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Maternity Leave: Breaking the Big News to Your Boss

May 25, 2012

The weeks and months following your positive pregnancy test can be exciting and nerve-wracking! Once you’ve broken the big news to your partner, your doctor, and maybe your mother and best friend, you’ll find yourself thinking about nursery ideas and baby names before you’ve even had your first pre-natal appointment. And by the beginning of the second trimester, you’ve probably started telling other friends and family, and possible leaked the news on Facebook. But one item that looms on your to-do list is not so fun: telling your employer that you’ll need to take maternity leave. Even if your workplace is supportive of the working mothers on their staff, these can be difficult waters to navigate.

Before you tell your boss that you’re pregnant, find out what you’re entitled to in terms of leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with more than 50 employees, and all public employers, to grant unpaid childbirth and newborn care leave of 12 weeks. You qualify if you have been working for your current employer for 12 months. Your employer may offer additional paid leave as a part of your benefits package. Check the materials you were given when you were hired for more information.

Now that you’ve informed yourself of the rights and benefits you’re entitled to, you can pinpoint a good time to talk to your boss. Many women wait until after they’ve begun their second trimester, as they don’t feel comfortable disclosing their pregnancies during those early, uncertain weeks. But you may want to be upfront with your manager before your belly begins to show! Schedule a time to talk with your manager, so that you can be assured that you have her full attention. Think beforehand about what you want to determine from this conversation. Whether you plan on simply taking the full FMLA leave or whether you’ll need to negotiate for some additional time, have a goal in mind and be prepared to ask for what you want! Don’t be surprised if it is difficult to read your manager’s reaction to your news. Even if she is happy for you, she’s probably also absorbing the new knowledge that she’ll need to handle your leave with HR, train someone to fill in for you in our absence, and take on some additional responsibilities.

And of course, once you’ve told your manager that you’ll be taking leave, you’ll want to follow through on any requests she may have that you train another employee in certain daily tasks. In addition, there may be projects that need to be wrapped up before you leave, or at least reported on and transferred temporarily to another staffer. Fulfilling your responsibilities before you leave is a given, and you can offer some added value by consulting your manager on how to handle the day-to-day projects and tasks that she may not be aware of.

Above all, remember that with all of the extra work that comes with a big transition, don’t add guilt to your plate! While taking leave may feel stressful for you and your co-workers in the short-term, you are entitled to the conditions you’ve discussed with your manager. And in the long-term, any successful company knows that the more supportive they are of the working moms on their staff, the more their company will thrive.

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