opinion on parental leave for an employee

gibby2015June 8, 2006

I'm wondering about something you can maybe give an opinion on. It has to do with an employee who works for me who will be going on leave for 12 weeks when she has a baby later this year. She is a department manager with about 15 people reporting to her. We are a small company with not a lot of management types and she has alot of responsibility not easily taken over by someone else. Most of the people who work for her travel alot so they're not really able to cover for her either.

We are planning to free up one of the more senior traveling people (by hiring a newer person to backfill) and that person will do alot of day to day tasks. However there are some things that may arise that the more junior person won't be able to do - hiring someone if there's a resignation, 2007 budget decisions that may need to be made, etc.

So here's my question. If you have been in this kind of situation or know someone who has - just how completely disengaged would you expect this person to be for three months? I don't have kids but if it were me I wouldn't want anything to do with work while I was gone. However I also could not imagine just checking out of a position like this completely for three months either.

I am really sensitive to work/family issues because frankly, I don't see how people do it all. So I don't want to come off as an insensitive, workaholic, childless hag but I will need to talk to her about how she wants to handle critical things that may come up while she's gone. I have worked with some other women in sales who supposedly also took 12 weeks off but they were clearly not "off" by any sense of the imagination based on the amount of email they were generating.

So anyway, I'm wondering - what do you think is reasonable/realistic in a situation like this - in terms of how much "work" the person might actually expect to do while on leave. (We are equipped so people can work remotely with laptop, etc.)

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Well, one question is, does she get paid at all while on leave? If she is getting compensation, I would think she would be more willing to do some work after the first month. But it also depends on how *difficult* her baby is, whether it sleeps well, whether her significant other helps out, and whether she is able to get any sleep. My husband didn't really help out with my twins at night because I was on *real* leave and he wasn't, so he didn't expect to have to get up at night. As a result, I was pretty exhausted for those three months. However, when my second child was born, I was working from the hospital before I got home, and did a lot of work those first three months. Every situation is different.
If this manager isn't getting any compensation, I'm not really sure what she should be expected to do. Maybe some type of bonus could be worked out upon her return to work if she does continue to work from home without compensation.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 7:01AM
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So I don't want to come off as an insensitive, workaholic, childless hag but I will need to talk to her about how she wants to handle critical things that may come up while she's gone.

Gibby, I think you answered your own question. Good luck with however you handle it. Definitely not the easiest situation to loose a senior employee temporarily.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 7:36AM
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proudmama - in answer to your question - she will be paid any PTO she has remaining at that time and then a reduce amount of short term disability compensation.

Bill - I think she will want to be involved to some extent while she's gone - and I'm hoping she will. However I'm interested to hear what others have experienced - in the event she doesn't.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 9:00AM
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Before embarking on that one-on-one conversation with her (and Bill is right, that is the first step), I would think about the following:

How old is the mama? How many years has she spent with your organization? Do people typically stay at your company for many years or is it a transitional place? How has her pregnancy been, i.e. rough or smooth? Does she have other children (first timers have a lot of trepidation about the unknown)? Does she have her babysitting situation for after she comes back to work all organized? And, if so, how does she feel about it? If not, why not? Is she possibly considering not coming back? Is her spouse/partner the supportive type or is she always complaining about him/her? Does she have family or other support system in the area? Is she new to the area (and possibly without the support system that's crucial to some new mothers)? Is she a nervous and anxious type? Was this a planned pregnancy or an "oops!" baby? How tight is money in their household (babies are expensive and need lots of stuff, and living on a reduced income can be scary for people, especially and, yes, I am prejudiced here, those with huge mortgages that need both incomes to meet)? Is she going to nurse the baby (again, I am prejudiced here, but a breast fed baby is generally, but not always, a healthier, less fussy baby and breast feeding releases endorphins that relax the mama and a relaxed mama = a relaxed baby, IMO)? Has she brought up the impending leave? If so, what is her tone? How have other new mothers fared at your company? Has she come up thru the ranks at your place or was she hired because of the skills or education she received at another place?

It seems to me that someone with 15 people reporting to her is used to juggling and will probably be of the mindset to take calls, come in for meetings, etc. However, it's difficult to tell how you're going to feel before you have the baby. If there are complications with her or the baby's health, obviously, all bets are off. If she has a c-section she will receive 8 weeks of paid disability vs. the 6 you receive with a vaginal birth (at least in my state, don't know about yours), so that's also something to consider.

Now I'll tell you how I handled my maternity leave which was very close to 8 years ago, when I was the Assistant GM of a $40mm manufacturing company. I had an easy pregnancy and birth, and even tho I had a c-section, I felt fine and my DD was fine as well. For the first 6 weeks I stayed home and didn't bring my DD anywhere except my parent's house a few times. It was my time with my DD (I was a single mom) and I didn't want to take her anywhere or do anything but hang out with her and bond. Also, call me old-fashioned, but I don't believe in taking newborns to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, the movies, restaurants or, really, anywhere. I took phone calls and emails the whole time and when DD was 6 weeks old started coming in one afternoon a week, with DD in tow. She sat in a lot of meetings, nursing happily and being passed from person to person to be held. Honestly, it wasn't that bad, and a big chunk of the reason is because my employer was terrific and extremely supportive. I was paid my full salary for 4 months (they supplemented the disability and then paid me in full) and allowed to come back 4 days a week for another 6 months (albiet at a reduced rate). My boss (a childless guy in his 60's) made it clear that the company wanted to keep me and asked me to tell him what I wanted and how we could work together to make the 4 months work for all concerned. Because I felt confident in his support (and the support of the owners, who are in another country), I was more than willing to take phone calls, read emails and faxes and, after 6 weeks, start coming in to work 1/2 day a week. I don't bring up the pay thing to say that you should do that, I bring it up cuz my boss knew that as a single parent, money was an issue for me. The key is communication and understand what the other party wants and come to an agreement that both parties can live with.

I realize this is a missive, Gibby3000, and I hope I don't sound preachy. Your request was so sincere and it's obvious that you are a caring boss, that I wanted to share my own experiences as a manager and a mom.

Also, from a legal perspective, if your company is in the US and has over 50 employees you are required by law to offer Family Leave. If you or your HR department (if you have one) is unsure of how to handle that, Google it and you will find tons of info (About.com has some great, easy to understand stuff) or call your local Chamber of Commerce, they should also be able to help.

Good luck-


    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 10:35AM
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I really think you are going to have to ask her what she "intends", with you saying that you understand things may not work out the way she intends.

I had to take time off from work because I was injured. Due to company policy and some other issues, I ended up using vacation and sick time rather than disability leave. The first week (I was hospitalized) was fine, but by the seond week (home with a nurse) they expected me to call into meetings, do work, etc. I was not too pleased about it. I ended up going back sooner than I was supposed to because they got me so stressed out that things were falling apart. I was being paid 100% of my pay the two weeks I was out, but when using vacation and sick time you are usually not expected to work.

I don't have children, but when I do, if they expect me to do more than the token phone call once in awhile, they better make it worth it for me some other way. Such as let me work a short week for awhile when I come back (for full pay), give me extra time off, etc. I work for a large company with a not too generous disability policy (8 weeks at 80%), so maybe that skews my perception of how things should be.

You said she is going to be out 12 weeks. How much of that will be paid, and what percentage? If all 12 weeks are paid at 80% or more, that is a generous policy, and I would expect she would recognize that and try to be accomodating.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 11:54AM
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While it's useful to ask her what she expects, if this is her first child, she has no idea what's coming, the joy, the fatigue, etc. You'll need to wait on that conversation, I think, until after she has the baby and she gets a sense of how hard motherhood is. She may not want anything to do with work for those 12 weeks.

If she has to return to work to put food on the table, she'll be busy trying to find a great babysitter and dealing with the terror and guilt she'll feel about leaving her 3 month old baby with a stranger. If she doesn't have to return to work, she may not. Either way, be prepared.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 5:04PM
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Thanks sue, sandy and proudmama for your perspectives. This is what I wanted to know - what others have experienced in similar situations. It sounds like your perspective is that you'd be more likely to work some if you were paid and your employer was understanding and flexible - and less so if it were "expected" or demanded.

Sandy, in response to the questions you pose - overall I'd say things are favorable in most all of those areas. She talked to me about this right away before it was public knowledge - loves her job and the company - it's a fun, rewarding place to work - she's been promoted a couple times - she has lots of friends here including a couple other relatively recent new moms - etc.

RE: some of the other things - we are subject to FMLA and we know how to deal with that. We have fairly generous STD I think - 5 weeks at 100% and next 10 weeks at 80%.

Momj - since both she and her spouse work for me, I know their situation (and incomes) pretty well. I'm sure she doesn't have to work to eat but her income is significant and I cannot imagine they'd want to make the lifestyle sacrifices required for her to quit working at this time - though I realize anything may happen. I always have succession plan in mind though - knowing people can quit at any time for any reason.

Thanks again for your insights.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 6:15PM
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I think you can expect her to be totally disengaged but if she is willing to help out here and there, be grateful. Also don't expect her to come in at all. Any help (if at all) you may have from her will most likely be over the phone. She most likely won't have childcare arranged until it's time to return to work and will probably be nursing full-time. You had, for instance, a situation such as hiring someone while she's on leave - that isn't something she can handle from home. Don't expect that or anything that requires her to come into the office.

I'd only contact her in dire situations, and legally, you shouldn't even be doing that... you don't want to annoy her with daily issues or you may very well lose her altogether.

The first 6 weeks after the birth or 8 weeks if it's a c-section is medical leave - that's something to remember too. The family leave kicks in after that's up (but the medical part is inclusive in the 12 weeks). If she takes any time off before the birth (her doctor may very well require it), it's disability leave.

She may very likely not want to have anything to do with work for the duration of her leave. I know I didn't. I didn't even answer my phone for the first month. I was teaching kindergarten, and if the sub had in issue, I REALLY didn't want to know about it.

This must suck as an employer, but life happens, babies happen. I'd be as accomodating as you can if you want to maintain a good employer-employee relationship. For dire situations such as you mentioned, maybe it's best to handle them yourself for the duration of her absence.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 6:21PM
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If she has a baby like my second child she'll want to leave the baby with someone else and come to work everyday!!!

Well seriously, my second child CRIED ALL THE TIME, I mean ALL THE TIME. I was a complete zombie. We choose to alter our lifestlye so I could stay home, so I did not have a job I had to go back to, but had I there is no way on Earth I could have functioned in any capacity. She literally sucked the life, brains, out of me the first year. So like someone said, you really need to wait to see what her baby's like. She may be planning to have life a certain way but every child brings changes and she won't know until it's born. If this is her first, there's a huge chance that once she holds the baby for the first time, she'll say "I'm never going back to work." I've met/know many,many women who say they're going back after 12 weeks, until their baby is born.

Personally if it were me I would prepare myself/office with the notion that she'll be unreachable for at least 3 months. Living by the "expect the worst hope for the best" senario.

Good Luck.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 6:26PM
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Snookum's point about the legality of someone working while they're on STD is one you should look into if you are unclear about the details. I've had to navigate this thorny issue with my own STD after surgery - and I have to say it's been challenging. My understanding is that if a person participates in the workplace, then this can be interpreted that they are "able to work" which means they are committing fraud if they are collecting STD. I'm not saying that your new mom might not occasionally do a call or answer an email, but you may need to be careful in conveying any expectations of that. Do you have an HR person/department to guide you?

Oh, and on a totally different topic - I wanted to tell you that I love the hood surround you did with the open shelving on either side of the range going down to the counter. I've shown it to my conractor in hopes he can do something similar. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 12:47AM
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Thanks all. Just to clarify - from my perspective the employee can do whatever she wants. I don't expect people to work when they are on vacation, leave of absence, etc. - though I know lots of people do expect this especially of people in management positions with alot of responsibility.

My initial expectation was that she would be entirely disengaged the whole time - I would certainly want to be if it were me. So my plan was to relieve another person to cover her position as well as possible. However she is not exactly going along with that idea as she is planning for coverage during her absence. So I was curious about what others in a similar situation and similar level of position ACTUALLY did under these circumstances.

Time will tell - I just want to be prepared and be sensitive to the individual's needs - which she may not fully understand herself at this point.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 9:52AM
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I am a business owner, and in my experience new moms are less engaged than they think they will be during leave (we offer paid leave). It does depend on the person, some are more involved than others, but frankly childbirth is a life changing event that the mother won't realize how much until it happens!

I think it is up to you to cover the responsibilites as if she will not be engaged, and if she participates, the rules of authority should be worked out beforehand by YOU so there is no confusion about who makes the decisions. I don't think it is up to her, she will be "on leave," and that means "not working", you must cover her responsibilities.

I think it is acceptable to have another decision maker in her place in her absence, and you should discuss with her about who/why, etc. and how to participate while she is gone, but that kind of thing totally depends on the team, culture, etc...

Also, you may on the sidelines want to be prepared for worst case scenario: she won't return. Happens frequently. But don't discuss with anyone, just mentally have a plan for it, as well as an answer for "can I work part time/from home?"

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 11:14AM
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In Canada, where parental leave is up to a year, many moms still don't want to return after their jobs have been held open for them for that length of time. It is no wonder that moms are ambivalent about returning to work after only 12 weeks.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 8:10AM
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