Reddit Thread Shows the Importance of Setting and Respecting Boundaries When Taking Parental Leave

A pregnant Redditor asked for advice on dealing with employers who interrupt family leave with work obligations. They got some great advice about how to set boundaries.

Pregnant woman explaining to co-worker
Photo: Getty

No matter how many times parents argue that family leave is not a vacation—it is a time of healing, bonding, and pure exhaustion—there will still be folks who dismiss its purpose. The most stressful interruptions can come from employers or colleagues who don't recognize that time away from the job to tend to a new baby is precious and incredibly demanding.

One expecting parent took to Reddit to ask others how to deal with employers who think it's OK to reach out and ask for tasks to be done while on leave, and Redditors had a lot to say.

"Three times already I've had coworkers say 'I hope to not have to contact yyiu while you're on leave.' I'm very pregnant at this point lol so I am probably overreacting. Is it alright to say you will not be answering anything work related on leave?" Reddit user u/Hy20202 asks. "My company doesn't even provide paid leave and I have to use sick time and unpaid time for my leave. I don't owe them a second of my time in my eyes. I do have a pretty important role and I handle a lot of details. But I've left them with everything they'll need. I'm just getting so annoyed already with the thought of being contacted."

When it comes to paid family leave, the United States lacks any federal-level mandate despite Democrat-led initiatives to pass at least something. For example, in 2021, President Biden proposed the American Families Plan, which included 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents, but that never made it through Congress. Although family leave is not mandated, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, entitles eligible employees to some time off benefits and is currently the only federal level law that comes close to a mandate.

Securing family leave (paid or not) largely comes down to what company you work for and what policies they have in place. That said, some states have legislated for family leave and depending on where you live, you may be able to benefit from the mandated paid time off.

But for anyone who secures family leave, there is stress and worry about what to do if the boss calls to ask for help.

"Is it alright to say you will not be answering anything work related on leave? Of COURSE it is okay to say that! You're on LEAVE. You aren't working," answered u/nubbz545.

That declaration was quickly followed up by u/Newmom3032 who wrote, "This. And actually block all of their phone numbers except for HR. HR would be the only ones needing to contact you."

Some wondered what the legal boundary is for an employer contacting someone on family leave. Reddit user u/MrsWard97 wrote, "I think legally they're only supposed to call you for updates on your condition or a return date. Anything else they're supposed to pay you for. I would say you can absolutely tell them you won't be answering, because otherwise I think it would be FMLA interference (same if they try to tell you that you have to take calls)."

According to the Spiggle Law Firm, employers are legally allowed to contact you. They note that if your family leave falls under the FMLA then your employer is within their right to contact you, but typically that is reserved for asking questions that can help them quickly clarify a work-related issue.

"But if you're being pestered constantly or asked to work while out on leave, that may violate the law—as long as you don't voluntarily comply with the demands," Spiggle Law Firm wrote.

So, while the law says there is some grey area around being summoned to answer a work call, for the most part, it is expected that if you are on family leave, you are not obligated to work. And creating boundaries around your precious little time off is probably a wise choice.

"Yes I've already had my team text me randomly 'so sorry to bother you but…' with questions that we went over and I left documentation for. Like, if I were dead, would y'all be using a ouija board or would u figure it out?" wrote Redditor u/Choice-Mousse-3536 "For these first few questions I've just taken like, two days to answer and then wrote 'sorry I was at the clinic, do you still need something?' But tbh I hate myself for this and next time I'm just gonna not answer."

A fellow Redditor added some practical advice on what to say when getting interrupted. User u/erosebro wrote, "An additional script to add to your repertoire if people reach out: 'Good question! That should be listed in the binder/instructions/document I left. Reach out to [NAME] if you need clarification!'"

It is widely accepted that when a person takes a family leave, that is a private time and should not be interrupted. Creating boundaries that ensure your ability to focus on your family is respectful and professional and warrants respect in return from your employer.

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