A Guide to Negotiating Maternity Leave With Your Boss

If you're nervous about approaching your boss follow these steps

Negotiating Maternity Leave
••• Getty Images/Robert Daly

Having a baby is perhaps the most special time in a woman's life. This highly anticipated time often comes with some time off from work. However, maternity leave is often is up for negotiation. If you're starting to get stressed about your options, consider negotiating maternity leave with your boss by following these steps.

Step 1:  Understand What Maternity Leave is All About

Maternity leave is defined as the time a new mom takes off from work after having a baby. Most women take the time immediately following a birth to recover and tend to a new baby's needs in the first stages of his or her life. Some companies will offer paid maternity leave for a period of 6 weeks or more. A parent of either gender can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if the purpose is to care for a new child.

While many companies offer paid maternity leave, other workplaces don't. In this case, women have to take their leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), whereby most employers must allow for 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMLI) is working on changing this by providing paid leave for everyone.

Step 2: Determine How and Where You'll Negotiate

Depending on the formality of your office, carefully choose the medium by which you announce your pregnancy. You may have to provide a maternity leave letter, but it's best to have a face-to-face meeting in the office prior to handing in your letter, which may also need to be submitted to the company's human resources department.

You want to talk with your boss about your maternity leave options before the rumor mill at the office begins working. For this reason, it's wise to request a face-to-face meeting with your boss before announcing to your co-workers that you're pregnant.

Discussing maternity leave should happen sooner rather than later in most offices.This extended time frame allows your employer to devise a plan for when you're on maternity leave.

Step 3: Determine What You'd Like Your Maternity Leave to Look Like

Before meeting with your boss to negotiate maternity leave, figure out the number of weeks you'd like to take off from work after your baby's birth.  Check with your company's human resources department or the employee handbook to see if your company has a policy regarding maternity leave.

If there is a company policy on maternity leave, decide if it's right for you. For example, perhaps the company offers six weeks of paid leave, but you feel you want more time before returning to work after you've had your baby. You may want to take the employer-provided time (your PTO time) as well as an additional leave of absence under the FMLA.

Step 4: Meet With Your Manager and Present Your Maternity Leave Plan

Once in the meeting, clearly state your desired maternity leave. Then sit back and listen. Consider this conversation as a starting point for discussion, and keep an open mind when it comes to your boss's concerns or the employer's needs.

If you desire more maternity leave than what is outlined by your human resources department or in your company handbook, explain your reasons. For example, if your company doesn't offer paid leave, and you can afford to take the 10 weeks unpaid, tell your superiors exactly why you need this time off from work. It could be because your husband or partner can't take time off from work, you don't have a nanny lined up yet, or you simply desire to be home during time in a your baby's life. 

Step 5: Start Negotiating

If there isn't a firm company policy on maternity leave, ask for what you want. If your boss is agreeable, the process is over.

If you desire more maternity leave than your company policy allows cite, in writing, concrete reasons you need this leave such as:

  • You need time to transition into your new role as a mother.
  • You want to have a good start at breastfeeding your baby (and that you goal is to pump when you return to work).
  • You want to start a good quality relationship with your baby to decrease the change of postpartum depression and to care for the mental and physical health of yourself and baby.
  • A long maternity leave reduces infant mortality rates.

If your company doesn't offer paid maternity leave, and you can't afford to take unpaid leave try to work out a flexible schedule where you might be able to work from home several days per week for the first six weeks after your baby's birth, or possibly ask to work part time for a period of time.

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory