"Ideally, the minute you find out you're pregnant, you should do some reconnaissance on your company's maternity leave policy, if you haven't already," advises Margaret Magnarelli, assistant managing editor at Money magazine and author of the textbook Per$onal Finance. "The info is usually in the company handbook, so you need not alert your boss before you're ready to make your big reveal! You want to find out how much time you are entitled to take off with job protection (it may well be more than the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act mandates), how much of the time will be paid (say, 8 weeks), and at what percentage it will be paid (say, 60% of your salary). You also want to know if you can apply your vacation days. It might be good to use these sparingly in the year you'll give birth so that you can hoard them for your leave!"
Once you know what you're allotted and what--if more--you want to ask for, talk to your boss first since she will be the best person to negotiate with, as it's she who knows how valuable you are to the company first hand as opposed to the HR Department, which will tend to treat each employee the same.
Once you and your boss have come to an agreement, see your company's HR Department to make sure you fill out any necessary forms for your maternity leave. Depending on your company's policy, this could be just a few documents or a whole stack of forms. It's important to have everything in writing so you know what you'll be compensated for and what you won't. This will allow you to be as work stress-free as possible during what should be a wonderful time. Getting the paperwork out of the way long before your due date will be a load off your mind!
You'll want to make sure that all of your job tasks are handled in your absence. Whether coworkers each take on a few parts of your job or a temp will be needed to be brought in, a clear plan of who will tackle what is a good thing to have in mind when you first talk to your boss about needing maternity leave. That way, the boss won't feel a sense of panic when you say you're going to be on maternity leave for months. Instead, he or she will be able to relax, knowing that you have it all under control.
Once you have a clear picture of who will be doing what, give them each a detailed description of what you did in the role they'll be taking over, including as many troubleshooting tips as possible, so you won't get unwanted work calls during your precious time off.
Maternity leave discussions should also include how you'll reenter the workforce; because upon your return, you're likely not going to be in tiptop shape for the first few weeks. The truth is, you're going to be absolutely exhausted and probably very sleep-deprived. So if your company is willing to, you should negotiate flex hours or days you can work from home each week while you adjust. You'd be surprised at how flexible many employers are with a new mom's transition back to work. But if you don't ask, you won't know!
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