How I Maximized My Maternity Leave
The Family Medical Leave Act allows parents to take 12 weeks off of work after having a baby. However, I've been able to stretch this time out longer within the limits of the law.
When I had my first daughter, I didn’t know much about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). I did know that I could take extra time off beyond the standard six weeks of maternity leave, yet I simply planned my return to work around when I thought I financially needed to. Things got complicated, though, when Abby was born with vocal cord paralysis, causing her to have a weak airway. There was no way we were sending her to daycare with all those germs early on when a simple cold could lead to more severe problems. That’s when I got a crash course in FMLA.
FMLA allows parents to take up to 12 weeks off after baby is born. Unfortunately, as we all know, the US lags in parental leave so this time off isn’t paid for. I had about 35 days of sick and personal time saved up when I had my oldest daughter, but any time after that I would be missing out on paychecks. Luckily, I had enough in savings to cover costs when I wasn’t receiving wages. It was financially tough and it took me a couple months after returning to work to recover. It was so worth it, though, as I lucked out and was able to stay at home with my daughter for a little over four months.
NOTE: Both moms and dads can take FMLA as long as they work for a company that has 50 or more employees, and some states allow this time off if your company has at least 25 employees. this time can be spread out and doesn’t need to be taken all at once. In addition, you must have worked 1250 hours the year before with the same organization to be able to take this time off.
You are probably wondering how 12 weeks, or 60 days, can equate to four months off. Well, lucky for me as a teacher, any holidays that happened during my leave did not count against my 12 weeks. I had Abby early in November so that meant that I had Thanksgiving break, Winter Break, Mid-Winter Break, President’s Day and MLK Jr. Day that I didn’t have to count. That came to roughly 23 days that didn’t go towards my FMLA time. Once I realized that the day I had to report back to work was two days before Spring Break, I called HR and asked if I could have those extra days and transition back after the break. I felt it would be easier on me as well as my students. They obliged, which gave me seven more work days off. That’s a whopping 30 extra days that I didn’t have to count against my FMLA!
I realize how very lucky I was to be able to do this. Most working moms I know, though they do get the 6 weeks of maternity leave off paid by their employers, aren’t able to take more time off for one reason or another. However lucky I was, though, there were some drawbacks to this decision to have to take this time off. Yes I had savings to cover my lost wages, but that meant I went back to work with very little left. I knew from the moment I got pregnant with my second daughter, though, that I had to do a lot more planning to make the finances not so burdensome.
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