There are many reasons why someone would want or need to get extra maternity leave. Pregnant women are usually told by their physician to take a recommended maternity leave of anywhere between two and eight weeks after the birth of their child. However, when pregnancy complications arise and you go on maternity leave early, you may use up all of your current leave resources and need more. Furthermore, some women may not be employed in a position that grants them any company leave, FMLA coverage, or state coverage.
The actual benefits you are eligible to receive will depend upon the company's particular policies as well as what you are entitled to take under applicable laws. Factors such as what organization you work for, the size of the company, how long you have been there, and what state you are in will determine how much (if any) you are entitled to receive. As far as seeking extra maternity leave (beyond what a company is required to provide) is up to the organization.
Legal Requirements for Maternity Leave
Federal law covers maternity leave under the stipulations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). With this act, eligible employees who work for employers with 50 or more employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave without fearing that they'll lose their job. If you have accrued vacation, sick leave, or PTO, your employer may allow you to use that time concurrent with FMLA so that some of your leave is compensated. Employers may require advance notice if you plan to use this type of leave.
For certain civilian employees of the federal government who qualify for parental leave under FMLA, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) requires that their leave be paid. Some states, like California and Massachusetts, have additional laws that govern when and how women can go about getting extra maternity leave beyond what is offered by their employer and the federal government. Check your state's family and medical leave laws to verify what your employer is legally obligated to allow you to take.
Company-Provided Maternity Leave Benefits
Some family-friendly employers may have a maternity leave package that goes above and beyond what is required under FMLA or other applicable laws. The maternity leave package should be outlined when you begin working at a particular employer or be detailed in the employee handbook. It's a good idea to check in with human resources to verify if there have been any policy changes since you started working at the company or since the handbook has been updated.
If you are thinking about asking for extra maternity leave, it's a good idea to check and see if your company has a policy specific to personal leaves of absence or other types of leave not covered under a specific policy. If so, you'll need to follow those policies when you let your company know that you're interested in finding out if you may be able to take leave above and beyond the standard maternity leave.
Strategies for Getting Extra Maternity Leave
If you are hoping to take more maternity leave than the company already offers, you'll need to make a formal request to your company. Permission for an extended leave will be left up to your boss, human resources, and the company management. You will need to present a clear case as to why you should be granted extended leave. Use one or more of the strategies offered below to help you convince your company to let you take extra leave.
Highlight how allowing you to take extra parental leave will benefit the company in the long run. Explain how taking extra leave will allow you to be healthier and more able to focus on your job upon your return. This explanation is especially relevant if your baby faces health challenges. Explain how giving extra time off to care for your sick newborn will ensure that you are not spending your time at work worrying about your new baby.
Past and Future Work Performance
Think about asking for extra leave the same way as asking for a raise. What have you done to deserve the additional leave? Make a list of any past projects that you have completed with success, highlight your overtime hours, and/or mention the new training you recently completed. Assure your boss that you want to continue your career after your extended leave is over.
Disability and Medical Packages
Employers that do not offer separate maternity leave or fall under FMLA rules may offer medical leave as well as disability insurance. If you are seeking extended leave due to complications that arose from childbirth, you may qualify for additional time off under these policies.
For example, if you have physical complications from your pregnancy or are diagnosed with post-partum depression, you may be able to take additional time off as sick leave, assuming you haven't already used all of your available time. You may even be eligible for partial wage replacement if your situation is covered under your short-term or long-term insurance coverage.
If you are hoping to get extra maternity leave for personal (non-medical) reasons, flexibility on your part is important. When you request maternity leave, consider asking for additional time off upfront, before you go on leave. You may even want to offer to come back part-time or telecommute at first. Not only will this make returning to work easier, but being proactive with such a request will also show your boss you are serious about actually coming back. It's possible that you may be granted several weeks of respite from full-time duties by agreeing to a flex schedule.
Document Maternity Leave Requests and Approvals
Having a job is essential not only to many families' budgets but also to your sense of self. Protect yourself by getting physical copies of the company's leave policies and be sure to document everything. Keep copies of any maternity leave letters and forms you submit to the company. If you end up getting extra maternity leave approved, ask your boss to put it in writing and make sure it has been cleared with the proper channels.