Pregnancy and the Working Woman
Every day working women feel pressure to carry the world on their shoulders, whether that means advancing in their careers, establishing an identity that adheres to their values and principles, or starting or continuing a family in the midst of all the above. Sometimes, and maybe too often, women chose to forgo getting pregnant out of fear of timing misalignment with their jobs. We’ve often seen this when women are planning to change jobs, but find out they are pregnant, or they are working in a position where “busy season” is on the brink, and they feel that missing any work would greatly compromise their ability to perform to standards.
Knowing You have Options
Medical Leave is usually for a set period of time, and may be unpaid or partially paid. This option tends to be the most inflexible, as women are expected to return to work or risk compromising their position on the job. To help lengthen this qualification period, be sure to maintain an open and honest dialogue with your OB-GYN about the realities of your work situation. OB-GYNs can be critical advocates for pregnant women and postpartum moms–oftentimes able to write notes and medical recommendations directly to employers that could help maintain safe and reasonable employment for their patients.
Short Term Disability:
For most, the best benefit to take advantage of is short-term disability, and for this context, it is also known as maternity leave. This paid leave benefit often starts about two weeks before an employee gives birth, and coverage can continue up to about six-weeks postpartum. To get your exact policy details, seek guidance from your insurer. If you have a great relationship with your supervisor or leadership, it may be best to also consult with them to see what the possibilities are. Oftentimes, the best policies are a combination of benefits that most workers may not even be aware of, but please note that every employer is different, so use your discretion in seeking detailed advice. Much like for Medical leave, it may be a great option to speak with your OB-GYN, and see what they have to say–sometimes these physicians have seen and heard it all, and can offer some encouraging options.
New Job? Negotiate a sign-on Bonus:
If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant shortly after getting a new job, start doing the math on how long you want to be out in the early infancy stage. Determine how much your expenses will be for that period of time, and ask for a sign-on bonus to cover the costs. Usually employers have a requirement that to take advantage of Short Term Disability pay, a worker will need to have been employed for at least six to twelve months. And if you’re a new employee, that means you will not be eligible for that benefit. So if you were to remain out of commission (and unpaid), think about how much time you will need to recover from pregnancy and connect with your baby. This is important, because if you are healthy and happy, your employer will benefit. So see what options you have upfront, before you agree to take the position, especially in terms of negotiating a sign-on bonus that will help you during that time.
Employers ARE reimaging parental leave
While each business determines its own maternal, paternal and parental leave policies, we are seeing a growing shift in how employers approach work-life balance, and in a way that supports growing families here in the US. Many healthcare companies (health systems, insurance providers, pharma, etc.) have taken the lead in expanding the window of paid leave for working parents who recently gave birth to children. Blue Cross Blue Shield, GE Healthcare, and many more companies in this industry have policies that give a minimum of eight weeks of full-paid leave. Johnson & Johnson allows new moms to take up to 17 weeks of paid leave.
Many career-focused women are beginning to reap the benefits of policies like these and employers are noticing the benefit too. One mom we spoke to mentioned how the maternal leave policy of sixteen weeks allowed her flexibility in managing her career. Her ability to stay home and connect with her newborn was so valuable and motivating for her that she felt she was able to return to work and not skip a beat. Instead of having to rush to set up accommodations, the extended time actually contributed to what she considered to be an energizing period, since she had a company supporting her decision to bring a healthy life into the world. Another mom we spoke to, who received twelve weeks of paid maternity leave, said that it was a mental health benefit for her. Not having to worry about missing out on opportunities was relieving, and she felt the time she had to focus on her and her baby was “perfect” for her.
New Legislature: Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
While the US, compared to our European counterparts, has some ways to go, it’s good to know that more and more legislative bodies are on the side of birthing people, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is one example of this. With midterm elections around the corner, we thought it would be right to highlight this bill due to its potential to support pregnant workers in every US state.
In its essence, The PWFA requires employers to grant pregnant workers reasonable accommodations that enable them to continue working throughout their pregnancy in a capacity that also allows them to support a healthy pregnancy. We think this is important, because no competent woman should have to choose between developing a thriving career and starting or growing a family, and the laws should help support that. As we enter into this election cycle, if this is a topic that you care about, it may be worth it to see where your election candidates stand on the PWFA. Currently, the bill has passed in the House of Representatives and sits with the Senate for further action.