Maternity leave: Expectant moms wait 'til the last minute
With no US laws requiring paid leave, more mothers stay on the job longer, saving time off until after the baby arrives.
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Some pregnant workers face "a lot of resentment" from other employees, Ms. Samuels says. When she and coauthor J.C. Conklin interviewed more than 100 women for their book, she says, "We would get stories behind a pregnant woman's back. Colleagues would say, 'We noticed she's been leaving a little early.' "Skip to next paragraph
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Although some women face pressure from their bosses, others praise employers for being compassionate and flexible. "I've seen managers be concerned that a mom may be working too hard and suggest she work at home," says Cali Williams Yost, a workplace flexibility consultant in Madison, N.J.
Ms. Bogdan was allowed to work from home the last two weeks before delivery to avoid a long commute.
A supportive manager also helped Sarah Francomano, a publicist at Manning Salvage & Lee in Boston. Because she had worked for the firm less than a year, she was only eligible for six weeks off. But her boss gave her another six weeks to make it the full three-month maternity leave. "I needed every second of it," she says. Now she works from home two days a week.
In a world of e-mail and cellphones, even women whose doctors put them on bed rest during pregnancy continue to work. Samuels, who spent two months on bed rest during her first pregnancy, was a practicing attorney. "I lay in bed and did work. To show a commitment to their job, professional women often feel they have to go above and beyond what the ordinary person would do."
That attitude extends beyond pregnancy. "Particularly in big law firms, a lot of women would be on conference calls and sending out e-mails and faxes right after giving birth," Samuels says. "People would laud that. Others think that's nuts."
Know the law, find a balance
To make a new mother's leave easier for other employees, Yost says, managers like to know who will be doing what.
Employers also need to be aware of laws regarding pregnant workers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that employers not treat pregnant women any differently. "If an employer had a policy that pregnant employees cannot do certain aspects of their job, that would be illegal," says Kim Flanagan, an attorney with Littler Mendelson in Houston.
The law also requires employers to accommodate any special needs a pregnancy might require. They cannot fire a woman for pregnancy-related reasons. They cannot force a woman to take maternity leave earlier than she had planned or deny her leave. And they cannot refuse to hire an applicant because she is pregnant.
For women planning a leave, Yost cautions against cutting the timing too close. "I hear young moms asking, 'What's that date I can safely make, where I have as much leave as I possibly can and as much pay?' The part that's missing is, you don't really hear anybody say, 'But am I going to be rested enough and have enough time to transition to be ready to have the baby?' "
As one way of achieving better balance, Galinsky favors a new benefit called future leave, which some companies are starting to adopt. "You work full time but you put aside a portion of your money – 10 or 20 percent," she says. "That gives you some pay during a leave. It doesn't cost the company anymore money. It's a win for the company, a win for the employee."
As women grapple with their choices, Yost takes a pragmatic view, saying, "Being pregnant is a fact of life, a temporary condition. You just have to evaluate your own situation and decide what's best."