you've got nine months to get ready
HINT: IT GOES QUICK
Congratulations. You're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. You are about to embark on the scariest and most unique nine months of your life. You've signed up for the pregnancy calendar and you eagerly watch the progress of your growing baby. You've stopped caffeine, alcohol, raw cheeses, and sushi and are busy stuffing your face with fresh vegetables and folic acid. You've bought every book on pregnancy and are busily scouring Web sites for all the news you need to know. In between all of this fun and excitement, you go to work. You, after all, are a career girl--a career girl who is also going to be a mom. You are thrilled by the prospect (and perhaps a little scared) and can't wait to shout it from the rooftops once that third month has passed. But don't start shouting yet. You've got a lot of planning to do first.
This chapter will give you the information and strategies you need to successfully navigate your pregnancy. After reading Chapter One, you will be armed with all the tools you need to go on a work- and worry-free maternity leave. We educate about your rights, the options for child care, and share resources and stories that will support you in this very scary and exhilarating time in your life.
Good luck. The next nine months are going to be a whirlwind.
first things first, know your rights
This can get dense. And as with all legalese, you may just want to skip right over it. Don't. Don't even put it off until later. You absolutely must know your legal rights and options, and here they are.
Many pregnant women and new parents are legally protected in the workplace by two, possibly three, federal laws. The first is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The PDA amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the key U.S. statute that prohibits employment discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-preg.html), the government agency in charge of administering and enforcing the PDA, states: "Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations."
Under the PDA, which applies to employers that have fifteen or more employees, an employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your "pregnancy-related condition" as long as you can perform the functions of the job. Furthermore, your employer can't single out your pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition (morning sickness, anyone?) to determine your ability to work. You may be running to the bathroom to throw up every thirty minutes, but if you're still getting your work done then your employer can't discriminate against you. Your employer also cannot stereotype you because you are pregnant. For instance, you can't be assigned different projects, passed up for a promotion, or have responsibilities taken away merely because your boss assumes that you can't do the same work you did before you were pregnant. Of course, if your boss's concerns are based on facts (you simply can't keep up the same quality and quantity of work due to your pregnancy or you've told people you plan to work less after giving birth), that poses a different set of considerations.
Women who have health conditions related to their pregnancy also may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. law that prohibits discrimination against individuals who are disabled, are perceived as being disabled, or have a record of being disabled. This statute, which the EEOC also administers, not only prohibits employers from actively discriminating against qualified individuals who are disabled; it also requires that such employers reasonably accommodate such disabled individuals when the accommodation requested by the employee neither materially alters the job duties nor unduly burdens either the employer or fellow employees.
If you have a health issue related to your pregnancy and it becomes serious enough that it requires you to miss work, modify your work schedule, or take a leave of absence, both the PDA and the ADA mandate that your company treat you as well as any other temporarily disabled employee, including providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay. In other words, if you are pregnant and disabled as defined by the ADA, your company's internal employment policies, applicable state -short--term disability laws, and health and disability insurance policies (check carefully the definition of "disability" in each case, as it often varies) all kick in. Your employer is prohibited by law from treating you any worse than if you had any other type of serious illness or impairment. So, if your company awards time off or flexible work schedules to people who have medical conditions, it may be required to grant the same rights to women suffering from a pregnancy-related condition.
What happens when you need time off work to give birth and take care of your newborn? What happens if you get put on bed rest before your due date? The big news in 1993 (and not much has changed since then) was the passing of the Family Medical Leave Act, or the FMLA as it's called by the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the Department of Labor Web site (http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/):
Covered employers must grant an eligible employee up to a total of twelve workweeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
* the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee;
* the placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care;
* to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
* to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
"Covered employers" are businesses that employ more than fifty people and "eligible employees" include those who have worked at the company for twelve months prior and for at least 1,250 hours of service during the twelve-month period prior to the beginning of the leave. So basically, if you work for a large company for more than one year, the law provides that you can take unpaid leave for twelve workweeks. You generally can take these twelve weeks of leave consecutively or intermittently, even up to a few hours at a time (obstetrician visits, anyone?). Unsurprisingly, there often is quite a bit of bureaucracy and paperwork involved in properly requesting and obtaining FMLA leave, so eligible employees should be sure to check with their human resources (HR) departments and get all of the right information. Then again, if you work at a larger covered employer, you may already be used to loads of paperwork and bureaucracy.
If you work in any other situation and there is no state or local law that covers you (see The Paid-Leave Squeeze on page 14), then you may very well have no legal rights at all. You are likely subject to the policies and, more often than not, the whims of your employer.
Remember the company handbook that you received when you started? Now is the time to dig it out and review the section on short-term disability. Most companies with more than a handful of workers have written policies that apply to sickness, child care/maternity leave, leaves of absence due to disability and short-term disability insurance coverage. Find them and figure out how they mesh together if your employer hasn't done so for you. If you cannot find these materials, get them from your HR department, which is required to give this written information to you. Also, you may want to get on the Web. Check out the information related to your individual state's labor, civil rights, and insurance policies. If your employer's health care or -short--term disability insurance carriers have Web sites, pull information from there. When it comes to short-term disability insurance--the likeliest way for you to get at least some pay during maternity leave--results really will vary. What you are entitled to will depend on the state in which you live, the generosity of your employer, and the nature of your pregnancy and delivery. While some states don't even mandate short-term disability insurance, a small handful are particularly generous. While some employers offer only the minimum required by law, some go far beyond--particularly for long-time workers. While some state laws and insurance plans allow more time if you've had complications or a cesarean delivery, many also cover bed rest before birth.
At best, it's a challenge to decipher how your employer treats absences due to pregnancy, pregnancy-related health issues, and childbirth-related leaves. At worst, it can be a complicated and sometimes seemingly contradictory hodgepodge of rules, deadlines, and paperwork. According to www.babycenter.com (Kim's favorite Web site when she was pregnant in 1999), maternity or parental leave becomes a patchwork of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation days, personal days and the legally required unpaid family leave. All of this means that planning is crucial in the early stages of your pregnancy. The goal is to set yourself up with all of the necessary information as soon as possible, so that you can make both a seamless exit and stress-free return to the workplace.
save your time, you're going to need it
As your pregnancy progresses, you will begin to craft a birth plan. You would be smart to create a maternity leave plan, too. Your goal is to maximize the paid time off and it quickly becomes a juggling act. Here are a few ways to stockpile your days:
* Schedule all doctors' appointments for off-work hours. You want to demonstrate to the boss and team that your priority is still the job (even if it isn't).
* Go to work even when you're feeling crappy--provided that you can get the job done. It's better to show up and get something done than use up a sick day that you will need later.
* Do not go to work if you feel so lousy that you can't get your work done. Go to the doctor instead. While you may think you're being a trouper, you may be giving your boss a good and legally permissible reason to deal with you harshly or treat you differently due to your pregnancy.
* Begin a savings plan--not for the baby's college education--but for when you are making half your pay when you are at home taking care of the baby.
Elizabeth is an executive at a major national retailer in her sixth month of pregnancy. She is feeling absolutely great and starting to put her maternity leave plan together. Her company's paid maternity leave is based on years of service, and she is one year shy of the -ten--year bonus of extra time off. She's earned eight weeks of paid maternity and two weeks at half-pay. If she has a C-section she will get an extra two weeks pay.
She has four weeks of vacation and plans to use those as a backup if she's not ready, but right now she's planning to come back when the ten weeks are up. She's recently been promoted, so she plans to be available to the staff during her leave. She had a bad experience when one of her colleagues chose "radio silence" as her maternity leave plan, so she plans to be as accessible as she needs to be.
Elizabeth has done everything to ensure that she will have a smooth maternity leave, including planning her delivery to coincide with the quietest time in retail, January. She is planning to be back in the office when things kick off in March. She's hired an additional person to support her number two while she's out and she's hoping for the best.
She does have a few worries, though. Her husband would prefer that she didn't return to work, so she knows there will be a few struggles in the beginning, and second, and wisely, she realizes that she has no idea how she's going to feel and what's going to happen after the baby is born, so her biggest plan is to take a "wait-and-see" attitude. She's planned as much as she can and she's hoping for the best.
the paid-leave squeeze
The United States has the worst record on paid parental leave of all of the developed nations. Our country still operates on the 1950s model of father in the workforce and mother home raising the children. There's no easy answer. As mothers, we see the necessity of paid leave for new mothers, fathers, or caregivers. As business owners, we can't take on the financial load of paying for extended maternity leave without government or employee subsidy. If the law required us to pay fifty-two weeks of maternity leave as they do in the United Kingdom, we'd be out of business. At our small company, we can't afford to pay someone who is not working.
Help is on the way. As of September 2008, California, Washington, and New Jersey have passed "paid-leave" bills and there are movements in a handful of other states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon, to implement paid leave. Many -paid--leave advocates are lobbying for time off with pay to be a federal law and program.
A bill introduced in the House in 2008 by Representative Fortney Stark (D-California) would mandate twelve weeks of paid leave. The legislation would be funded by a new federal trust fund. Employers (only companies with fifty or more employees) and employees would pay into this fund equally through payroll deductions, similar to unemployment benefits. A bipartisan bill in the Senate sponsored by senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) calls for eight weeks of paid family leave within a one-year period. Benefits would be paid out on a tiered system, depending on salary.
The paid-leave program in California piggybacks on the state's disability program and is 100 percent funded by the employees themselves at an annual average cost of about $47, depending on salary. Californians who opt-in to the program get 55 percent of their pay while on family leave. Who wouldn't trade $47 dollars per year for twelve weeks of paid leave even at half-pay?
These are small gains for the U.S. worker as compared to other countries around the world. Take Canada. According to Wikipedia, in 2000, parental leave was expanded in Canada from ten weeks to thirty-five weeks, divided as desired between two parents. This is in addition to fifteen weeks maternity leave, giving a total possible period of fifty weeks paid leave for a mother. There is still no paid leave for new fathers, however. In Canada, maternity and parental leave is paid for by their employment insurance system. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Happy at Work, Happy at Home by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio. Copyright © 2009 by Caitlin Friedman. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.