Before I was pregnant I was always curious about the details of how others handled maternity leave, so I’m going to share way TMI about mine. (Beka, this is for you, m’dear, although I suspect you’ve already done this research.)
First, some background:
I’m a software engineering manager at a major corporation. I’ve been with the company for eight years, work from home full-time already, and my team is Seattle-based (and therefore a couple of hours behind me). My schedule is flexible in that sometimes I work EST hours, sometimes I work late to accommodate PST-based folks, and although I’ll often work a billion hours (weekends!) if needed, I also have no qualms (and get no grief) for doing stuff during the day if it needs to be done.
I have a small team of three people who report to me; we’re responsible for all maintenance and service pack releases managed and produced by our company.
Long story short, I’m eligible for FMLA and work for a company so large our maternity leave policies come with their own manual (and coordinator). I have employees who will be boss-less for the duration of my maternity leave and a slew of regular responsibilities and committees for which I need to have coverage while I’m out.
Before I was pregnant:
I asked around amongst my female coworkers to get the the scoop on the ups and downs of maternity leave and reached out to the maternity leave coordinator for general information. I did not, however, talk with HR. I work for a great company and for good people, but maternity discrimination is a real thing that doesn’t always seem nefarious.
Here, let me offer a very plausible example: “Well, I know she’s awesome and it would be great to nominate her for this <super awesome and prestigious> program, but it’ll be hard for her to do four out of town training sessions this year… and with such a big life transition, we really shouldn’t put her under additional pressure.”
Since our yearly planning cycle roughly corresponded with my finding out I was knocked up, I decided to spare us all the grief and not tell HR until I clued in my boss. (At my company, HR’s responsibility is to the business, not the employee, so one should always assume that discussions with them are not confidential. The maternity coordinator, however, is required to keep all conversations confidential. If you don’t know what is and isn’t confidential, find out now.)
That said, I did get nominated for the super awesome and prestigious program despite very real travel limitations (no way can I travel for four training sessions in the next four months… ahem) after they knew I was pregnant. I love my company (and that nomination and another one — at the same time! — both really helped me to feel secure in my job, which was nice).
By the way, while asking around about the experiences of other female coworkers, I was heartened to hear (and see evidence) of a really supportive environment. Many of our managers are female and felt like they weren’t pressured to take more or less time off than they wanted. I know of two senior leaders who were promoted while on maternity leave, in fact, so I felt pretty good about this being a blip in my career. That said, the unwritten rule seemed to be that women take 12 weeks off but no more. (Both Washington and Tennessee have superseding state laws allowing for more time off than federal FMLA.)
I was counseled to be factual about what I needed, have a solid transition plan in place, and not make a big deal about it. Cool! I’ve written before about how awkward I felt being “the pregnant one,” but I can honestly say that was my hang-up and not the behavior of my coworkers. I was also warned that the unspoken question from my management would be whether I’d return at all. This cracked me up (because my husband is a full-time student so I will be back, fo sho) but reminded me that I have some leverage too. They want me to come back!
Once I knew I was “with child”:
At some point late in the first trimester, I told one member of my staff because she noticed I’d been out of the office a couple of times for ambiguous “appointments” and confessed that she’d been praying for me because she thought I was seriously ill. How could I not tell her I didn’t have anything bad wrong? So, I told her and asked her to keep it confidential, which she did. I don’t like asking my folks to keep secrets, though, so I knew I’d have to tell my boss and the rest of my team within a few weeks.
Telling the boss and my team:
We opted to wait to spread the news until our first trimester screen came back okay. I was very nervous about what to say (remember?) so I ultimately blurted it out during one of my weekly one-on-one’s with my boss. So awkward! He was very polite and nice and supportive, then I called my team together and told them as well.
I told them what I knew: I was pregnant, x weeks along, due in early August, and would have a maternity leave coverage plan in place and all transitions complete months before I’d be out. I’d need their help to take on more responsibility in preparation for and during my leave, and for that I was much appreciative and a bit sorry (in that my personal choices would affect their professional lives) but it couldn’t be helped so any suggestions or requests they had to make it easier would be accommodated.
My team is great, made fun of me for being so formal, and then commenced the “sooo, how cranky do you feel today?” daily queries.
Telling everyone else I work with:
I work in software engineering, remember? So. Many. Men. I mean, not that I don’t have female coworkers, but my peers are predominantly men. Very technical nerdy men. The idea of having to tell them the s*x with my husband paid off (my brain works in awkward ways) was my own personal hell so I just asked my team to spread the word via their networks and gossip circles, which made them laugh but saved me from, “So, um, I have an announcement….” They were very effective, but only after briefly debating not telling anyone just to see how much more awkwardness they could bring upon me by letting everyone whisper about my expanding waistline when I finally came to town.
Luckily our water cooler network is incredibly effective so I didn’t have to break the news to anyone. But, because many of us work remotely and/ or aren’t part of the cool kids, about a month ago I started jokingly referencing how I’d happily commit to anything happening in August, September or October since I wouldn’t be around to see it through. (All requests for customer fixes go through me and I’m notorious for not promising unless I’m sure we can deliver.)
I took one trip to the mother ship (Seattle) in March at around 20 weeks pregnant and another last-minute trip to a customer site in April at 22-ish weeks and now I’m not traveling (per Marisa decree) until after I return from maternity leave. Though this is going to be rough on the planning for the cool thing I was nominated for, it is what it is. I’ll just cram a year’s worth of project work into eight months (and give my husband great bonding time with his son while I go on four — eeek — training trips in that time period).
And finally, my maternity leave details:
My employer provides short-term disability coverage at no cost to us (and no opt-in, it’s automatic). I found this out after frantically calling the benefits center the day open enrollment was closing because I’d JUST found out I was pregnant and ohcrapneedtogetpaid! Go, big corporation (and thanks). For a normal vaginal delivery, our salary continuation program pays between 50 and 100% of my salary – at the business’s discretion – for six weeks; for a c-section, it’ll pay for eight.
My business agreed to pay 100% because I’m awesome. (No, really that’s just their policy unless you have performance issues.) If I have to stop working before the baby comes, short-term disability kicks in without decrementing the 6/8 week post-baby weeks, which is nice to know. (Subliminal note to baby and body: no need to take advantage of this! Stay in there! Incubate!)
Here’s the bummer: my company does not allow us to roll vacation over from one year to the next. If you don’t use it within the calendar year, you lose it. I get three weeks a year and have given up at least a week of that every year for the past eight years, so if they did allow accruals, I’d be all set! But, they don’t, so I’m not. Also a bummer: though I’ve accumulated four weeks of sick leave (I never take sick days since I end up doing the work on some other day anyway), they basically get zeroed out once short-term disability kicks in.
That said, I know that I’m very lucky (because I chose to work for a great company!) to be paid for any time off, much less most of it. Well, all of it. I get 10 weeks of paid maternity leave (six weeks short-term disability, three weeks of vacation, one week of personal days) and after months of discomfort about taking additional unpaid time off, I’ve opted not to. For now, two more weeks don’t seem worth it. If I end up with a c-section, I’ll be out 12 weeks, all paid at 100%.
I may change my mind and take those two extra weeks — and am making it clear that I might — but for now, the idea of not getting a paycheck is far too stressful, even with a healthy savings account, for me to feel comfortable doing it. Note: in Tennessee you can take up to four months of unpaid time off but as I mentioned above, the unspoken rule at work is that women take 12 weeks with full support… and nobody can remember anyone ever taking any more time off. So, 12 weeks was my max. All the stress I was feeling over ten days didn’t make sense for me, so I’ll just head back after ten.
So, 10 weeks of paid maternity leave if all goes well, 12 weeks if I have a c-section. The only murkiness remaining is what deductions will continue to be pulled from my paycheck once it’s not a standard paycheck from payroll but rather one from the disability program. I do know that the company continues to pay health coverage at regular rates (woo, hoo) but am not so sure about 401k deductions and such. Also strange: disability checks pay weekly, not bi-weekly like payroll checks. Odd.
Last, my maternity leave coverage plan… and useful links
I found this template online (last night!) and found it to be very helpful. I filled in the blanks, sent it to my staff for review, then submitted it to my boss in advance of our weekly meeting tomorrow.
Though my eighth month of pregnancy is a little late to be documenting my transition/ coverage plan, I have been preparing my team to be without me for the past, well, six months, so it’s not a surprise to them (or anyone else). I first chatted with them as a team about who I’d be asking to cover what, then individually to make sure everyone was comfortable. I have a few details to wrap up but for the most part, the transition is underway. My goal is to have everyone attending meetings and handling the additional responsibilities by the end of this month so that I can coach them (if needed) for the last month and/ or we’re all prepared if I have to leave earlier than my due date.
I still haven’t worked out the details of my email account, Blackberry, and out of office announcements, but I’ll get that locked down in the next week or two. I’ve asked for six weeks of no contact, then a phone call to my boss and team lead, then two weekly meetings with my team before I’m back full-time.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some discomfort that they’ll do so well without me, nobody will notice I was gone, but I am fortunate to have a great team of people.
Back to work?
After 10 weeks, I’ll come back to my usual schedule with a couple of modifications:
- I won’t do more than one (or two?) late nights a week through the end of the year. I’ve already started to limit the after-5 meetings I accept and haven’t gotten any flack for it.
- I’ll block off a real lunch hour (to breastfeed my kiddo at daycare) and a couple of breaks during the day (for pumping).
Again, I’m already working a pretty flexible schedule so I’m comfortable using all my sick leave during maternity leave. If my son is really sick and I need to not work to be with him, I’m confident my boss and business won’t begrudge me an unofficial day off. Worst case, I can be accessible via Blackberry for critical issues. Not keeping track of sick days like this is not unusual on our teams, by the way, so I’m not setting a new precedent or anything. We work crazy hours when we have to so we let people do what they have to when they can. One of my employees has been leaving at 3 pm to take her son to baseball practice a couple of days a week for a while and will continue to do so. She works her patooty off and doesn’t get behind, so it’s all good (even if she is sending emails at midnight despite my reminders not to work herself to death).
So there you go, that’s my plan. Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll reply, I promise. I think I beat this topic to death with details, but figured someone might benefit from knowing how someone else is dealing with this. And, again, I’m totally cognizant of how not-sucky my situation is. We probably wouldn’t have pulled the goalie when we did if I wasn’t fairly certain most of my leave would be paid since my husband is a full-time student and the bacon is mine to bring home for now.
And to add to the awesomeness, if this kiddo arrives near his due date, my husband will be on a three-week school hiatus between one session and another, so he’ll get to spend almost a month with us too! Lucky guy. (Lucky me.)