If you’re a working professional and a parent-to-be in the United States, you’re probably well aware that America is the only developed country that doesn’t offer a federally-mandated parental level program. Instead, the financial and job security a new parent has is up to the employer (if there is one).
Under the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), parents have their roles protected for up to 12 weeks, but it’s unpaid. There is no current regulation for the self-employed. Many hourly workers have very few benefits to take advantage of.
Many major corporations have taken steps to offer excellent benefits to new parents, including Google, Facebook, Hilton, Amex, Deloitte, and many others. However, for many expecting families employed around the country, benefits are either lacking or non-existent. Around 81% of married parents take a career break after their child is born. Women typically step out of the workforce for more than two years, according to a survey by LinkedIn. Oftentimes, childbirth pushes women out of leadership positions, or can stall careers, and this only widens the gender wage gap.
Here’s how to extend maternity leave when you ask for it (and get it).
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First Know That It’s Not Going to Be Easy
Negotiating a longer leave is probably going to feel a bit overwhelming. Since most companies already have established policies for leaves of absence. This makes it hard to change them. Doing so requires patience and time, particularly if those policies follow local, state and/or federal laws. Does that mean you shouldn’t go for it? Absolutely not! But you need to come prepared with facts, answers, and counter-arguments.
“We need to be reducing burnout and the negative workforce for women, specifically mothers in this instance,” says Joy Altimare, chief revenue officer at EHE Health. “Judgment for taking maternity leave, coming back and needing resources are all larger issues that women face in the workforce when having a child.”
This is why we should negotiate for longer parental leaves. It allows parents to adjust, heal, and bond with their child during a significant life change. Longer leaves help keep more women in the workforce. Along with that, corporations benefit from employees who can return to work refreshed and more dedicated to their jobs.
Know The Facts
Before you ask about how to extend maternity leave, understand your company’s parental leave policy and track record for managing that policy, recommends Susan Hite, the CEO of PsychoGeometrics.
Try your best to answer these questions before booking your negotiation meeting:
- Is the policy strictly enforced, and if so, how?
- Who grants or manages parental leave?
- Does the policy mention any flexibility?
- Are there options to extend your leave for the same salary? Or possibly less salary, part-time work until you return full-time, work remotely, or temporarily provide value in another role if a remote option is not available for your particular role?
- Have there ever been exceptions? Under what situations?
- Does the company allow for managerial discretion?
Do Your Research
Many work parents would likely be happy to help answer your questions. Hite recommends asking others about their experiences.
“If you already have a relationship with the person you want to ask, you can probably bring it up casually, either over the phone if you work virtually, in the breakroom, or over lunch,” she says.
But if you don’t often interact with this employee, see if you can set up a time to discuss the parental leave policy and their experience. Here’s an example from Hite:
Although we work in separate business units and haven’t interacted much with one another, my name is Susan Hite, and I work in marketing. We have even been on a few calls together when marketing was working with R&D last year. I understand you recently took parental leave and I’m reaching out to see if you would be willing to give me some tips for planning my parental leave based on your experience. I would be happy to call you at your convenience, or if you prefer, you could simply respond to any of my questions above via email if that works better for your schedule. Thank you for your consideration.”
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Have a Plan For Both Transition and Cover
When you’re away from your role for awhile, it disrupts business operations. In fact, this potential chaos is one of the managers’ biggest complaints when their direct reports ask for extended leaves, according to Jen L’Estrange, founder and managing director of Red Clover, an outsource HR firm.
“It always surprises me, particularly in a country where two weeks’ notice is the norm, and family leave is generally known months before the big event,” she says. “So, once you have identified how much leave you to want to take, the next step is to plan transition and cover.”
Create a detailed report with a specific timeline on how much time you will take. Include who will take on your job responsibilities, and how you will train this person to carry the load. “Thinking through this — in as much detail as possible — demonstrates a commitment to the organization,” she says.
Discuss Your Long-Term Goals
And also talk about the extra time to facilitate those goals. Part of the hesitation some companies may feel about granting additional leave is the concern that the employee will not actually return to the organization and may be using that time to look for other jobs, says Christy Pruitt-Haynes, an HR expert and consultant at the NeuroLeadership Institute. “If the employee has a direct conversation about their plans to transition back, what they can do while they are away to prepare for their eventual return, the company is likely to feel better about the extended leave,” she says.
Find a Compromise
Try to find what your company gets out of the situation. What will you give the company in exchange if you want more parental time? Hopefully your employer understands the benefits and won’t need something in return. But if they don’t budge, try to find a middle ground.
This might be offering to work a part-time or flexible schedule, which can benefit you and your employer. Maybe this is working three days a week or working four days a week from home. Maybe it’s one week on, one week off. “The employer can still benefit from your expertise and keep the business moving forward while you get to spend more time with your child,” says Ricklyn Woods, a career advisor at the University of Phoenix.
Before you propose a schedule change, be clear about how many hours you are willing and able to put in.
“If you are a key contributor to a major project, be prepared to how you will be able to continue to contribute on a part-time basis and ensure the project moves forward according to plan,” she says.
Use a Leave of Absence or PTO
If your employer declines to extend your leave, you may need to leverage other company policies to gain additional weeks. As she explains, some companies offer an unpaid personal leave of absence for a specified time. “Many employees don’t know this because it is not highly publicized,” she says. “It may only be offered on a case-by-case basis. [If possible], you can request this leave in addition to the parental leave you would already be entitled to.”
Other options include using the vacation days you’ve already accrued and the ones you will continue to earn.
“Consider asking if the company will advance you a certain amount of vacation or PTO time,” Woods says. “Doing so would cause you to have a negative balance that would have to be ‘paid back’ over time. This approach would impact any vacation goals for the near future until you’ve built up your balance again. But it might be a viable short-term solution to the immediate need for paid parental time off.”
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