You may not know it, but there are actually laws that oversee and protect pregnant women who are employed. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) makes it illegal to refuse to hire a woman just because she is pregnant, and entitles a pregnant woman who is already working to paid disability. Also, if you work with a company that has more than fifty employees, you are guaranteed unpaid pregnancy leave of twelve weeks and your job is supposed to be held for you until you return. However, just because there are laws in place–this doesn’t always mean that pregnant working women automatically have a smooth leave and transition to birth and back to work again. Here are some suggestions for negotiating a maternity leave at work:
Do your homework first. Before letting anyone at work (even coworkers) in on the fact that you are expecting a child, find out what the company’s policy is for maternity leave. If you work for a really small organization or company, there may not be a set policy for handling a worker’s pregnancy. Find out exactly what the laws are, what your rights are and what the company policy and precedent is. This will give you the ammunition you need to have a strong stance in your negotiating.
After you’ve found out what you’re likely to expect from your company and what your legal rights are–put some thought into what you would like to see happen. If you would like to stay home longer than twelve weeks, or you plan to take time off before the baby is born–these things should be factored into your request. Considerations like flex-time, telecommuting or working from home, working part-time for a while, job-sharing and other creative solutions might be ideas you want to think about and consider as part of what your working life will look like after the birth of your baby. Find out what the company has done in the past, as well as everything you can about how other women have rearranged their jobs to accommodate new parenthood and come up with a fairly concrete plan to offer prior to having a conversation with your supervisor.
Once you’ve negotiated a plan for how your pregnancy and the early weeks after birth will unfold at work–keep everything professional and above board. Get a plan down in writing and a timeline or calendar of your pregnancy and birth plan. You’ll need to counter the assumption that you are losing interest in your job because you are pregnant and preparing for new parenthood. By being organized, attentive and proactive, you’ll show everyone that you are still a key player in the workplace even though you are pregnant. Some women find that their job duties are gradually reassigned and they are not invited to important meetings. You’ll have to be aggressive and proactive to counter this trend if it starts to unfold in your workplace. Know your rights and hold up your end of the bargain. This will increase the likelihood that your carefully planned negotiations will be honored.