Money or Maternity – Do Employees Have a Choice?

by annbailey on May 23, 2013

Balancing work and one’s family life can become difficult when a child is born. Being a mother is a full time job, as newborn children must be fed, cleaned, entertained, and monitored closely to avoid unexpected injury or illness. Even a part-time job can absorb enough time from a new mother’s day to conflict with those obligations. Maintaining a career and raising a newborn child are not mutually exclusive, although balancing a new child with a profession will require compromise on at least one end.

Parental Leave

When raising a newborn child, new parents should take parental leave. The initial few months are particularly stressful on new parents and not having to worry about one’s professional obligations provides much-needed relief. As the name suggests, parental leave is a leave of absence; unlike tendering a resignation, taking parental leave guarantees that one’s position will remain open until the parent returns. This eliminates the need to find a new position in the marketplace and ensures financial stability over the long term.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, parents of children of up to one year of age are authorized to take up to three months of leave to care for their new child, place it up for adoption or in a foster home, or care for ill family members. New parents are not paid in most jurisdictions, but benefits will continue for the duration of the leave of absence, of importance since many couples depend upon medical insurance through work.

Not all employers are required to provide this leave, however. Employers are required to grant parental leave if the employer has over 50 employees within 75 miles of the worker’s location, if the worker has been on the job for over a year, and if the employee has worked for the employer for at least 1,250 hours during the preceding year. If the employee does not meet these conditions, the employer is not required to grant the employee leave under federal law.

If the employee meets these requirements, the employee may take the leave of absence after providing notice at least 30 days in advance. However, some employers will attempt to discourage employees from taking legitimate parental leave. Such conduct is unlawful. If that occurs, parents can contact the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor and file a complaint.

Nursing at Work

Staying home with the baby is just one approach. The other approach to bonding with one’s new baby while maintaining one’s career would be to take the baby to work. If the work environment is safe, many employers will allow nursing mothers to bring their children to work. Few employers outside of day care centers however, will have a spare nursing pillow or breast milk pump to provide to employees, so although some employers will provide comfortable sofas and chairs, mothers may need to bring their own maternity and infant equipment

Employers though, are not obligated to allow children into the workplace. Many employers view children as a distraction and many work environments are unsuitable for small children due to an array of workplace hazards. Many insurance companies also prohibit anyone other than employees from entering certain areas. As a result, bringing a child to work is not always feasible.

By law however, a mother may produce breast milk at work in order to feed her child after work. Under the recently amended Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must provide nursing mothers with a reasonable break time to express breast milk. In addition, employers must provide nursing mothers with a private area other than a bathroom stall. If the employer fails to do so, the mother may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. If the employer retaliates and terminates the employee, the employee may sue for wrongful termination.

Limitations and a Word of Caution

Federal protections that exist are in limited scope and state protections are usually nonexistent. Additionally, taking family leave is likely to negatively impact one’s career regardless. Employees may make themselves ineligible for performance or attendance bonuses by taking the leave of absence and parents in most jurisdictions are not compensated at all during the leave. Additionally, the three months lost can result in missed projects and reduced productivity, which will negatively impact one’s opportunities for promotion.

While employers are required to produce a private area for producing breast milk, employers are not required to furnish anything else to their employees. Fortunately, most workplaces have family friendly policies to some extent. Locating, hiring and training qualified personnel are all very expensive and most businesses would rather accommodate existing employees than lower morale and increase turnover.

Ann Bailey, while a television news anchor, took maternity leave after her son’s birth and encourages all mothers to do the same. To make a return to work after maternity leave easier, you may find that special equipment like a nursing pillow and rocking bassinet can help an office’s make-shift “nursery” feel more comfortable and inviting.

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