibleExecutives.com are just a few. Industry specific sites, such as FlexTimeLawyers.com, Aquent (for marketing executives and designers) and HRoptin.com, are another option.