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Maternity Leave 101: Making the Most of It

By Robin Elise Weiss

If you'll be negotiating your maternity leave or seeking to improve your company's policy, it's best to have a plan in mind before you break the news of your pregnancy. Follow these steps:

    * Do your homework. Find out if you're covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 or a state law, or if your company's policy is better than what these laws guarantee. Look into what comparable businesses offer employees. Also, if any of your coworkers managed to strike a deal, discreetly ask them how they did it.

    * Decide what you really want. If time off is most important, for example, consider offering to work three days a week before returning full-time. But beware of making promises that will be hard to keep, such as saying you can do a lot of work at home. You'll be sleep-deprived and caring for a newborn.

    * Cobble together accrued vacation, sick, and personal days. In fact, your company can require that you make your vacation and sick days part of your 12 weeks off; that's legal under the FMLA. But if women need to use paid sick days during pregnancy, for instance, then they have fewer options for pay during maternity leave.

    * Put yourself in your employer's shoes. Determine why your proposal is a good idea from your boss' perspective, advises Cindia Cameron, organizing director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

    * Look for potential allies. But try not to go over your supervisor's head. If you must go to higher-ups, let your boss know what you're doing, suggests Cameron.

    * Put it in writing. People can forget things or get confused, reminds Cameron. Write a memo outlining what you've agreed to, and send it to your boss and the human resources department.

    * Set a precedent. Whether you're the first woman at your company to have a baby or the latest in a line of moms, chances are you won't be the last, and your employer will have to address this again. Point out that improving the policy now is good business.

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