According to the National Partnership for Women and Family, about 90 million workers in the U.S. are covered for parental leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While women are more likely to take a leave from work, the number of new fathers taking time off is on the rise. Hooray for more baby snuggles and shared responsibilities!
If you’re expecting a little one and plan to take time off, we’re here to help. You don’t have to tackle this new parenting thing alone. Remember? It takes a village.
We’ve created a comprehensive guide to preparing for your maternity or paternity leave. We cover FMLA, your state’s laws, potential benefits, and how to have a smooth transition with your employer. Most importantly, we provide a checklist for preparing for your leave and return to
- Understand What’s Offered Through FMLA
- Familiarize Yourself With Your State’s Laws
- Plan a Smooth Departure
- Comprehensive Checklist
Understand What’s Offered Through FMLA
FMLA may seem confusing at first, but here’s the main idea. FMLA is a federal law that guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time-off for birth, adoption, or to care for a sick family member. Both moms and dads are covered under FMLA, although maternity and paternity leave policies vary by company and state.
Your employer must meet eligibility for FMLA. And you must meet certain criteria, too, such as working for an employer for at least 12 months and working at a location where the employer has 50 employees within 75 miles.
It’s important to know that FMLA doesn’t provide paid time off. Short-term disability may be a benefit that your employer offers to provide some compensation. For instance, some employers pay 60% of your regular income for up to eight weeks of maternity leave.
Familiarize Yourself With Your State’s Maternity/Paternity Leave Laws
States can choose whether to expand leave coverage beyond FMLA. In fact, six states even provide paid family leave: California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. By becoming familiar with these state laws, you’ll know what you’re entitled to.
The chart below summarizes each state’s leave laws and benefits — both paid and unpaid.
Plan a Smooth Departure With Your Company
As you’re prepping the nursing at home and picking out baby names, be sure to prepare for your time off of work, too. Make sure you have the proper documents in place, the handoffs ready to go, and instructions available for those filling in while you’re on leave.
Discuss Your Options and Make a Plan With Your Employer
When you find out you’ll be adding to your family, be sure to connect with your HR department or your boss. You should be given information about your employer’s leave policies and how much of your salary is covered while you’re out — if any.
They should let you know if you can use sick time or vacation days toward your paternal leave, too. Make sure to discuss any requirements that must be met prior to or after your leave. For FMLA, for example, you need to work at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months. Sometimes you can find leave information on an employee website, in an employee handbook, or by calling your HR department. You can contact your local U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour office if you have questions beyond what your company can provide.
By understanding the number of weeks you’re granted and any compensation coverage, you and your family can make the best, most informed plan. For instance, you might decide to take 10 weeks off instead of 12 because it puts your family in a substantially better financial position. If you feel unsure about your options after talking with HR, you can contact your state’s family leave agency or the U.S. Department of Labor.
If your company is FMLA-eligible, apply through HR or your company’s benefits subdivision. You’ll need to fill out FMLA paperwork along with any extra paperwork for paid benefits offered by your state or through your employer. As an example, you may have to complete paperwork to receive short-term disability benefits.
Once you’ve determined how much time you plan to take, inform your human resources department. Give them the estimated date you’ll go on leave and how many weeks you plan to take. If you know you’ll be changing your status after the leave — such as from full-time to part-time — you can inform them as well. It’s not typically necessary to tell them and may impact the level of benefits you receive while on leave.
Discuss Your Transition Plan With Co-Workers
You’ll want to discuss your upcoming maternity or paternity leave with your supervisor and coworkers. When you tell them is up to you. Four to five months in advance usually gives everyone enough time to plan, especially if the baby arrives early. Fact: you won’t want to be sending work emails in the delivery room.
Depending on your job, you may be in charge of creating a transition plan for your job duties. Other times, it’s up to your supervisor. Either way, it’s important to ensure that your responsibilities will be covered while you’re out. Some teams split the duties while a team member is on leave, while others may hire a temporary worker to fill in.
To help your coworkers understand what you do and how you do it, you can document your processes. For instance, if you’re in charge of planning an annual charity drive, write down the steps for arranging the event. Make a list of everything you do, and ensure someone handles each task or project. You can offer to train the individual(s) filling in for you by walking them through your normal workflow. Encourage team members to take detailed notes, as you won’t be available once you’re on leave (yes, clear boundaries come in handy).
You’ll also want to prepare a plan of what you’ll do once you know your baby is on the way. For instance, if you go into labor on the weekend, how will you notify your employer? Will there be any final tasks you need to handoff? You don’t want to be in the hospital with a cellphone trying to delegate tasks, so be sure to plan with your supervisor ahead of time.
Perhaps most importantly, your team should be aware of your estimated leave start date and how many weeks you plan to be gone. Will you take 10 weeks to be with your new baby or 12 weeks to welcome your adopted child? Loop in your team as to whether or not you intend to return to work, and if you’ll be coming back part-time or full-time. When team members are clear on what to expect, it’s often easier to embrace changes or any extra workload.
Comprehensive Checklist to Help Guide You Through Your Leave
To ensure you’re prepared for your leave, use our comprehensive checklist. It includes everything from HR paperwork to child care arrangements (did you know some waitlists are months out?!).
Keep this guide handy so you don’t miss a thing during one of the most exciting times of your life. Review each category and check off each task as you go.
Sources: Commonwealth of Massachusetts | National Conference of State Legislatures | New York State Paid Family Leave | Nolo | Nolo | State of California Employment Development Department | State of Hawaii Department of Human Resources Development | U.S. Department of Labor | U.S. Department of Labor | Washington State Department of Labor & Industries | What to Expect