This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.

Week 16: Getting More Maternity Leave If You're Unhappy With What You Have

Are you surprised to hear that your maternity leave isn’t set in stone? If you’re unhappy with your employer’s policy you don’t have to accept it at face value. While you may not be able to get more time or negotiate more pay than the official maternity leave benefits your company offers, at least you can try to negotiate with your manager or HR department. The worst thing that can happen is that your request is considered and then denied.

Negotiating for better maternity leave terms can mean a range of different things. You may want a longer leave period (even if unpaid), while others may be looking for more pay during your time off, or even a phased-in return period, such as working part-time your first couple weeks. Whatever it is that you’re looking for, make sure you have a plan for making the request so you tip the odds in your favor.

Here is a short list of some of the things you should do before meeting to negotiate for more leave:

  1. Research your employer’s policy and how it compares to other companies, in particular its competitors.

  2. Frame your request as much as possible in terms of the business case. For example, rather than telling your manager that you need more unpaid time off because you want to spend extra time with your baby, tell your manager you will need to physically recover from childbirth so you can come back at 100% and not miss a beat.

  3. Highlight any positives from your leave. For example, perhaps junior members of the team will be able to try their hand at the expanded responsibility that they have been seeking at work while you are gone.

  4. Anticipate objections. If your manager asks you who will cover for you and your projects while you are gone, you should have an answer about how your different responsibilities will be allocated among your colleagues. If you’ve actually identified a temporary replacement candidate, this is the time to talk about him or her.

  5. Consider staging your request. You may not be certain of how much leave you need until you are actually on maternity leave. If you don’t know for sure whether you want a part-time schedule when you come back, you can negotiate for that during your maternity leave rather than before you even have your baby.

For a more detailed discussion of things you can do to prepare for this conversation, you can read our expanded suggestions for how to negotiate for more maternity leave.

At the end of the day, while corporations have many policies that look airtight on paper, we have heard of many situations where managers covered for employees or each other when their company policies seemed insufficient. Exceptions to policies may be more common than you think, particularly when it comes to additional unpaid time off.

Just think of it this way: if you had a physical accident and were unable to come into work for 2 months, there may or may not be an official policy to deal with your situation. But a good number of employers would realize that it would be very short-sighted and unfair to be completely inflexible or refuse to compromise. While you may not be able to negotiate more favorable leave terms at your company, it’s hard to see how you could be worse off by respectfully and intelligently making the request.

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My company offers only 6-8 week of SDI and I really think it's crazy given that we're such a large company with so many other perks. I want to help change this -- if not for me, then for other women after me. Any tips on how to change your corporate....

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