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The maternity bill of rights
Know what benefits you're entitled to and learn workplace strategies to ease the transition.
September 12, 2005: 2:31 PM EDT
By Shaheen Pasha, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - While pending motherhood itself can be a stressful time, working women have the added pressure of breaking the news to employers while trying to decipher just what benefits they are entitled to receive.

There's good reason to be apprehensive. A recent study by two Cornell University sociologists indicated that working mothers -- as compared to working fathers or women without children -- still may face distinct disadvantages in the workplace when it comes to being hired, obtaining promotions and receiving higher salaries.

"What this finding reflects is the dissonance of today's reality and yesterday's old ideas," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "There's the assumption that family for women detracts from work while for men it supposedly enhances their viability and stability."

But women can overcome some of the challenges with a little thoughtful planning and some hard information on what to expect as you make the transition from working woman to working mother. Here are some tips to get you started:

Know the ABCs of maternity leave

Before you tell your boss about your pregnancy, arm yourself with information about what benefits you're entitled to.

According to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, eligible employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in any 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. That includes the birth and care of a newborn child or caring for a child that was placed with the employee through adoption or foster care.

At the end of the 12 week period, employers are required to provide their employees with the same or equivalent job with no change in salary. And health benefits stay intact throughout the course of the leave --- a definite perk when those first few pediatrician bills start rolling in.

If the thought of living without a paycheck for 12 weeks gives you the jitters, take heart: New mothers are eligible for temporary disability payments for 6 to 8 weeks of that leave, with the proper documentation from your physician.

Keep in mind, however, that FMLA only applies to employees that have worked at their current job for 12 months and have accrued 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the commencement of FMLA leave. And FMLA generally only applies to companies that employ at least 50 people. Smaller businesses may not offer the same perks for an expectant employee.

Be proactive

That walk into your boss' office may seem like the longest of your life when you're planning on breaking the news of your pregnancy. But it doesn't have to be fraught with anxiety.

Do your homework beforehand by consulting your human resources department and other working mothers at your company.

"When it comes to negotiating leave, find out what your company's practices are and what kind of bad and good experiences your boss has had," Galinsky said. "An organization's response is going to be shaped by their prior experiences."

And it's best to tell your immediate boss your plans as soon as possible. Galinsky said many women choose to wait until the end of the first trimester. But once the first three months pass, it's a good idea to clue your boss in on your impending departure and offer some reasonable expectations of how long you plan on staying away and a working plan for just how you expect your workload to be covered.

Galinsky recommends brainstorming before the actual meeting and presenting your boss with three options for staying connected and delegating work responsibilities to others that you will train.

Keep in touch

Let's face it. While you're busy with hourly feedings, your coworkers are busy with projects that may put you out of the loop upon your return.

Take it upon yourself to check in from time to time. A quick e-mail review at night or a call during naptime once every couple of weeks will help keep you informed on what your company is doing and can help ease the way when you decide to return to work. And you can always leave your boss the option of calling you if there's an urgent need for your expertise.

But remember, your leave is there as much for your mental well-being as physical healing. Treat maternity leave as a break from work and allow yourself the opportunity to focus on your child without worrying too much about what's happening at the office.

Demonstrate your value

For many mothers, returning to the workplace can be strenuous and a bit disheartening. In addition to the stress of juggling work and home responsibilities, there is often a misperception among coworkers that a working mother is less dedicated to the job, especially if you decide to work a flex schedule.

That's why it's important to reassert your value when you return, said Maria Bailey, founder of BlueSuitMom.com, a Web site providing strategies to working mothers and their employers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor estimates, the base cost of replacing a worker is 30 percent of that person's annual earnings. If you are can demonstrate that it's cheaper to keep you and your value is the same or even better given your newfound multi-tasking skills, you'll be in a better position.

Bailey said working mothers should set up a meeting with their managers after maternity leave and provide a list of the value they added to the company before their leave -- such as successful projects, financial deals or special expertise -- as well as a list of goals you'd like to accomplish within a set time frame.

Also, be willing to agree to a trial period for any new flex schedule to make sure that it works for your company and offer to help coworkers when the need arises.

That consideration will go a long way in demonstrating your commitment to being a team player and bolstering your role in the company.

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Click here for Working Mother magazine's list of the top ten most family-friendly companies.

Find out what you need to know about buying a home when you're expecting a baby by clicking here  Top of page

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