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Guide to Negotiating Maternity Leave With Your Boss

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Having a baby is perhaps the most special time in a woman's life. This anticipated time often comes with some time off from work. While many companies offer paid maternity leave, other workplaces don't. In this case, women have to take their leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), whereby most employers must allow for 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work. However, maternity leave often is up for negotiation. If you're starting to get stressed about your options, consider negotiating maternity leave with your boss.

Step 1: Set Up Negotiations:

Who: Your immediate boss should be informed of your maternity leave first. If you have a hierarchy of bosses and must tell them all, try to do it in one meeting.

What: Maternity leave is defined as the time a parent takes off from work after having a baby. Most women take the time immediately following a birth to recover and tend to a new baby's needs in the first stages of his or her life. Some companies will offer paid maternity leave for a period of 6 weeks or more. A parent of either gender can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work under the FMLA, if the purpose is to care for a new child.

When: Discussing maternity leave should happen sooner rather than later in most offices. In fact, before your pregnancy becomes public knowledge (most women wait until the first trimester is over), it's wise to bring up the subject of maternity leave with your superiors. This extended timeframe allows your employer to devise a plan for when you're on maternity leave.

Why: You want to talk with your boss about your options before the rumor mill at the office announces your pregnancy before you do. For this reason, it's wise to request a face-to-face meeting with your boss before announcing to your coworkers that you're pregnant.

Where: Depending on the formality of your office, carefully choose the medium by which you announce your pregnancy. You may have to provide a maternity leave letter, but it's best to have a face-to-face meeting in the office prior to handing in your letter, which may also need to be submitted to the company's human resources department.

How: Now that you've arranged a meeting with your superiors to discuss your pending maternity leave, follow these steps to negotiate the process:

    Before meeting with your boss to negotiate maternity leave, figure out the number of weeks you'd like to take off from work after your baby's birth in mind.
  1. Check with the company's human resources department or the employee handbook to see if your company has a policy regarding maternity leave.
  2. If there is a company policy on maternity leave, decide if it's right for you. For example, perhaps the company offers six weeks of paid leave, but you feel you want more time before returning to work after you've had your baby. You may want to take the employer-provided time as well an additional leave of absence under the FMLA.
  3. Set a meeting with your boss.
  4. Once in the meeting, clearly state your desired maternity leave. Then listen. Consider it a starting point for discussion, and keep an open mind when it comes to your boss's concerns or the employer's needs.
  5. If you desire more maternity leave than what is outlined by your human resources department or in your company handbook, explain your reasons. For example, if your company doesn't offer paid leave, and you can afford to take the 10 weeks unpaid, tell your superiors exactly why you need this time off from work. It could be because your husband or partner can't take time off from work, you don't have a nanny lined up yet, or you simply desire to be home during this early stage of your baby's life.

Step 2: Negotiating Your Maternity Leave

Scenario #1: If there isn't a firm company policy on maternity leave, ask for what you want. If your boss is agreeable, the process is over.

Scenario #2: You desire more maternity leave than your company policy allows. If this is the case, cite in writing concrete reasons that you need this leave. If possible, you may want to volunteer to work from home for a few weeks, or agree to flexible hours as a compromise.

Scenario #3: Your company doesn't offer paid maternity leave, and you can't afford to take unpaid leave. In this case, try to work out a flexible schedule where you might be able to work from home several days per week for the first six weeks after your baby's birth, or possibly ask to work part time for a period of time.

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