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December 1, 2010 | Volume 4 | Number 10
December 1, 2010
By Jessica McKenzie Peterson, MS
With all the clutter out there, it can be overwhelming for employees who are expecting a baby or adopting a child to find clear guidelines on taking leave from work. Information about parental/maternity leave can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be, especially during a time in employees’ lives when they’ll be busy. As Sue Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal columnist points out, “women today need a spreadsheet – or maybe an Ouija board – to keep track of their maternity leave rights.”
Below is a basic outline of what employees need to do to arrange parental leave, along with suggested resources for more in-depth information. Managers and Human Resource professionals can use this as a resource and pass it on to employees.
1. Do Your Research. Read up on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the differences between Federal and State Family and Medical Leave, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and how each applies to you.
The Department of Labor’s page on FMLA
2. Read Your Company Handbook. Dig up that employee manual you haven’t looked at since orientation and read up on your workplace’s policies regarding paid time off, parental leave, adoption assistance, short-term disability, use of vacation time/sick days and how these policies specifically apply to you based on your situation, how long you have worked there, etc. Start by talking with employees who have recently become parents or taken leave and then schedule a sit down with your Human Resources representative.
Womb to Bloom’s Maternity Leave Insider
3. Let the Paperwork Begin. As if the medical forms and insurance paperwork you’ll need to fill out isn’t enough, you’ll need to determine which forms you need to complete for your HR department. Make sure the turn-around time on your leave paperwork is clear since it often takes more than 10 days to coordinate these forms with your health care professional. Keep copies of all completed paperwork for your files.
4. Share Your News. When you’re ready to share your news, inform your supervisor and make sure s/he is the first in the office to know. Hearing news like this from the grapevine can be hard on bosses and is unprofessional. Be positive, don’t apologize and reassure your supervisor that your job is important to you and you will have a plan for how your work will get done during your leave.
Forbes Article: When to Tell the Boss that You Are Pregnant
5. Prepare a Written Leave Plan. Prepare a written plan for your leave and return. Include how much time you want to take off, approximate date when leave will start (e.g., baby’s expected due date), how accessible you prefer to be while out, how your work will be covered and what type of schedule you would like upon your return. Make sure you describe exactly how your work will get done without you there. Who will take over what? List out your projects and prioritize tasks. Review this plan with your supervisor and ask for his/her input. Keep updating this document as your leave date nears and make sure anyone who needs a copy knows where to find it.
WorkOptions’ Maternity Leave Plan Template
6. Arrange a Gradual Return to Work. Every situation is different, but try to give yourself as much time on leave as you need to heal and adjust before returning to work. Consider what leave your partner may have as well. Discuss flexible options for your return with your supervisor before you go on leave to help with a smoother transition back into your job. Point to examples from companies that offer parents flex options like temporary part-time work or telecommuting. Figure out what makes sense for your particular job and discuss how this will help you be more effective. Add your agreement to your written Leave Plan.
WorkOptions’ Max Maternity Leave Proposal Template & Negotiation Guide
7. Prep Your Team. Prepare your team and co-workers for your leave. Cross-train your employees – use your Leave Plan as a training guide. Create lists, show everyone where files are located and make sure they are comfortable filling in for you. Babies don’t always come when we plan, so be sure to train employees and/or your replacement, as well as put the finishing touches on your Leave Plan a few weeks earlier than when you expect to go on leave. Highlight and prioritize key tasks on your Leave Plan that you’ll need to do as soon as the baby arrives, like setting up your auto-email response, filing medical paperwork with HR – have this ready in case you have a baby in the middle of the night, 3 weeks early. This way you can either delegate those tasks or do them while on auto-pilot since you’ll be sleep deprived.
8. Plan to Follow-Up. Make sure you complete and/or follow-up on leave paperwork while you are out. Oftentimes you will be required to submit a timesheet, and/or send a check for your continued benefits like health care premiums, which usually come out of your paychecks. Make sure you coordinate all of this in advance with HR so you don’t experience a gap in benefits (medical, life insurance, etc.).
These tips will help you prepare for your leave and aide a smooth transition back to work. Ideally, you should start planning 7-8 months before your expected leave. Your pro-active planning will reduce your stress, and help reassure your boss and colleagues you are committed to your job and appreciate them filling in for you so you can take time to focus on what is really important, family.
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