Ask the experts: Returning to work

By Published On: June 25th, 2012

To wrap-up our maternity leave week, we’ve asked Pat Katepoo to offer her expert advice on returning to work after maternity leave. Pat is the founder of WorkOptions and Maternity Leave Mentor, where new mothers and others learn to negotiate flexible work and more time off. She’s letting you in on some good-to-know info about returning to work part-time under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Working momAfter you’re a new (working) mom, you’ll probably love the idea of returning to work on a part-time schedule so you can have more time with your baby. Even so, maybe your family finances don’t line up with working reduced hours over the long term.
But have you considered a temporary part-time arrangement? Did you know it’s possible and permissible under FMLA?
Here’s welcome news you won’t find on the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) poster at your workplace:
“Intermittent leave” and “reduced leave schedule” are little-known provisions of FMLA that may allow you to follow your maternity leave with a temporary part-time work arrangement.
Under FMLA, you may be able to take your initial six weeks of full-time-off maternity leave, then follow it with a temporary part-time schedule before you ramp back up to full-time hours. (Dads can do this, too.)
Your Custom Phase-Back-to-Work Plan
Even though you may qualify for 12 weeks of leave under FMLA, your household budget or employer pressure may compel your return to work after only six weeks of leave.
A better-paced maternity leave might be six full weeks off, then a transition period of working part-time hours, then back to full-time. This allows you to earn partial income even as you enjoy more time to bond with your baby.
Besides the emotional benefits, a transitional approach makes it easier to continue breastfeeding and to fine-tune your work-family balance strategies.
Here’s How It Works
Start by converting the 12 weeks of allowed FMLA leave into its equivalent hours: 480 hours of leave available (that is, 40 hours for each week). Then figure the number of remaining hours available for flexing into a temporary part-time schedule after your maternity leave is over.
Here’s an example:
After her six weeks (240 hours) of maternity leave, Jenna had 240 hours of FMLA leave remaining.
Knowing FMLA’s provisions, she negotiated to work three days per week during her first four weeks back to work. In other words, she took two days of leave per week for four weeks, using up 64 hours of her 240 remaining allowed leave hours.
Then Jenna worked four days per week and took one day of leave in each of the next 22 weeks (8 hours per week x 22 weeks = 176 more hours used).
With her 240 remaining hours used up, Jenna then resumed her full-time schedule. But only after she had 26 weeks of a part-time schedule. That’s half a year to spend more time with her baby while still bringing in steady income.
So while you may be unable to afford lengthy unpaid time off, by flexing your unused hours after maternity leave into a part-time schedule, you can enjoy more time with your baby as you resume earning part of your pay.
Remember, even if you qualify for 480 hours of family leave under FMLA, once any employer-paid leave is used up, the remainder of the allowed weeks (or hours) is generally unpaid, and you would not be eligible for unemployment compensation during this time.
How to Pull It Off
To use this provision of FMLA, you must first get your employer’s agreement if medical necessity is not a factor, as is often the case in the period after the six weeks of post-birth maternity (medical) leave.
Quoting from the U.S. Department of Labor:
When leave is taken after the birth of a healthy child or placement of a healthy child for adoption or foster care, an employee may take leave intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule only if the employer agrees.
How do you get your employer’s agreement? The time-proven way to get approval of flexible work is to present a written proposal to your immediate manager. It must address not only your part-time scheduling needs, but also your employer’s bottom-line interests.
A quick 3-question quiz will help you assess whether or not your boss will say a “yes” to your flexible work request.
Positioning and Presentation Help You Get Acceptance
When it’s time to present your proposal to work part-time, position the phase-back arrangement in a positive light; you are coming back earlier than what is legally allowed, (even if it’s less than full-time). That is news your manager will welcome if you present it that way.
Even if you’re not eligible for leave under FMLA, you may want to develop a proposal for a similar approach to your maternity leave and return.
As a new mom, you want more time with your baby, even if your job is waiting for you. When an ongoing part-time work arrangement isn’t practical, use these strategies to craft a custom arrangement to work reduced hours on a temporary basis.
For more return-to-work advice, visit the articles section of Maternity Leave Mentor.