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Career Connection: Maternity Leave


By Teena Rose, CPRW, CEIP, CCM,

Having children can be a time of great joy. It can also be a time of major-league stress. And for working women, the anxiety is compounded when facing the challenges associated with maternity leave.

In the United States, the single word that best sums up maternity leave is inconsistency. The range of employer policies and attitudes toward maternity leave ranges from overwhelmingly cooperative to downright disagreeable. Some companies offer paid maternity leave, while others offer federally mandated unpaid leave. Some employees report being treated with kindness and respect during their leave, while others complain of being harassed by bosses, subjected to coworker complaints, and pressured to return to work early. Whatever the case, the first thought for expecting mothers should be educating themselves on what benefits they’re entitled to receive and the best way to inform their employer.

Congress took action in 1993 to kick-start a healthier attitude toward families by passing the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows parents in companies with 50 or more employees to take up to three months of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child without losing their job. For employees who have held their current job for 12 months, company benefits remain in place during the leave. Upon return, employees are supposed to retain their current salary and the same or equivalent job.

While some companies pay for a portion of maternity leave, most do not. In those cases mothers-to-be can utilize short-term disability benefits to cover their salary, or at least a portion of it. Most states offer these benefits, which are paid for by employees through payroll deductions.

Covering the financial part of maternity leave is the tangible part. It’s handling the intangible issues that can get a little sticky. A recent study produced by Cornell University found that working mothers face severe disadvantages in the workplace in regards to hiring, salaries, and promotions. Naturally, that also trickled down to women who take maternity leave. Another survey, published recently by Parenting Magazine, reported that 47 percent of women had to deal with some type of negative backlash during their leave and roughly 66 percent faced skepticism from bosses and coworkers on whether they would really return to their job. Not surprisingly, the Parenting Magazine study also found that female bosses were more understanding than males when dealing with maternity leave.

The consequences associated with negative attitudes toward maternity leave, coupled with other societal changes, are already having far-reaching effects. In Europe, governments are addressing the problem of a declining birthrate by offering more incentives to families. With Europe’s elderly population expected to double by 2030, the current 1.4 per woman birthrate among EU countries is well below the 2.07 per woman needed to prevent a drop in population.

Career focus and the rising cost of childcare have contributed to the decline of the European birthrate. Governments in Germany, France and Great Britain are beginning to employ family friendly policies like state-subsidized childcare, discounts for rail travel and tax incentives. The British government plans to increase the maternity benefit to nine months from 26 weeks starting in April 2007. Fathers won’t be left out either. A father will be allowed to take three months of paid leave in addition to the two weeks of paternity leave if the child’s mother returns to work after six months, before her maternity leave is up.

Until the U.S. adopts Europe’s family-friendly policies, mothers can take these steps to ensure smooth maternity leave transitions:

  • Know all the financial facts of your employer’s and state government’s maternity leave policies.
  • Communicate with your boss, your human resources director, and other mothers at work about the potential issues you will face.
  • Stay connected through phone or email while you’re away, but don’t go overboard. It’s important to show a continued interest, but not at the expense of your newborn.
  • Long before the birth of your baby, research options for childcare. This will be one of the most important considerations in your life after returning to work. Finding reliable childcare will put you more at ease and allow you to focus while at work. And always have plenty of backup plans for when your child is sick or the daycare center is closed.
  • Decide on a date of when you’ll return to work and make it a Thursday or Friday so you will have a short week.
  • Common among almost all mothers is the guilt they sometimes feel for returning to work. Own these feelings and express them to friends, other mothers, and your spouse.
  • After returning to work, find ways to stay connected during the day, whether you can stop by at lunch or make the occasional phone call.
  • Don’t allow work and a new baby to overtake your life. It’s crucial for mental health to make time for yourself, whether it’s a relaxing 30 minutes in the bath, or an hour-long yoga class.


Teena Rose operates a prominent and professional resume writing service, Resume to Referral. She’s authored several career books, including "20-Minute Cover Letter Fixer" "How to Design, Write, and Compile a Quality Brag Book" and "Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales."


Teena Rose, CPRW, CEIP, CCM
Resume to Referral
7211 Taylorsville Road, Office 208
Huber Heights, OH 45424
Phone: (937) 236-1360
Fax: (937) 236-1351


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