The Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993. If you or your husband have worked for your present employer for at least 1 year, the law allows a new parent (man or woman) to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for the birth of a baby. To be eligible, you must work at your job for at least 1250 hours a year (about 60% of a normal 40-hour work week). In addition, if both parents work for the same employer, only a total of 12 weeks off between them is allowed. This act applies only to companies that employ 50 or more people within a 75-mile radius. States may allow an employer to deny job restoration to employees in the top 10% compensation bracket. In addition, any time you take off before the birth of your baby is counted toward the 12 weeks you and/or your husband are entitled to in any given year. You may take maternity leave intermittently or all at the same time.

Steve and Marianne were first-time prospective parents with busy careers. Marianne learned she could take 6 weeks off after delivery but wanted to go back to work after that. I suggested Steve ask about the policy for paternity leave at his job. He hadn’t heard of it and was skeptical, but he learned his company’s policy did cover leave for him. He got a week off after Marianne delivered, which he later reported to me was “the best week ever.” He was able to get another 2 weeks when Marianne went back to work. Steve told me the time he had by himself with his new daughter, Jane, helped him get to know her better than he would have any other way. The time also helped him understand what Marianne was up against and eased the transition of leaving their daughter with a sitter.

Under this law, you must be restored to an equivalent position with equal benefits when you return. If you have questions that personnel in the HR department can’t answer, check with your state’s labor office.

If morning sickness causes you to be absent from your job, the FMLA states you do not need a healthcare provider’s note verifying the problem. Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is classified as a “chronic condition” and may require you be out occasionally, but you don’t need a healthcare provider’s treatment. Most healthcare providers will write a note, if necessary.

State Laws

Many states have passed legislation that deals with parental leave. Some states provide disability insurance if you have to leave work because of pregnancy or birth.

Laws differ, so check with your state’s labor office or consult the personnel director in your company’s HR department. You may also obtain a summary of state laws on family leave by sending a self-addressed mailing label to the following address:

Women’s Bureau

U.S. Department of Labor

Box EX

200 Constitution Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20210 800–827–5335

Preparing to Leave Your Job

Whatever your plans—leaving work a few months early, working until the day you deliver—be prepared to leave by the end of your eighth month. You may need time to train your replacement to step into your job temporarily. You’ll need to schedule times at which to call the office and to take care of other details.

Plan Ahead

Be prepared in case your water breaks or you have some other problem at work. Keep a towel and some sanitary pads available. Carry medical-information cards and identification with you. Check with your human-resources department to make sure paperwork for your maternity leave is in order.

Have your suitcase packed and ready at home, in case you need to go from your office to the hospital. Partners can pack some pretty weird stuff for the hospital when a woman doesn’t have the chance!

Prepare Your Replacement

Save yourself problems by training the person who will handle your job to do the work the way you would. Initiate the relief worker to office procedures, rules and regulations, and particular ways to do your job efficiently. It’s a good idea to have the person perform your duties while you’re still on the scene so you can evaluate his or her work.

Before you leave, arrange to talk with your replacement, your boss and your co-workers one last time about details that must be taken care of while you’re gone. Together, review the plans you have prepared.

Discuss with co-workers how to keep in touch with you. (Will you call them? When can they call you?) It’s a good idea to schedule times to call the office. This enables your co-workers to have information available for you and have questions ready when you call. It can be annoying to have various people at your office call you every day asking questions when you are trying to concentrate on your baby! Letting them know in advance when you will call sets guidelines and puts you in control.

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