Tips and Tricks for navigating maternity leave with your employer

How to navigate maternity leave with your employer

You find out you are expecting (WHOO-RAH!) but can’t quite figure out how and when to have that conversation with your employer (insert stress sweat).

With all the other things floating in your mind (What crib is the safest? How many swaddles do I need? When should I transition to maternity pants? Answer: ASAP) you shouldn’t have to stress about planning your maternity leave with your employer. 

They are so many rules and regulations that for me it felt overwhelming. Where do I start? Luckily, I had the resource of a great friend who is a skilled HR director, Catie Cristallo. Catie has worked with countless women to seamlessly transition them to home and back after their maternity leave has ended. 

I sat down with Catie to get the inside scoop on what women can expect and how to set themselves up for success. She shares some tips and tricks for mamas-to-be because after all you should be focused on YOU and baby.

Shannon: What should you prepare ahead of time?

Catie: The only thing I ask women ahead of time is their due date. In understanding when you are due, I can put together a general timeline with the leave you are eligible for and ensure you have everything you need before going out on leave. 

Shannon: What are the best questions to ask your employer?

Catie: First, I’d recommend starting with the simple question of “what leave am I entitled to”. You will first want to find out from your employer what type of leave you are eligible for so that you can make an informed decision on how long and what type of leave you would like to take.  Many companies offer different forms of maternity leave, so hearing directly from your employer what they offer is important.  Depending on the size of your employer, you may be entitled to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may have a state leave that you could apply for and you could have company offered benefits.  

Next, I’d recommend asking about the leave application process and what that looks like at your company. There is almost always going to be some type of required paperwork that you and your physician will need to complete to apply for a leave. Your HR representative or company’s leave administrator should be able to walk you through the required paperwork and how to complete the application process.

Ask about how your pay is affected while you are on leave. You will want to have an idea of how much paid and/or unpaid leave you are entitled to so that you can plan a leave that is best for your financial situation.

Ask your employer if they have some type of leave tracker that they could share with you. I like to provide my employees with a simple excel spreadsheet that estimates their time out, what leaves they are eligible for, and how their pay will be affected. Leaves are complicated and having a tool to help understand it can make things easier. 

Another important question to ask is surrounding the process of enrolling your child in health insurance benefits. If you are on your significant other’s health insurance, you will want to make sure they ask their employer what they need to do to get your new baby health insurance coverage. Many health insurance plans have strict enrollment guidelines, and it is heartbreaking to tell a new mother or father that they missed the enrollment window for their new baby and therefore don’t have medical coverage for the baby.

Shannon: When should you meet with your employer after sharing you are pregnant?

Catie: I would recommend meeting with your HR team and manager as soon as you are comfortable, but no later than 30 days before you are due. Your HR team should provide you with leave paperwork and talk you through the process of applying for leave. You will want to give yourself plenty of time to review required paperwork with your physician and ensure it gets turned back into your company’s leave administrator.  It’s always good to plan ahead, in the event of an early delivery.  I’ve unfortunately seen many times where women wait until the last minute and then instead of focusing on recovering and their new baby, they are trying to coordinate submitting paperwork to their physician and HR team.

You’ll also want to give your manager as much notice as possible, so that they can plan for coverage while you are out. You don’t want to worry about if your work is getting done while you are on leave, and developing a coverage plan with your manager can help ease concerns both for yourself and your team while you are out.

Shannon: What are common confusions women have about maternity leave?

Catie: You should not be working when you are on maternity leave, and your employer should not be asking you to work if you are on protected leave. It could be tempting to check your phone for emails, but please don’t. We want you to recover and enjoy your time off, and you are entitled to do that. 

You aren’t required to tell your employer if you are returning to work after your leave. If you aren’t sure, use your maternity leave to make that decision, and let your employer know when you are ready.

Shannon: A lot of women feel pressure to return to work ASAP, should you take all of your leave?

Catie: That is completely up to you! However, if you aren’t sure how long you will need, I’d recommend planning for more than you are expecting to take. You can always return to work early, and it’s often easier to return to work early rather than trying to coordinate extending your leave longer. 

If you are returning to work after your leave, I’d recommend returning 2-3 days prior to your weekend, if possible. It can be challenging to return to work, and starting off with a two-day workweek is a lot easier than a five-day workweek.

You got this mama!



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