Congrats! You’re about to enter the super magical world of parenting, and it all starts with figuring out maternity leave. For working military spouses, it’s especially important that you understand your options.
The Family Medical Leave Act
The Family Medical Leave Act: this is where maternity leave starts for many of us. If you work for a public agency (like the federal or state government), a public school or a company with 50 or more employees, you might fall under this umbrella. To fully qualify, you also need to have worked for your employer for 12 months or 1,250 hours over 12 months.
FMLA covers a few key areas: birth or adoption of a child, caring for a family member medically or when an employee can’t work due to a medical condition. Under this act, your employer must provide up to 12 weeks of leave, and cannot remove you from your position during that time.
In short: you can take maternity leave and not lose your job.
FMLA doesn’t provide or stipulate that any of that leave be paid. It’s just job-secure time off. Any time taken off work pre-birth, like bed rest, can count against those 12 weeks. It depends on how generous your employer is with leave.
The catch for working military spouses: our frequent moves can disqualify us from FMLA. We often just haven’t been at a position long enough to qualify.
Paid Time Off
Many salaried positions include paid time off for sick and personal leave. You can combine this paid time off with your FMLA leave.
Using your paid time off can help to extend your benefits, like life or health insurance, through your job. You can also buy into sick leave banks at some jobs.
A sick leave bank usually has a buy-in, like donating a few of your sick days up front. Once you’re in the bank, you can usually withdraw donated sick days beyond your normal allowance. This can help to cushion your leave or provide a few more days of paid time off.
Pro-tip: ask if you can spread your paid time off throughout your 12 weeks of leave. This will keep some money and benefits coming in for a longer period of time.
Short Term Disability
Some jobs offer short term disability as part of a benefits package. If your job doesn’t, you can purchase a short-term disability policy from an insurance company.
Short term disability helps to cover a portion of your income while you are on maternity leave. Different policies will provide different percentages of your base pay. The length of time the policy covers will vary and can change based on complications (like C-sections).
For more details about short term disability, ask your HR representative or contact your current insurance provider.
Built-In Job Benefits
Once you take a peek at your options with FMLA, paid time off and short term disability, talk to your HR representative. He or she will explain your options to you.
There might be paths to make your time off smoother or extend your pay that you hadn’t considered. Some companies offer maternity (and paternity) leave benefits beyond FMLA or instead of FMLA if they are exempt.
Try to give your supervisor and HR plenty of notice about your leave. Give a good estimate about how much time you want to take off and err on the side of taking too much rather than not enough. Decide whether you want to work up until your due date or if you will be going on leave earlier. This is especially crucial if your job will be hiring a temporary replacement.
Some benefits, like FMLA, have a time-served requirement. This can be complicated for military spouses. With our frequent moves, it can be hard to hit the sweet spot to qualify for FMLA. Or you could work in a position that doesn’t offer benefits.
Other things are beyond our control, like deployments or PCSing. These can make returning to work stressful!
Another challenge is finding reliable, affordable child care that is flexible. There are options out there, like the on-base child development center, geared for military families. There might be other options in your area or offered through your job. Check out everything or combine a few different child care plans.
Working, and taking a successful maternity leave, is possible as a military spouse. It helps to be open and honest with your job and to be honest with yourself. Find the solution that works for you!
Your best bet: combine as many things as possible.
By combining different options, you can potentially have job security and some income during your leave post-birth or adoption.