I became pregnant with my son during my last semester of undergraduate work. Because my husband still had nearly two years left for his undergraduate studies, we decided that I would be the one to get a job. After a grueling job search (that included illegal questions from many potential employers about my pregnancy and my husband’s employment status), I finally landed a job as a cashier at a local farm and ranch store.
My employer, of course, offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave as required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for companies with at least 50 employees. However, because of our financial situation, I was only able to take four weeks off. When deciding how long to take off for maternity leave, you will need to consider your situation, and what is available with your company.
Pregnancy Leave Options Under FMLA
Your first task is to understand your options under FMLA. If I had better understood my options, I probably would have taken more leave. It’s true that companies are not required to provide you with paid leave (in fact, very few companies in the U.S. offer paid leave). You only qualify, by law, for FMLA leave when you have worked at the company for at lease 12 months, and at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.
My employer was kind enough to offer the leave even though I didn’t meet the employment requirements that made it necessary. However, what I didn’t realize is that there are three main types of eligible pregnancy leave under FMLA:
- Pregnancy Leave: You can actually use some of your leave during the pregnancy if you have complications that your doctor deems serious enough to warrant leave. I didn’t have this problem, but many people do.
- Parental Leave: This is the type of leave that most people are familiar with. Obviously, a woman can use this leave following the birth of a child. However, men are also allowed to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave. This leave also applies to the time following an adoption.
- Intermittent Parental Leave: If your employer approves, you can take intermittent leave, meaning that you can take some of your leave immediately, and use some of it later. Or, you can work part-time for a period. I could have asked my employer to let me work reduced hours after my initial four-week leave period, or come to some other arrangement. You just have to take your 12 weeks of leave within the first year of giving birth or adopting.
You do have to request your leave at least 30 days before taking it, though, so this means that you need to plan ahead. Many employers are willing to work with you when you are up front. Realize, though, that if you and your partner work at the same place, you are only entitled to 12 weeks combined, so you get more total leave time if you work at different places.
Deciding How Much Time to Take
Due to our situation, we didn’t have a lot of time to save up money for my unpaid leave. We were only able to save up enough for four weeks of leave. If you have been working for longer, though, you might be able to save up enough that taking the entire 12 weeks is feasible. You and your partner might even be able to alternate, so that for the first 24 weeks of your baby’s time in your home are spent with one of you.
You should also find out your employer’s policies.
- Some employers might offer six weeks paid leave, and six weeks unpaid leave, or some other combination of paid leave and unpaid leave.
- Some employers might let you extend your leave with paid vacation days or paid personal days.
- Some employers might let other employees donate their vacation days toward your paid leave.
Additionally, some Your employer’s policies, and the policies of your partner’s employer, will have bearing on how long you can take.Another consideration is what you need to do at work. The FMLA requires employers to let you come back after up to 12 weeks of leave with the same pay and benefits, in the same position (or a similar position) as you had before. However, if you are working on a big project, or if you have other responsibilities, you might want to come back sooner, or work out a plan that allows you to telecommute for some of the time. You will have to determine, with your employer, what constitutes leave time, and what constitutes work time, and create a plan under intermittent parental leave.
Time with your family is important after an adoption, or after you give birth. Plan ahead so that you can make the most of that time.
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.