Maternity Leave 101: Know Your Rights, Don’t Let Your Boss Ruin Your Pregnancy
Colette Sexton, Sunday Business Post, explores navigating the workplace while pregnant
It might have taken months or even years of trying, of heartbreak and dashed hopes or it could have been a wonderful surprise. However it happened, a pregnancy should be a joyous occasion but for many women that joy turns to fear as the time comes to tell their employer the news.
There is no perfect way to announce a pregnancy in the workplace, but if you are prepared, tactful and mindful of your rights, you are more likely to get a positive reaction from your boss.
Firstly, it is important to resist the urge to share the news with anyone else at work until you have told your employer. News like that spreads like wildfire and no boss will be impressed to hear through the grapevine.
Employers must be formally informed of the pregnancy at least four weeks before the maternity leave is due to begin. If you think that your boss will take the news positively, then tell them as early as possible. It will give them time to plan for your absence, and might also make it easier for you to take time off for hospital appointments or if you are feeling unwell.
When you are ready, request a private meeting with your boss. During the meeting, do not apologise for being pregnant but instead share your good news in a positive manner. Tell them when you plan to start your maternity leave, but do not make any commitments about when you will return – that could all change once your baby arrives.
Keep in mind that all working women in Ireland are entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave plus an additional 16 weeks’ unpaid leave. The amount of leave you take will depend on personal circumstances, childcare and finances.
Pregnant women who have build up enough PRSI contributions may quality for maternity benefit of €235 a week (€240 from the end of March). It is important to apply for the payment at least 6 weeks before you intend to go on maternity leave, or 12 weeks in advance if you are self-employed. Some employers pay women who are on maternity leave their full salary but these policies vary from company to company. To find out what your employer offers, check your contract of employment or the human resources handbook, or ask colleagues who have recently had babies.
If you have ideas about how your role could be covered while you are away falling in love with your new addition, then share them with your boss. Making the process easier for your employer will make it easier for you too.
Legally, you can walk out the door of your workplace the day you start maternity leave and forget about the place until you return, but it does no harm to check in every now and then. Many women I’ve spoken to said that they found it much easier to slip back into work after having their children because they had kept up to date with major developments. Drop an occasional email, or meet people for lunch – you might enjoy getting out of the house and not talking about weaning for a few hours.
If your employer does not react well, and unfortunately that can be the case, remember that you are not the first woman to become pregnant and you will not be the last. Your baby is not an inconvenience or an obstacle. Jobs come and go but you will never get this special time back so do not let your boss spoil it.