Maternity Leave: The Ins and Outs

So I am officially on maternity leave now. Technically, it is a sort of pre-maternity-leave vacation. You see, my company requires that I use any remaining vacation during the first days of my actual FMLA/short term disability leave. That is, all types of leave, including vacation and sick time run concurrently, or at the same time. So you can’t use your vacation and then use your FMLA and then use your short term disability. The clock starts ticking on all of them on the day you begin your leave. In my case, this is the day the baby is born.

The really crappy part about this is that my HR department did no clarify this requirement with me until I was already in my third trimester. Too late to travel to an exotic location for a “baby moon.”

So I am on a “staycation” now. At home. With swollen ankles, sore hips, and heartburn. I’m trying to put the time to good use, though. I am preparing the house for our little one’s arrival. It is slow going, though, because I am tired, swollen, and sore. I spend more time on the couch resting my fat ankles than I do actually preparing. Today our new mattress is being delivered, so I am here to manage that, and then it is off to Target for some last minute baby items. I’m also on the lookout for a seamstress who can sew up the cushion covers for my deal-of-the century, hand-me-down rocker/glider.

You might remember that my struggle with my company over maternity leave was a bit emotional for me. I work for a small company where only one other co-worker has ever been pregnant. So the company has no written policy on maternity leave, and it seems that the policy changes pretty regularly to suit the whims of a few select people in charge. I was really hoping to avoid that kind of battle. I just didn’t need it on top of all of the appointments and tests and emotional ups and downs I was already facing.

In the end, though, probably because I am so darn stubborn, I was able to negotiate what I consider to be a reasonable amount of time, but it is not without risk. And, of course, none of the time is paid except for the 6-8 weeks of short term disability which are paid at 60% of my normal wage.

This is what I was able to cobble together:

  • 4 days of personal leave and 4 vacation days before my leave actually starts. I structured the leave so that the first day of my actual leave will fall roughly on the day the baby is delivered.
  • 6 weeks of short term disability starting on the day the baby is born. I am using 5 days of vacation to cover the elimination period. If I have a c-section, I will get 8 weeks of short term disability leave. The amount of time you get under short term disability is based on the amount of time your doctor says you are unable to work. Typically, your doctor will allow 6 weeks for a vaginal delivery or eight weeks for a c-section. Your leave might be extended if you have complications. If your doctor requires you to be off of work longer than your short term disability coverage lasts, you might then get long term disability. Not all companies offer short term disability leave and the benefits under it differ depending on your plan. Some states require that the company provide a certain amount of short term disability leave, but mine does not. Another important note about short term disability: Many plans have an “elimination period” in which you do not receive benefits. In my case, this is the first week. You can use vacation time to cover this financial shortfall. This is what I decided to do, but only because my company did not give me enough notice to use that vacation for a proper “baby moon.” I would have preferred to have the extra time off and sacrificed the pay during the elimination period.
  • 12 weeks of FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act.) This also starts on the day the baby is born. So basically, I’m losing the first six weeks of FMLA leave because they run concurrently with the short term disability leave and the five days of vacation. Also, you can typically use FMLA time intermittently, as opposed to using it all in one block. Unfortunately, there is a clause in the law that allows companies to force you to take all of your FMLA time in one block if you are taking it for the birth or adoption of a child. A total crock, right?
  • A leave of absence totaling four weeks. This leave is not required by law; it is an extra leave benefit at my company that is approved on a case-by-case basis. Thankfully, this leave does not run concurrently with my other leaves, so it extends my total maternity leave time to four months. Unfortunately, since I will no longer be protected by FMLA, the company is not required by law to hold my job for me during this leave.
  • When I return to work, I will return part time. One surprising perk at my company is that if you maintain 25 hours per week, you can keep your insurance benefits. So I will return to work three days a week starting in October. I will continue on this part-time schedule until the end of the year. I’m losing some vacation and my bonus is going to be pro-rated as a result of the drop in my hours.
  • At the first of the year, I will return to my normal full-time schedule. However, the company is completely within their right to deny me full-time status if they do not have enough work to warrant my return.
  • One other benefit I managed to squeeze into the plan was for my company to cover my tuition for my final MS class which just started last week. This is huge for me, because that class costs over $2,000. The way I understand it, the company does not have to cover the class by law; the only benefit that FMLA requires them to offer me while on leave is health insurance. I argued that, because of the repayment clause in out tuition reimbursement policy, if I decided not to return after my leave, they would get their money back. If I do return after my leave, as is my intention, then they get the same benefit they would have gotten if I was not on leave (a more educated employee.) I think that argument helped.

Anyway, that is the low-down on how my maternity leave panned out. I learned a lot more than I ever wanted to know about the laws surrounding maternity leave, disability, and discrimination during this process. I hope I never need to know these things again, but it is good information to have in my back pocket should the need arise.

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4 Comments on “Maternity Leave: The Ins and Outs”

  1. Autumn Says:

    You’re lucky that your elimination period is only a week. Mine is a month. Luckily I have enough sick leave stock-piled to take care of the 1st month prior to the Short Term disability kicking in.
    Best wishes for a safe delivery!

  2. Saffy Says:

    Wow. Thanks for explaining. I feel like I need a college degree in legislation just to get my head around the complexities of what you are facing. Enjoy that couch time my dear – seriously. I wish I’d spent more time there in the last few weeks rather than flapping around like a headless chook. I can’t believe that we’re only days away from the most exciting time in your life!!! (and because I know your mom’s reading – a super exciting day for her too!!!! 🙂 )

  3. Jan Says:

    So sorry you had to go through this nightmare just to get what a more compassionate company would have simply given to you.

  4. Mom Says:

    Yes, Saffy, I am reading. Thanks for the good wishes.

    Needless to say we are anxiously awaiting Baby No-Name’s arrival.

    Let’s see, my one and only daughter may be expecting my one and only grand child. Yep….I’m anxious to spoil this baby.

    I was so sick when you were born I don’t feel I got to properly enjoy those first weeks of your life.
    I plan on making up for that soon.

    When I was expecting I just kept talking to my belly, telling you I was so anxious to meet you, see what you looked like and finally hold you.

    Due to complications after the delivery I was able to spend seven wonderful months with my new best friend.

    Motherhood is hard work. The most difficult thing I have ever done. However, the rewards out weigh the struggles.

    Looking forward to this new bundle!

    Love,

    Mom


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