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How to flex your maternity leave

By Pat Katepoo

If you're a mom-to-be who works outside the home 40+ hours a week, it's likely your standard maternity leave will be a mere six weeks, then it's back to the job, full-time.

For many new moms, returning to full-time work after six weeks is often a logistical challenge with built-in work/family conflict issues, and no less an emotional struggle as being away from a newborn weighs heavy on the heart.


What if instead you had a phased-back arrangement to ease the back-to-work transition? You would return to your job after the standard maternity leave period, yet work fewer hours than full-time for a pre-set, limited number of weeks.

This would allow you more time to be with your new baby while you preserve some of your earned income.

Most employers have no ready-made policies for a phased-back maternity leave, so you'll have to be the one to take the initiative.

Here's one approach:

Phase-back to Work Using FMLA
In a little-known provision of the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you can arrange a reduced leave schedule during all or part of the allowed leave time.


Quick review of FMLA
If you worked for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during the last year for an employer with 50 or more employees or for a public agency of any staff size, the FMLA allows you to take unpaid, job-protected family or medical leave for up to 12 weeks within a 12 month period for specific reasons including the birth or adoption of a child, or the placement of a foster child. Click here for more details.

So, for example, your six weeks of standard maternity leave could be followed by the 'phase-back' segment of working two to three days a week for six weeks, before resuming full-time hours again.

Remember, once any employer-paid leave is used up, the remainder of the 12 weeks may be unpaid, and you would not be eligible for unemployment compensation during this time. While you may not be able to afford unpaid leave for the entire time, by devising a phase-back arrangement, you can have more precious time to nurture your baby even as you resume your earnings.


Certain Conditions Required
This approach is allowed by law under FMLA with the following condition: you and your must both agree to the arrangement. This means your employer can't impose it on you if you don't want such an arrangement; nor is the employer required to allow it if you do want it. Both if it's mutually agreeable, it's a lawful way to use part of your family leave.

Use a Proposal to Get the Boss's Agreement
How can you get your employer to agree to a phased-back reduced workweek?

The time-proven way is to present a well-crafted, persuasive proposal to your immediate boss that addresses not only your scheduling needs, but also your employer's bottom-line interests. Get the boss's approval of your carefully outlined plan and the 'mutual agreement' condition is in place.

If your employer is not covered under FMLA, go ahead and propose a similar approach to your maternity leave anyway. Many working mothers in similar situations have done it successfully and have reaped a bounty of new-mom/new-baby thrills as a result.

It's a good idea to package your phase-back proposal as part of your overall maternity leave work-coverage plan. If you're already on maternity leave, submit your proposal as soon as possible.

Phasing back to work from maternity leave is a coveted work/family balance management technique. Use the provisions of the FMLA to help you get the transition schedule you want.

Also see:
Exploring flexible work options
Working out a telecommuting proposal

Pat Katepoo is the founder of WorkOptions.com and author/developer of the popular e-workbook, Flex Success Proposal Blueprint.

Copyright 2001 Pat Katepoo. Reprinted with permission.



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