I am a pretty confident lady, but I am by no means a master of negotiation, especially when it comes to my own salary. On top of that, I found myself trying to secure 12 weeks maternity leave (as I don’t qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as I won’t be at the new job for more than 12 months before going into labor) with absolutely no guidance. Multiple Google searches yielded nothing in the form of magazine articles or blog postings despite the over-abundance of advice for pregnant women cluttering the net. Based on my general disdain for asking for more money, my rather shallow experience with salary negotiations in general and absolutely no baseline for what I should ask for as a pregnant new hire, I decided to call in the experts.
And by experts I mean the most intimidating and brilliant business woman I know. She’s a senior VP from a past life of mine, and she came on board when she was well into her second trimester. If this woman was unable to get 12 weeks off, I didn’t stand a chance.
NOTE: If you are not on LinkedIn yet or you find it embarrassing to send senior people from the office that you’ve worked with an invitation, get over yourself. I would never have access to this information if not for this professional networking tool, and the higher up someone is, the more they understand the value of a network. (getting off my soap box now)
The good news is that my contacted was not only willing but excited to give me advice. Yippee for the bond between working mothers everywhere! The great news is that she assured me that I should definitely be able to get 12 weeks leave. Her recommendation was that I not reveal my pregnancy during the interview process (opps – but I’m lucky as it didn’t hurt me in this instance). Upon receiving and evaluating the offer, she then suggested I be open about expecting. Here are two strategies she outlined for me based on both her experience and that of a peer:
1. Cobbling Together Time: After receiving the offer and letting the company know you’re pregnant, ask what their maternity leave policy is and if they have a specific policy for those who do not qualify for FMLA. At minimum, this will give you 6 weeks leave. Then determine if you can use your PTO or vacation time to tack onto the 6+ weeks they provide to get a maximum leave of absence. If your leave will bridge calendar years, be sure to ask if you can carry over your unused vacation from the previous year to get the longest leave possible. The plus side here is that your PTO is paid (while the 6 weeks may or may not be paid). The downside is that you need to horde vacation days and you still might not end up with a full 12 weeks.
2. I Need 12 Weeks: After receiving the offer and letting the company know you’re pregnant, be clear that you would like to take 12 weeks maternity leave despite not qualifying for FMLA and ask if this can be accomplished by granting a leave of absence (or unpaid leave). Do not offer your vacation time, but be aware that the company may insist that you use it. Be firm, and insist that you require 12 weeks leave to accept the offer. Remember that you have the most leverage before you accept the offer, and that they already told you they want you specifically. That being said, be realistic – you might not be able to pull this off for an entry level job, but anything manager level or above should not be a problem as you are worth the investment.
I went with option two, and my HR recruiter simply had to ask my hiring manager if this was acceptable – it was (it helps that he has two young children of his own and I believe he expected the request as I told him I was pregnant during our first interview). This turned out to be pretty easy, but my leave will be unpaid. Normally, if I qualified for FMLA or had I started with the company and signed up for Short Term Disability Insurance before becoming pregnant, I would have received 60% of my salary for the duration of my 12 weeks, but for STD purposes, my pregnancy is a pre-existing condition so no money for me. I expected this, but of course it would have been nice.
The next item to tackle was health insurance, as I am the family provider. Fortunately for health insurance purposes, pregnancy was not considered a pre-existing condition, although I do need to confirm that my current OB accepts my new insurer. As my leave will be classified as unpaid, I will qualify for COBRA, which means I’ll pay both my share and the company’s share of my insurance, plus a 2% administrative fee. This will be expensive, but a heck of a lot less than paying for labor and hospital expenses out of pocket, let alone well baby coverage for those first rounds of shots and illnesses I can expect the first three months. Once I start with the new company I’ll calculate out how much I need to save to cover COBRA and see if I can pay for it using Health Savings Account pre-tax dollars (and how that should work as my leave will cross a calendar year).
And last, but certainly not least was compensation. I did my research online and determined I could easily ask for an additional $5K, which I did after securing the details of my 12 week leave and health insurance (as not to confuse the issues – I didn’t want them to say $5K or 12 weeks, so I negotiated them separately). I’m happy to report I got this, too!
So overall, I’d say I did pretty well. I got my leave, my medical coverage and my desired salary, but my leave is unpaid and my health insurance will be rather pricey for 3 months. I give myself a B, but I’ve always been a hard grader.