Ask the experts: Legal rights

By Published On: June 11th, 2012

Today’s expert is Lauren Wallenstein, owner of Milk Your Benefits. […]

Today’s expert is Lauren Wallenstein, owner of Milk Your Benefits. She’s a Human Resources consultant and mother who does private consultations by phone with expectant parents in California and works with companies that need guidance in leave of absence administration.

When it comes to preparing for maternity leave, it’s the legal stuff that can make the experience a somewhat dreaded and confusing time. Today, we’ve asked our expert your most pertinent questions about dealing with the red tape so you can finally sit back, relax and enjoy your time with baby.
When should a woman break the news to her employer that she’s expecting?
I advise my clients to notify their employer of their pregnancy as soon as they enter the second trimester, or whenever they begin noticeably showing. This enables the company to have adequate time to prepare for the absence and reassign work responsibilities. However, if pregnancy-related issues arise during the first trimester that render the employee unable to work, then I would advise that woman to notify her employer promptly so that any associated absences will be job-protected. Unfortunately we’re in a corporate climate where pregnancy discrimination, though illegal, can still rear its head in underhanded ways. So ultimately, deciding what is the optimum time to disclose your pregnancy also requires taking into account any impending promotions, bonuses, or the like. You wouldn’t want to jeopardize any financial or business advancement opportunity.
What questions should she have ready to ask her employer?
I would ask, in writing, what type of time off you will be eligible for, be it via a federal and/or state pregnancy-related leave of absence, and/or a separate company leave. I would also inquire about any state or company disability policies so that they can be used for income replacement during the maternity leave.
How much time off and how much money is a mom entitled to?
The total amount of time off a woman is entitled to during her maternity leave is governed by a few factors: the duration of her employment at the organization, the size of that organization, and the state in which the employee resides. Some states offer women both baby-bonding leaves of absence in addition to disability-related leaves for pregnancy and the postpartum period.Certain companies offer disability plans that can be utilized during maternity leave, and certain states offer disability coverage that employees pay into through regular paycheck deductions.Whether or not any given leave of absence or form of income replacement applies to a person is a very individual matter. The challenge is figuring out how to utilize each plan to maximize your time off and income while on leave.
After maternity leave starts, is there any follow-up work that needs to be done?
I always recommend my clients check in with their employer once a month during maternity leave to convey the notion that they’re still thinking about work and looking forward to returning to work. The perception that one has fallen off the face of the planet and may never return is not ideal!
What else should we keep in mind about maternity leave?
Pregnant women must keep in perspective that it is in their best interest to extend their maternity leave for as long as possible to take advantage of the critical bonding period between mother and child. This is when breastfeeding and sleep schedules can be established, among other things. Studies have also shown that women who stay on leave longer are less prone to postpartum depression. When women must return to work sooner than they are physically and emotionally ready, it takes a toll on themselves, their babies, their extended family, and the work force itself. Mothers who are better able to focus, and are therefore greater assets to their companies when they return.
Women often feel frustrated by their inability to understand the complexities of maternity leave. Most employers usually do the bare minimum with regard to explaining the federal, state and company policies governing maternity leaves, then give them a false understanding of when they need to return to work. It’s puzzling why companies feel it’s good business practice to pressure women to return to work before they’re ready. A woman who has been supported and taken as much time as possible would hold her company in high esteem and be more motivated to return to work.