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Protecting Your Job

Wondering how much time off you can take without putting your career in jeopardy? Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, the government mandates that you're entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave every 12 months for specific family and medical reasons. If you're planning to cover your maternity leave through FMLA, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The FMLA requires you to give written notice of your intention to take a leave at least 30 days in advance. Do this anyway, out of common courtesy, even if this Department of Labor act doesn't apply to your employer.
  • Your employer has the right to request occasional status reports while you're on leave under the FMLA. talk to your supervisor and the people covering your job about how often these will be expected. E-mail is usually the easiest way to stay in touch with people at work, but your supervisor might ask for more formal written communications as well. Avoid doing anything by phone; if you do file or receive communications from your office by phone, make notes in a log.
  • The FMLA allows you to take your leave in different segments. For instance, you might want a month off to recover from childbirth. Then you might return to work for a couple of weeks to catch up on pressing items and take the rest of your leave after that. Be aware that federal law dictates that you must use all of your leave within a year of your baby's birth. Work out your staggered leave with your employer ahead of time. Your employer is also allowed to move you into a job where being absent won't make as much of an impact.
  • The FMLA stipulates that if you choose to take more than 12 weeks of leave, your employer is under no obligation to give you your job back or to continue your health insurance benefits. Some employers may offer you more leave than this out of their individual company policies or sheer goodwill. However, get this agreement in writing to protect your job.

If your company doesn't fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which grants all parents (that includes dads) 12 weeks of leave after giving birth, you most likely still qualify for an unpaid or partially paid "maternity disability" or medical leave, usually lasting 6 weeks after a vaginal birth and 8 weeks after a cesarean. If your employer isn't bound by any leave laws, check out the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. This act states that if your company has more than 15 employees and has held a person's job for some other type of medical disability-such as a heart attack-it must reinstate you after medical disability due to pregnancy.

The phrase "maternity leave" is bandied about so freely that working women naturally assume they're entitled to one. The truth is that most companies don't pay for your maternity leave. Many women aren't even eligible for leave under family leave laws, either because they haven't been working long enough or because their company has fewer than the requisite 50 employees. Even if your company does grant family leave, you may not be in a position to take it if it's unpaid, or you may want to finance a longer maternity leave. Either way, it's worth exploring all of your options.

Explore your options for disability insurance too. Several states have state-run temporary disability plans that cover the weeks you're medically unable to work. These plans usually compensate for about 60 percent of your pay during the first 6-8 weeks postpartum that you're medically unable to work.

Beyond these federal- and state-mandated leave laws, you can use accrued vacation, sick days, or personal days to help finance your time off. You might also ask if you can borrow paid leave against future time off. Adjust your tax withholding at work now to reflect your extra dependent if the baby will be born in the current tax year. That way you'll benefit from the deduction now.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.