The right to parental leave, or the benefit of parental leave, as may be the case, has not been ingrained in the American corporate culture or the American work ethic for very long. It is still a controversial idea in some quarters of the business world, which tends to be more conservative than mainstream America, but there’s no doubt that it is something that many working women, and now their spouses, expect from their employer.
Today in the United States a majority of white collar jobs offer some sort of parental leave, for up to six weeks. In Europe the average is two-and-a-half months. Blue collar companies have been slower to catch up with this trend, although in those industries that are heavily unionized parental leave is now part of any standard union contract.
The amount of time off, and the amount being paid to the absent parent, vary from company to company and from state to state. States such as New York and California have the most liberal parental leave policies, which have often been mandated by the state legislature. States such as Minnesota and Wisconsin also have ruled that parental leave time can be extended without penalty. So the question is no longer when will your employer offer parental leave, but how much time will they give you.
The job world and its benefits have changed dramatically since the pandemic began its heaviest inroads last March. In many industries jobs have evaporated at an alarming rate, never to return. Some industries have been more fortunate and been able to retain almost all their workers -- sometimes with reduced hours, pay, and benefits. But parental leave, so far, has been one area where employers are loath to cut any corners. Now more than ever, the nurture and maintenance of children and families has become a priority for both government and for private enterprise. As the world seems to spiral down into economic and political chaos, more and more organizations seem determined to see that the hard-fought for right of parental leave is not tampered with or diminished.
But that doesn’t mean there can’t be problems in the workplace when workers return from parental leave. Whether it’s been two weeks or two months, workers must tread carefully when they return in order to make the most of both their absence and their readmittance into the workplace. Of course, this is practically no problem for the self employed, such as dentists, doctors, and lawyers. But for the majority of Americans, when they return to their office, classroom, warehouse, or factory, they should be aware of some of the pitfalls that can hamper their climb up the career ladder or create hard feelings with co-workers.
Experts advise that someone who has just been on parental leave should not expect to suddenly jump into midstream and resume right where they left off. Returnees should be gentle and understanding of themselves, of their emotional and physical makeup after spending weeks at home with a new infant. Babies are high maintenance from day one, and they inevitably take a toll on a parent’s mental and physical wellbeing. So ease back into your full time position, whatever it might be, for at least the first two weeks, and by then things should be less chaotic at home and you can go full steam ahead at work.
Another point that should be considered early on is how much, or how little, the returnee should refer to, and display pictures, of their newborn. Even if co-workers gave the returnee a huge baby shower prior to their departure, that doesn’t necessarily mean that co-workers want to be constantly reminded of the new bundle of joy by constant viewing of pictures and long tales of baby’s first burp. Returnees should remember that some of their colleagues have chosen not to be married or have children, or have lost them. For these reasons, as well as others, the returnee should be extremely sensitive to the feelings of others when the urge wells up to share their pride and joy in a new life.
It’s very important, and only considerate to your co-workers, that you have your baby’s schedule worked out before resuming your own work. Though babies are always high maintenance, it’s possible to get babysitting, feeding, naps, and so on, put on a fairly regular basis so that there need be very few sudden interruptions in your working schedule that will disrupt the workflow, which, in turn, will inconvenience your co-workers.
One final word, now that more and more people are telecommuting at least part time or working at home full time. Make sure your workspace is a no-baby zone at home. This means that the infant should be safe and sound in another room of the dwelling, where he/she can be monitored by video and audio in case of emergencies. This will ensure that all your dealings with your team and co-workers will remain professional and efficient.