Listen up all you Washington residents preparing to go on maternity leave! The year is 2020 and FINALLY the government is doing something about maternity benefits through the Paid Family and Medical Leave.
I created a maternity/paternity leave policy for work so I thought why not translate the knowledge I gained and share with you all. NOTE: This runs concurrent to FMLA, which is a federal program that helps protect the absence and is unpaid.
So what does that mean for you as a soon-to-be mama planning her maternity leave? This gets tricky for companies that have an unlimited paid time off policy, such as mine. Remember, maternity leave is NOT vacation and should not be treated as such. This is a very special and once-in-a-lifetime bonding opportunity that you, as a new mother, have with baby.
Paid Family and Medical Leave is a new benefit for Washington workers. You’ll utilize it for:
- Any serious health conditions preventing you from working
- When you need time to care for a family member
- Bond with a new child, including giving birth
- Spend time with a family member preparing for military service overseas
You are eligible for this benefit if you’ve put in a minimum of 820 hours in Washington the year leading up to it (does not have to be with the same employer). Read more about it through ESD website—that’s short for Employment Security Department. Another great thing about this is you do not have to use it all at once. So, if you are entitled to four months, you could take two months, return to work, then another two months later on in the year.
I’m going to touch on maternity leave specifically, so here goes. And keep the following in mind when it’s time for you to have the talk with your boss.
Reveal the News
You may want to wait to reveal your exciting pregnancy news until at least 20 weeks. This all depends on your relationship with your boss/company. I waited to tell mine until 23 weeks because I wanted to make sure I had coverage plan in place. Plus we were all working virtually so it’s not like it was obvious. Sooner the better is probably best though, especially if you need to start planning for leave and coverage.
Make sure you are familiar with your company’s HR policy pertaining specifically to maternity leave. I like to call it the baby bonding benefit. You want to be as prepared as possible so you know how much time you are entitled to. Work out any paid time off as well if you have any accrued vacation hours that you want to put towards your leave.
ESD covers up to a max of $1,000/week OR up to 90% of your weekly pay. You can find out how much you’d get through this calculator posted on their website. If you make more than $1,000 a week, perhaps you can have that discussion with HR to see if they are willing to pay for the difference between that and what you bring home. Basically if you earn more than $81k annually, you’ll receive no more than $1,000/week from ESD. Remember that payments will come from ESD and NOT your employer, hence why this is a state benefit.
If you are lucky and your employer maintains either a Salary Continuation or some form of Paid Parental Leave policy, some or all of those benefits will likely run concurrently with the statutory benefits of Paid Family and Medical Leave and/or FMLA so be sure to look into that.
Plan Your Coverage
This includes finding your replacement, the training that goes along with that, how long you will be out, etc. I’ve been on the other side where I filled in for someone who went on maternity leave and it was nice because I got to step up to a more challenging role. So this could be a great opportunity to have a more junior colleague fill in for you versus a new short-term hire. Just make sure the workload isn’t going to be too much on that person’s plate with additional tasks.
You Give Birth, Now What?
In order to qualify for Paid Family and Medical Leave benefit, you have to submit proof of birth. This means you must wait until after birth to submit your application. Once you are approved, you’ll be required to file a weekly claim in order to receive your pay (similar to how those on unemployment must file weekly claims).
I’ve heard it can take weeks for ESD to process the claim so be sure to submit as soon as you obtain that birth certificate. Good news is they do pay retroactively, so if it took four weeks for them to process, you will receive four weeks of pay the first time you file.
My Maternity Leave Plan
When I told my boss I could still help out with certain tasks, he laughed and said “I have no idea what I’m getting myself into” and reminded me that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. That got me thinking yes that’s absolutely right!
So I want to stress that I will be doing literally zero work while on maternity leave. I’ve realized how important it will be to get this time to not have to worry about a single thing work-related and focus 100% on baby. And I am fortunate to be able to take four months off to do so.
Anyways, I know this benefit is specific to Washington state but hope this was helpful to any Washington-residing mamas planning your maternity leave. Cherish your bonding time with baby.