Navigating Family Leave

Posted on August 31, 2019

Working mom

Today’s Buzz is by Sarah Henricks, Public Works Management Analyst, City of South San Francisco, CA (Twitter & LinkedIn)

What I am watching: Workin’ Moms (I copied this intro section from Caz Muske’s most recent Buzz, but this show is really prepping me for what I hope will be a hilarious ride through motherhood)

What I am eating: Lots of fruits and veggies, because, Baby!…but also lots of ice cream for the same reason.

What I am reading: just finished The Girl Puzzle which is historical fiction but now has me fascinated by the true story of Nellie Bly

In March I took a new job in a city I didn’t know, in a department I’d only had tertiary dealings with, and with more responsibilities than I’d had in years. The job was high pressure, a stretch gig, and something I was nervous about starting. At the same time, my husband and I decided to move, which is a stressful experience, no matter the surrounding circumstances. Things were a little crazy around our house, as I transitioned to a new position and we packed our belongings for another move. Oh yeah, we also found out we were pregnant with our first child. It was a lovely combination of life events that could easily spiral into a freakout session of the highest magnitude.

As it turned out, the move went fine and we are happy with our new place. I am expanding my skill set and feeling comfortable in my new position. (I remind myself that the most growth comes from being outside of your comfort zone.) The impending baby is healthy, growing and due in a couple short months. Things are good.

Black & White photo of women with childI was nervous about telling my new employer about my pregnancy. Would they be upset? Would they expect me back right away? How much time would they give me? I delayed telling them for a while, but as it turns out, being pregnant is hard to hide. When I did spill the beans, everyone appeared to be happy for me. There were some hugs and squeals and even a little bit of jumping up and down. My boss was reassuring, letting me know that we would figure things out.

But what about people who don’t find themselves in such a supportive environment? I met with HR and they provided me the policy that addresses my situation:

  • Not eligible for FMLA leave (up to 12 weeks within a year of the event, unpaid) because I haven’t been there for 12 months.
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) does not have a length of service requirement, so I am eligible for that. PDL is 6-8 weeks dependent on delivery, unpaid.
  • The City will provide short-term disability benefits, which provides up to 66.67% of my regular pay for up to 13 weeks. This does not take effect until 21 days after I become “disabled” due to sickness, injury, or pregnancy. According to policy, if I take just six weeks off, I collect 66.67% of my regular pay for the last 3 weeks. I’m not great at math, but I think that means I’ll only earn 33.3% of my regular pay while on leave. If I were a single mom, living paycheck to paycheck, that would be unsustainable, even for six weeks.

At the time when I need my income the most, I would be barely scraping by. This doesn’t seem fair. 

Many women are forced to go back to work because of the financial burdens of children – kids are expensive, ya’ll! Plus we’re making ⅔ less than we were before we started working. In addition to having that albatross hanging around our necks, we have childcare to worry about when we return to work and it’s likely that our heads aren’t 100% in the game because we just created a tiny, helpless human who has changed our entire worlds and then left it behind – often in the care of strangers. We’re trying to catch up on the work we missed while were out and at the same time figuring out the logistics of our new role as parents – drop-offs, pick-ups, packing lunch for ourselves, getting a diaper bag together for the baby – what in the world!?!

Until the country comes up with a better plan to support working mothers, organizations must support their employees. Not only do we need more time off and help funding that time, we need help balancing new responsibilities as working moms (and dads), and options to modify our return to work.

Clip from John Oliver show

I’m developing a return-to-work plan with my employer. I’m in the planning stages, working closely with my boss and department to create a plan that works for both of us. I’ll need more than six weeks off, but I don’t want my work to fall through the cracks. I’ve created a tentative calendar to determine which projects must continue while I’m out. I’m thinking about who I can lean on to take over some of my work while I’m out. I’m also using this opportunity to develop skills in other staff members. Who has a little extra time and can handle a stretch assignment by ensuring the work gets done and strengthens their skill set. These are the types of things moms and dads are thinking about as they get ready to go out on leave. 

This dichotomy of loyalty to our family and our workplace is great justification for why employers should be developing programs to support their employees with families. People say employees are not as loyal to the companies they work for as they used to be, but most people I work with are worried about what will happen while they are out. We care about the work and the services we provide to our communities. We’re checking emails during vacation or missing milestones in our children’s lives so we can attend a Council meeting.

The time we get with a new baby is irreplaceable. We need our organizations to support us so we can return to work happy, healthy, and productive.

How does your organization support working moms and dads? Besides wages, how would you like to see your organization provide support?

I plan to follow-up on this post once I’ve returned to work to debrief on how my return-to-work schedule went, where things went wrong and where they went right.

On a semi-related side note: This thank you note to ELGL post from Alisha Janes is so legit because fellow ELGL-er Kendra Davis helped throw me a baby shower and literally half of the guests are in my life and this baby’s life because of ELGL!

Baby Shower selfie

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