So, maybe you’re not ready to tell anyone your news yet. But you’re so excited (or anxious) that you’ve already started thinking a few steps ahead.
Believe it or not, it’s a pretty common occurrence for women to suddenly realize they don’t know their employer’s maternity leave policy, or frankly much of anything about what rights they have as pregnant women.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there, ranging from the idea that you can’t get fired (unfortunately not true) to the idea that you will be paid while you’re on maternity leave (again, not necessarily true) and that your job will still be there after you have a baby (sadly, also not a guarantee).
If you’re scratching your head wondering how things could be this unfair when you’re carrying the burden of bringing a small human being into the world, you’re not alone.
The U.S. is one of the only developed countries in the world that does not guarantee any payment to employees who take maternity leave. A federal law called FMLA protects certain women from losing their job and gives them unpaid leave if they’ve worked for their employer for over a year and their company is covered under the law (which they generally are if they employ at least 50 people).
Many employers do go beyond doing the bare minimum when it comes to pregnant employees. They may offer company sponsored (read: paid) short-term disability benefits that may be fully or partially paid by an employee and that may or may not require you to opt in (sadly, opt-in plans usually require you to do so before you’re pregnant in order for you to benefit). They also may just outright offer paid parental leave.
But finding your company's exact policy on leave can be tricky. If you don’t want to spill the beans or raise any eyebrows, we suggest that you first ask for a copy of the employee handbook from someone in HR. Sometimes this information sits on an employee portal or online site where you can also access information about your 401k or other benefit details like your health care plan.
Other times, companies outsource their benefits administration to third party companies and you will have to call a third-party company to find out what the policies are. These third parties typically require information about your employee status or other identifying information before they release details about your specific plan (especially, this happens at employers where different employees receive different levels of benefits).
What to do if you still can't turn up parental leave policy information:
If this fails to uncover any information, or you feel forced to ask specifically about maternity leave because you aren’t seeing any relevant intel, you may have to turn to colleagues for information. Is there another new mom at the company you can ask in confidence? If not, is there an employee forum or place for anonymous employee feedback where you can request that this information be publicized?
If you know another woman who recently went on leave, you may want to pull her aside and confide in her to ask what the leave policy is. You don’t even have to tell her you’re pregnant, you can just tell her you’re trying or that you’re thinking of having a baby.
If all else fails, you can choose to leave a note or send an anonymous email (from something other than your work email) where you request information about the company’s maternity leave policy but say that you are uncomfortable identifying yourself. Hopefully you can get an answer through this last method, at the very least.
Whatever you do, be sure to share your company's policy with Fairygodboss. Our crowdsourced parental leave database has helped women find out their employers' policies when they were afraid to ask — so whatever anonymous tips you're able to leave will make it that much easier for the next woman in your shoes to get the information she needs.