9.36 MB | 23:20 Min
Judith Bowman is the founder of Protocol Consultants International and the author of the book Don’t Take the Last Donut: New Rules of Business Etiquette
Pat Katepoo is the founder of WorkOptions.com, a flexible work options advisory service for working mothers who want to find ways to work productively while spending plenty of time with their children.
Welcome to your Pea in the Podcast. I’m Bonnie Petrie with everything you need to know about your body, your baby and the big changes ahead in your life as you begin your journey as someone’s mom.
This week, you’re a mom-to-be, but you’ve still got to work.
“They weren’t surprised when they walked by my office and my head was on my desk.”
And you’ve got to arrange for leave for when the baby comes, and figure out how you’re going to be able to afford it.
“For me it wasn’t so much about what I was entitled to but what they were going to pay me for.”
And then you go back to work, how do you cope?
“I miss my baby!”
We’ll walk you through work, pregnancy and new motherhood as we talk with moms who’ve been there, done that. And we’ll help you figure out how to get the most paid leave possible. It’s Your Pregnancy and Your Job in this Pea in the Podcast.
Well, it’s the best news you’ve ever gotten, you’re having a baby! But for your boss it may not be good news at all. How do you tell them? Judy Bowman is the President and Founder of Protocol Consultants International.
“Clearly it’s a very personal issue and I would tell your manager in private, tell them privately and hopefully the way and the demeanor in which you convey this terrific, exciting, wonderful news — which it is — will be contagious, and let your manager know that you are more than willing to work with them on realistic time frames that will help them manage their work environment so that it works for the woman as well.”
Experts recommend that you be prepared with your plan to cover your duties, and your plan for your maternity leave, when you tell your boss a baby is coming. I’ll go into more detail on that later in this podcast. But Bowman acknowledges that just telling a boss can be stressful for a mom-to-be with a career, and she says your concerns are legitimate.
“There are four generations of people in the work force out there today. It is competitive, we are global, holding on to our jobs is real, and it’s a real threat and so people are afraid to take vacation, let alone time off to have a child.”
You’re protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which means that your boss can’t fire you because you’re pregnant or you want to get pregnant, they can’t demote you or compensate you differently because you’re pregnant or want to get pregnant and they cannot refuse to hire you because you’re pregnant or want to get pregnant. The PDA also says your boss can’t treat you differently in the terms and conditions of employment, meaning they can’t cut your pay or benefits and they can’t harass you, that kind of thing.
Once you know your rights, it’s time to tell. I talked to a couple of moms about how they handled it and when. Rebekah waited until the second trimester.
“About 14 weeks I just went into her office and told her that we were going to have a baby and she was happy. I work in public accounting so she, her first question was when are you due and as soon as I said it was after tax season she was excited.”
Michelle’s third pregnancy was with twins, so she told her boss a little sooner than she wanted to.
“I was only seven weeks and everyone knew and that wasn’t exactly how I had planned ideally. With my second pregnancy, you know, I waited until 12 weeks and then I told people. I did, my immediate boss — my principal — I went into his office, the others I just sent a letter because I don’t see them on a regular basis.”
Trisha had a unique situation. She was interviewing for a new job within her company after she found out she was pregnant but before she was ready to tell. She knew the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protected her, but she still had a tough decision on her hands.
“I debated back and forth about whether or not I should tell her in the interview because I didn’t want to hurt my chances to get the job. But I didn’t want her to think I was dishonest if I told her, you know, after, so it was a tough decision. I didn’t want to tell at that stage, but I kind of felt like I should.”
Trisha ultimately did tell and she did get the job.
Working while pregnant can be, yeah, interesting. There are the first trimester troubles like morning sickness and fatigue. If you can pinpoint when you’re more likely to be sick you can maybe schedule meetings around those times. If you find something that helps you feel less nauseated, keep that stuff close by. Rebekah struggled with fatigue.
“I think mostly I just they weren’t surprised when they walked by the office and my head was on my desk. I didn’t ever actually take a nap in my office, but sometimes I needed a little break and other than that until the very end, a week before I delivered I was put on a half day of bed rest but that was it and my duties I was still expected to come to work, I was still expected to work the overtime during tax season so it was all the same.”
Michelle is a Special Ed teacher, and she says pregnancy symptoms present an interesting problem for someone in that profession.
“I’m on all the time. I’m in the front of a classroom, if I have to go to the bathroom, which you know you do a lot or if I felt sick, I had to find a way to deal with that where other people could maybe just go to the bathroom or they could just put their head down for a second or do what they needed to do and that was kind of a hard part for me, especially with the twins.”
It is physically difficult to work while pregnant, UCLA OB Dr. Michael Broder, who wrote The Panic Free Pregnancy, says a mom-to-be and those around her kind of need to keep that in mind.
“When a woman is 12 weeks pregnant just sitting there her heart is working as hard as mine is when I’m walking around the block, so somehow we have to be aware of this that a woman who is pregnant is starting her day with less energy than somebody else is and if we can just be mindful of that maybe that would be a step in the right direction.”
Broder would like moms-to-be to be able to take some kind of leave while pregnant but most moms scrape and save any time they can get their hands on for when the baby comes. So let’s talk about leave. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have paid family leave, other than Australia, and it’s going to be up to you to put your leave plan together. Pat Katepoo at WorkOptions.com says a mom-to-be should get started early, there’s a lot to consider when you’re putting your plan together.
“It does depend on what state she lives in, the size of her employer, the policies of the employer, recognizing that there are no laws that require paid maternity leave. There is the family and medical leave law, which allows pregnant women at certain employers to take unpaid leave that’s job protected, but otherwise it’s pretty much no entitlement and it’s the employer’s policy that you’re going to go by. Disability insurance – those are issues that vary by state, so there’s a lot to look into.”
Let’s take, for example, our mom of twins, Michelle who’s a teacher in Michigan.
“We get six weeks off, sometimes we get eight if we have a c-section. I did not get eight weeks with those c-sections. After that, any time you do have Family Medical Leave but it is not paid and only your job is guaranteed, not your position.”
As Michelle mentioned FMLA is unpaid, and it is not required for businesses with fewer than 50 employees or for an employee who hasn’t worked full-time for a year. But Rebekah, accountant in Oklahoma, worked for a small company that paid attention to FMLA.
“Even though we weren’t a firm big enough to have to have the family medical leave act they still followed that, so I had already researched that and kind of knew, I actually knew more about the staff manual than she did at the moment because this was the first time she had had to deal with any kind of pregnancy or maternity leave issues at that office.”
Remember Trisha, who interviewed for a new position within her company during her pregnancy? She’s in Iowa.
“My state has a law for a mandatory eight weeks even for temporary employees as long as the work is still going on when they’re done with their leave, so I knew that I was entitled to eight weeks for that, but I also since I’d been with my employer for a couple of years was eligible for 12 weeks for FMLA.”
So where do you begin to figure out what you’re entitled to? Pat Katepoo says you could start with your company.
“I would begin with the human resource department of the employer to see what they have to offer, what the plan is, except if she wants to keep things private. In that case she could start with the state department of labor in her own state and though she can go to the human resources board, there are requirements for employers to put certain notices on some employee area and that means there’s going to be information about FMLA. Online is a good place to start looking at Family Medical Leave information. State Department of Labor can give information about disability and if there is any policy at the state level that is more generous than the federal leave act.”
The fact that FMLA is unpaid limits some families access to the time off, based on what they can afford, so they end up taking far less time with their newborn than they would like. That was Trisha’s situation.
“When I found out I was pregnant I just assumed that I would take six weeks because my company would pay for six weeks of maternity leave, so that was my plan. Well, then when I actually had my baby, six weeks just wasn’t enough for me, and I only ended up taking eight just for financial reasons, and I had a family member who could watch my baby for awhile so it wasn’t as stressful for me to go back, but I was planning on the minimum.”
If you sign up for short-term disability insurance, they’ll pay somewhere in the area of two-thirds of your salary for some of the weeks that you may go on leave, but what if your pregnancy becomes high-risk and you have to go on bed rest? You may use your short-term disability up before the baby, or, in Michigan teacher Michelle’s case — babies — come.
“I used up everything. I had to use my sick days, then I went into what we have at our district called sick bank, and that is after 20 days you can go into the district sick bank and use nine weeks of leave and that is paid. I had 17 days, so I lost three days of pay to get me up to 20, then I went to sick bank for nine weeks and then I went on to short-term disability for the remainder, and that was at two-thirds pay. And it got to be tricky because I knew the minute I had them, I would go off disability and into maternity. And we got to where, ‘well, we can’t have them out too soon, financially’ or ‘I’m not going to have them soon’ or ‘I’m going to have to go back to work before I thought’ but it worked because they were born in June and it worked out perfectly.”
Since she was a teacher, the June birth of her twins meant spending the summer with them.
Now you probably see why you have to start planning for maternity leave early. It can get very complicated very quickly, and in the end you may get nowhere near the time with your baby you hope to get.
But Pat Katepoo says there are ways to get more time off. She has a plan called Max Maternity Leave.
“Max Maternity Leave is a planning tool and a proposal template that I developed because I just felt six weeks, which is often the standard for many women, is practically a crime in terms of the amount of time that a woman has to recuperate and bond with her baby, it’s just way too little. So I developed it as a tool to help her extend her leave.”
And she says getting the most time at home with your baby begins at the moment you tell your boss you’re pregnant and you’re ready with a written plan for your leave.
“Some of the things include what’s your work coverage plan? Meaning, if you’re going to be gone for 12 or more weeks, how is the work going to get done? But it also has language that presents to the boss, ‘okay, this is my work coverage plan, this is my return to work’ and it makes a solid case for all those things. So when she comes up with, ‘I’m going to stay away this many weeks’ it’s just so solid that there is little resistance or hopefully little resistance.”
This kind of planning works. Sarah was a working woman in New Jersey when she found out she was pregnant.
“New Jersey is actually one of the more progressive states when it comes to Family Leave in that New Jersey Family Leave — New Jersey has a state disability law that all pregnant women are eligible for at least in some form or another. And so because of the way that their family leave is structured you go on New Jersey disability for the first six or eight weeks postpartum, and you can even go beforehand and only after you are no longer disabled in New Jersey, your family leave kicks in in New Jersey.”
That meant Sarah was eligible for up to 20 weeks off. That’s where her planning began.
“What I tried to come up with is I tried, I mean I really this is just my personality to come up with a win-win for everybody so I kind of sat down and figured out the financials, you know what can I afford to take off. You know I mean my husband and I were easily prepared for a 12-14 week maternity leave, you know, in terms of my benefits and short-term disability added up, so financially anything more than that 12-14 weeks we weren’t too sure about. At the same time, like I said I knew I was eligible and you know the potential was there for me to take up to 16 weeks before I had significant expenses to face. That was attractive to me, however I was concerned about being out of the workforce that long having no one really to back me up while I was gone. That seemed like an inordinately long time to be out of the office.”
So she came up with a plan for what she calls “tiered maternity leave” which included a three-pronged plan.
“The first piece was how was work going to be handled if urgent things came up and there are always fires to be put out at my company, as most people’s you know during, while I was on leave how would they be handled? You know, kind of coming up with the criteria for them to contact me when I was on leave and the expectations on how quickly I would respond and so forth.”
The second prong had to do with the leave itself.
“I laid out two options for maternity leave. One if I had a cesarean delivery, and the other if I had the traditional vaginal delivery and what, how many days I would be taking off and over what period, you know, I would be off full-time, over what period I would be off part-time, how that part-time would look and also address some of the needs, the requirements to make this kind of arrangement successful, as well as the pros and cons of the arrangement.”
The third prong dealt with the often very difficult transition back to work.
“Because proposals one and two actually entailed me doing some sort of work at home, I actually slipped in a proposal to work from home two days per week once I returned full-time and decided I could have used my opportunity working during maternity leave and then working on a tiered plan as you know kind of a trial period to see if working from home could be successful.”
So how did Sarah’s boss react to her leave proposal?
“My proposal, the way it was laid out, she just really liked that, she said that it was very easy for her to follow through, to kind of anticipate what the situation was, so from the get-go, though I apparently caught her on a not-so-good day, she was very supportive of it and immediately elevated it to the CEO who readily approved the maternity leave, so you know the maternity leave was not a problem. Working from home, people were a little less quick to approve, but by the time I left for maternity leave, I knew I would at least be working from home two days a week for at least a trial period of three to six months.”
So planning pays off.
In fact, Katepoo says you don’t have to live in a more family leave friendly state like New Jersey to come up with a tiered plan of your own.
“There’s a part of FMLA that many women are not aware of, and it’s not publicized, and that’s an opportunity to return to work part-time. It’s called intermittent leave. Many women are not able to take the full 12 weeks off because so much of it is unpaid if they used up all their sick and vacation leave, whereas this plan of using part of your twelve weeks part of the time, you can take your six weeks off — maybe that’s all the person can afford — but they are allowed six more weeks. They can actually extend that six weeks over many more weeks by going into work part-time. They need an employer agreement on that, but it is a way to transition.”
And that kind of slow transition back to work can ease the heartbreak many moms feel when their leave just ends, and they have to leave their baby with someone else to return to work full-time. Even if you don’t think it will be hard, you may be surprised. Trisha was.
“When I was pregnant, I didn’t really think it would be a problem. I just thought that, you know, that’s just what you do. Once you have the baby you get daycare and you go back to work and that was just my plan. That’s what I was going to do. But I struggled with it a lot and I still struggle with it and it’s not ideal. I think I feel like it’s important to me to work. I feel like I get a lot out of that. But in other ways I would like to be home with my baby too, so, and it’s, you know, she’s nine months olds and it hasn’t really gotten that much easier.”
Rebekah struggled too.
“It was just hard to get up and leave her every day knowing that someone else is taking care of her and someone else was seeing all these firsts that happened and it was a really hard transition, and I would sit in my office, I would have to shut the door a couple times a day because I would just cry. I know it was harder on me than it was on her and that I needed to have this job, we were not in the position to where I could stay home and I was thankful for the job I still had. I didn’t want a different job. I just was sad that I had to leave her and it was hard.”
A mom who’d been there had a few suggestions for me to ease the transition back to work, she suggested of course I bring pictures and maybe bring one of my baby’s little socks with me to work and keep it in my pocket so I could touch it or even smell it when I needed to feel close to her. Trisha also found support at work, a mom herself who advised her to acknowledge her emotions.
“She said to me my first day back she said, ‘if you need to go and cry you just go do it, just go find a place and do it.’ And you know I found that there were days when I would sit in the lactation room while I was pumping and I would cry and miss my baby and you know it’s hard, but when you leave that room it’s nice to put some of that behind you, some of that emotion away.”
And for Trisha pumping milk for her nursing newborn at work was another way to remain connected.
“To me, that’s one thing that has made me feel a little bit better about spending as much time away from my baby as I do, the fact that I am still nursing. At least I am still giving her that, you know?”
Continuing to breastfeed your baby after you return to work presents its own set of challenges and we’ll deal with those in a future podcast, but Michelle, mom to four kids, including twins, says dealing with the transition back to work is often just about staying positive.
“When you wake up, and I still do this every once in a while, and say, ‘I can’t do this!’ that sets your day. That sets your tone for the day that you can’t do this instead of saying, you know, ‘today is Monday and I’ve got this to do and this is how I’m going to do it and you know, it’s going to be okay’ and take a more positive attitude. Once I started doing that, things did get easier, I could do it.”
Ultimately though Pat Katepoo at WorkOptions.com hopes someday the United States comes up with a better policy for dealing with parental leave for everyone, so moms don’t have to go through all of this.
“It’s really appalling that the United States is way behind many countries, including developing countries in this area. Some of this has to do with corporate mindset and all. In other countries their socialized tax structure system allows for paid leave on extended basis. Sweden and France stand out in particular. It’s just not happening here. We have a long way to go.”
Our moms agree.
“I felt like seven weeks wasn’t long enough at all and I really feel like 12 weeks probably isn’t all that long either. But truth be told I would like, I would like for all women to be able to stay home with their kids as long as they want to, but I think a year even, that first year there’s just so many changes and so much development and they’re still, you know, their immune system is still building up and I just hate that parents that don’t want to have to go back to work, have to.”
“Now I envy the Canadian system with a year and your job guaranteed because that for me was the biggest issue. Even if I was given that year paid, the fact that I might not have my position would have been enough for me to question it. I love my job and there were jobs in that school that I know I didn’t want and no one else did either so I would have been worried that I couldn’t have got that back and so I think it’s sad that this country, with all we have, has really let the ball drop on maternity leave.”
While things remain as they are, Katepoo has a challenge for you.
“We have a tendency to say, ‘okay this is what you’re offering, this is it.’ Some women don’t even think to ask for something different, so I want to challenge and encourage pregnant women to go for more of what they want, even though it’s not on paper, ask for it anyway, prepare properly and you can get close to what you ask for if not exactly.”
And again, links to get you started are easy to find. They’re on our website, peainthepodcast.com.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Pea in the Podcast: Your Pregnancy and Your Job. Please visit our website, peainthepodcast.com, for more information about our experts, and of course to find those links, and to register for weekly updates with everything you need to know about your body, your baby and the big changes ahead in your life as you begin your journey as someone’s mom. For Pea in the Podcast, I’m Bonnie Petrie, thanks for listening.
A Special Thank You To…
Rebekah in Oklahoma, Sarah in Illinois, Michelle in Michigan and Tricia in Iowa for sharing their maternity leave stories with us for this podcast.