Few things compare to the excitement of finding out you’re pregnant. Instantly your mind fills with images of little baby shoes, playing with your little one and teaching him or her their ABCs. However, for many Americans, another thought comes to mind very quickly: “How am I going to actually take time off of work?”
A job helps you create the life you want, but it can also keep you from living it fully. Endless 9-to-5 days and demanding projects make it hard for parents-to-be to imagine how they are going to take time off from work to have a baby.
24 years ago the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed, the national law that grants 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees. However, unpaid leave is just that…unpaid. Very few Americans can manage to go 12 weeks without a paycheck. It has been left up to individual states to enact laws around paid leave, and while states like California have done an excellent job of enacting a paid family leave law, states like Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma and more have not passed any legislation to help families since the passing of FMLA.
So, how can moms-to-be maximize their time off to care for children? We spoke to Lauren Wallenstein, maternity leave expert and founder of MilkYourBenefits.com about how moms and dads can cobble together weeks and months of leave. Her tips are specific to California state law, but the points are worth bringing up to your employer no matter where you live.
Glassdoor: Navigating maternity leave can be nerve-wracking: when to tell your boss, how to talk about it, what are your rights, etc. When a woman first finds out she’s pregnant, when should she talk to her boss?
Lauren Wallenstein: I recommend that women notify their employers about their pregnancy as soon as they begin to show. At that point it’s too early to discuss leave specifics, but it gives the company enough time to process the initial leave paperwork and make any workplace accommodations that may be necessary. Waiting longer just leads to unnecessary whispering and wondering.
Glassdoor: You specialize in California leave policies. Approximately how much paid maternity leave can expecting moms receive from sources such as CA State Disability Insurance and parental leave policies?
Lauren Wallenstein: The thing to remember about any disability plan is that it will only pay you during the portion of time that you’re disabled. Many people mistakenly believe that they’ll receive disability income no matter how long they’re out on leave. While CA SDI will pay you for a max of 52 weeks with little pushback (although the norm is 6-8 weeks), company disability and parental leave policies vary widely. And often those plans refuse to pay out before the baby is born regardless of the mother being rendered disabled by her doctor or midwife.
Glassdoor: Often moms have to cobble together sick days, PTO, personal days, etc. to get the maximum amount of time. Is it possible to cobble together 5 months of maternity leave? How?
Lauren Wallenstein: How long one can be out on a leave of absence is determined by a variety of factors including; longevity with the employer, number of employees, and company policy, among others. How long one can be PAID during that time is another matter altogether. Is it possible to be paid during your entire leave? Maybe. What I would recommend is that if you know you want to get pregnant or you already are pregnant, save those sick and vacation days to use during your leave!
Glassdoor: Companies like Facebook, Etsy, Dell and more are offering 4 to 6 months maternity leave. How are these companies impacting the movement to “milk your benefits”?
Lauren Wallenstein: Tech companies, in general, are leading the charge for paid family leave. And there has been a noticeable trickle-down effect for smaller companies in other fields over the past few years. But it’s just that; a trickle. It’s going to take more time and a lot of effort on the part of voters and elected officials to bring the US into alignment with the rest of the world with regard to paid family leave.
Glassdoor: Given this, how should job seekers approach their search if they have parenthood on their minds?
Lauren Wallenstein: One important thing for all women to remember is to review parental leave policies before accepting a new job. I can’t tell you how many of my clients took on a new role just before becoming pregnant, only to discover that their new employer has less generous maternity benefits. Don’t be afraid to ask to review the company handbook if you’re serious about accepting a new job. You may be better off waiting to make a change after the baby is born.
Glassdoor: What is your best advice for communicating a parental leave plan with HR?
Lauren Wallenstein: I always recommend that my clients formulate a plan once they’re in the last trimester–it’s premature to do it before then. But it’s important to underscore that these plans are mere projections: Babies don’t always come according to schedule. So both parties need to expect some measure of variance from the plan.
Glassdoor: Lastly, What is the most important thing for parents-to-be to know about parental leave? Any parting words?
Lauren Wallenstein: Always milk your benefits! Too many expectant parents hem and haw about taking off the max amount of time because they’re worried about perception issues at work. Your baby is a newborn for such a minute amount of time, so maximize your maternity leave! And if you’re unsure about how to integrate your benefits, be sure to ask an expert.
Cool Companies Offering Amazing Parental Leave Policies Nationwide
The charitable organization’s parental leave policy offers new parents up to 52 weeks of paid leave during the first year after their child’s birth.
Johnson & Johnson offers an international maternity and paternity leave policy. In the U.S., new parents (including fathers and those who adopt) can take eight additional weeks of paid parental leave, on top of the company’s current 17-week leave policy, during the child’s first year of life.
In March 2016, the company introduced 26-week paid parental leave benefit, which includes biological, adoptive, and surrogate parents of both genders. The time can be taken over the two years following the birth or adoption of a child, although the first 8 weeks must be taken consecutively following the birth or adoption.
This music streaming company was started in Sweden, a country that has one of the best parental leave policies in the world, with 480 days available to all parents. Because of this, Spotify wanted to provide a full 24 weeks of paid leave for both moms and dads, which can be taken over a period of three years.
In December 2016, Amex upped their offering to 20 weeks for all new parents, including full-time and part-time employees, which is incredibly rare. Plus, expectant parents will have access to a parent concierge, whom they can go to for information on the company’s family benefits and resources. And employees who wish to have a child will receive up to $35,000 for adoption or surrogacy for up to two children. Those undergoing infertility treatments, meanwhile, will receive up to a lifetime maximum of $35,000 to help defray costs.
The retail giant increased their benefit to 20 weeks of paid leave, and now offer parents the option of splitting up some of that time with their spouse. For example, if an Amazon employee’s spouse did not get any paid leave at their company, they could take up to six weeks on Amazon’s dime.
Twitter also offers 20 weeks of paid leave to both moms and dads, regardless of whether they had the child by birth or adoption.
The Swedish furniture giant changed their U.S. policy late last year to offer its 13,000 salaried and hourly employees in the U.S. up to four months of paid parental leave.