How to negotiate maternity leave with your employer

Whether you’re pregnant or merely thinking about expanding your family, it’s important to know how to address the issue with your employer. We know it can be tricky to navigate the discussion, so we’ve compiled some tips on how to approach the topic with your boss.

Know what kind of leave you’re owed

Many companies offer some kind of paid maternity or parental leave (which can include paternity leave or the time to care for a newly adopted child). The length of time can vary, so be sure to check your own company’s policies to see what the baseline is. With paid leave, the company pays for a certain number of weeks off.

If your company doesn’t offer paid leave, or you want to take additional time off for parental leave, then you could be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). FMLA leave is unpaid, but it ensures that your job will be secure for up to 12 weeks’ absence. This kind of leave can be used flexibly for any family purpose–like maternity or paternity leave, or caring for a sick relative.

Have a plan in place

Before you go to your boss, know what you’re planning to do. How many weeks of paid (or unpaid) leave are you expecting to take? Will you have a mix of paid and unpaid leave? When will it start? When do you anticipate being back? Are you seeking a flexible work schedule once you’re back to work?

When you’re planning for your leave, know what it is you want. If your company has a flexible policy or if you’re hoping to negotiate terms outside of the stated leave policy, knowing what your options are and what you want to get out of the discussion is key. The more you have figured out up front, the better you’ll be able to present a sensible plan to your boss and negotiate as necessary.

As you prep for your meeting with your boss (in person is best, even if you’ll have to file a written parental leave plan later), it can also help to have information and statistics about how parents and children benefit from that initial bonding time, and how self-care improves outcomes for new parents and their babies.

Don’t wait too long

It’s better to start talking with your boss about your plans as soon as you feel comfortable disclosing your pregnancy status. You don’t have to announce it to your entire work world just yet, but kicking things off with a confidential discussion with your boss gives you (and your company) the time you’ll need to plan ahead for your leave.

Negotiate to get the leave you want

Negotiating leave is pretty similar to negotiating your initial job offer or when you want a raise. Like with any other negotiation, it’s important to approach it with realistic expectations. Sure, in an ideal world you’d have, say, a year off with pay. In reality, most workplaces offer a limited number of weeks, so it’s unlikely you’d be able to negotiate a huge extension of existing policy.

Instead, make sure your plan balances what you want and need for your family with your company’s expectations. It may be that you can get more time, but at a reduced salary. Or maybe you can create a flexible schedule where you work a different schedule or part-time for a certain period of time. If you’re seeking something above and beyond your company’s stated policy, be ready to compromise and have other options in mind (like unpaid leave beyond a certain point if your employer can’t or won’t extend a certain amount of paid leave).

If you give yourself the time to hash this out with your employer and have all the necessary information at your disposal, you’ll be able to come up with a plan that works for you, while keeping your professional life on track. And don’t forget that haggling over these things now might seem stressful, but it can help you get the most out of your parental leave when the time comes.

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