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My 16 Week Maternity Leave Plan

June 19, 2018

My plan is to take 16 weeks of maternity leave. In addition to FMLA, I’m covered under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  CFRA is 12 weeks, but unlike FMLA, it does not start until I’m no longer covered under disability (6-8 weeks after birth).  My short-term disability insurance (SDI) starts 2 weeks before my due date, for a total of up to 22 weeks of protected leave. Except for when I’m covered under SDI, this is unpaid or using PTO.  Financially, I could take longer than 16 weeks, but I don’t see how I can be gone for ~6 months and still get back into my project without missing too much.  Even 16 weeks is tough, but it does overlap with the typically slower holiday season. If I were to leave my current project, there is a very real risk I won’t be able to find a new one when I’m ready.  We are low on projects right now and it isn’t a good time to be looking.

My main project  will be the most impacted by my leave, and they have no legal (FMLA) obligation to keep me on the project.  They aren’t my direct employer. There is an argument to be made for simply transitioning me off the project, and I’d bet you lots of money someone has suggested this.  I don’t think they’d do that unless I wasn’t performing, but working with me in California is a huge accommodation and favor to me personally.  We worked out a leave coverage plan, but I still get anxious that an ambitious coworker will butt in and steal all my work. I was questioned twice as to whether  I was really coming back. Did they mean back to that project, or back to work in general?  I’ve put a lot into my career, and never given the impression I’m ready to throw in the towel.  Admittedly, phasing off that particular project makes some sense due to location challenges, but I don’t have a better option on the horizon.

For various reasons, I am not covered under California’s state programs, which provide some amount of paid family leave for most Californian parents (including leave for partners).  Here is how leave works for most Californians (source):


There is a total of 16 weeks paid, with a maximum weekly payout of $1,216 (maybe there is an unpaid 7 day waiting period – unclear).  The SDI portion is not taxed, but the PFL portion is taxed at the federal level.

My SDI starts 2 weeks before birth, and seems specifically designed to minimize benefits for pregnancy (the most common use of it, I’m sure) by forcing use of sick leave (if you have it) for several weeks before it kicks in.  It’s annoying, but at least it is something.  Assuming I take a total of 8 weeks (2 weeks before, and 6 weeks after), I think my net payout will be just under $5k, compared to ~$20k under the state program. If I deliver early, I’ll get even less.  On the other hand, it will cover me in the case of any longer term complications, which is the main reason I wanted it.  If I deliver late, I just get more leave paid.

It looks like I have banked enough vacation and sick time that I actually won’t have to take unpaid leave, although I’d prefer not to come back to work totally bankrupt in vacation.  We are in an incredibly lucky position where unpaid leave is almost a non-issue.  Yet, it still is stressful to figure all this out. When considering what could make this easier for American families, paid leave is only part of it. It’s a very important part, and should be addressed at least in the basic way California has begun to address it (for most people!). Beyond that, the work culture does not support accommodating long leaves, nor does it easily accommodate alternative schedules when parents return to work. Further, subsidized and easy-to-get-into childcare (as available in some European countries) would be incredibly useful in supporting women going back to work, if that is what they want to do. More on childcare later. Spoiler alert: We don’t have this nailed down yet, and infant-care in daycare centers in my area is over $2k/month, and the wait lists are long.


11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2018 10:33 am

    That’s great you are getting a lot of protected leave! Sucks to hear that coordinating time may be difficult career-wise. I know the two women I knew who gave birth at my last company did a lot of remote work through their parental leave (partly so others wouldn’t claim their turf, partly because they were bored since young babies don’t do much).

    I kind of wonder how the financials of short term disability insurance work from the insurance company side. I used to get SDI through my job and it wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t expensive either. I imagine I’d only get it in a year I expected to give birth. Who else is bothering to pay these premiums?

    • June 19, 2018 11:03 am

      I like the CA state program that makes everyone opt in. Still, that used to be something like >$1k/year taken out of my paycheck when I was in that system. Over a lifetime of work, I would expect not to see a net benefit assuming it covered 1-2 parental leave incidents.

      Yes, I imagine it is mostly young women in childbearing years that pay for the coverage. Honestly, the financial benefits of opting in barely make sense for me, but I feel more secure going with it than not. Since the benefit I get (for a normal pregnancy) are very modest (nearing negligible) when you consider premiums paid, the company side finances probably work just fine. It would come in handy in a rare case where you had to go on bedrest for months, or some other non-pregnancy short term disability situation.

  2. June 19, 2018 11:01 am

    I’ve heard too that the job-protected leave only extends to returning to the same title at the same company, so doesn’t necessarily even need to be in your group, which is not cool. I’m sorry you don’t feel like you can take as much leave career-wise as you would like to take, despite having a reasonable amount of job protected time. What does T plan to do for his leave?

    • June 19, 2018 11:33 am

      Practically speaking, I expect it is rare to be reassigned to a new group/role while on leave in a professional job, even though legally allowed. I do think it is common for women feel pressured to return quickly to “stay in the game.” My company is small and organized in a particularly weird way. Honestly, 4 months may be plenty of time, but I don’t feel I could go for more in any case. I should be able to return with a reduced schedule for a period, which is something CFRA also covers in a similar way to FMLA.

      Leave for T is more flexible, but full pay. He gets a semester of teaching relief, and negotiates with his department what duties he will retain during that time. Typically keeping the research group going and some service/committees, and with much reduced time in the office (1 day week, at least to start). I expect after fall semester ends, he’ll be home nearly full time until spring semester starts. That timing is particularly nice due to the holidays. But, I’m due before fall semester ends, so he’ll be finishing out the semester. Leave without pay or reduced pay appointments are an option if we thought he needed to be more cut off, but they don’t seem necessary

      • June 20, 2018 2:16 pm

        That sounds like T has a really great leave situation – I’m glad! It sounds like you guys have a good understanding of this all too.

        • June 21, 2018 6:08 am

          Yes, his situation is great for a partner!

          It makes me less stressed about child care, because between the two of us, we could survive without daycare for quite some time even after I go back (especially if I do start reduced schedule for a bit). BUT he may have trouble being productive enough, so that isn’t plan A. We won’t need FT care for a while, but PT care is not straightforward.

  3. June 19, 2018 2:09 pm

    Ugh, I’m sorry that project wise the chips have fallen that way and I imagine I’d be similarly concerned in your shoes!

    Culturally (and legally) taking time off here is not an issue at all (and in fact I feel almost peer pressure to take the full year off) however financially that’s just too much of a stretch given the minimal paid leave on offer here. Thankfully my employer offers some paid leave which will get us the through 6 months at least. Although I’ll be missing out on retirement contributions (employer is also generous on that front) I do still accrue annual leave etc during that time which is a nice perk, and I’m told if I’m still here a year after returning to work those retirement contributions will be back paid?

    I also have ‘visit daycares’ on the short term to do list – have already been researching and made a shortlist. I think we’re looking at more like $300 a week which is still huge but at least not $2k a month 😦

    • June 20, 2018 1:46 pm

      I think i’d feel similarly no matter what the project situation was, just due to culture. Given that most people have 12 weeks of unpaid protected leave, anything longer is already a special case.

  4. June 26, 2018 9:31 am

    “I was questioned twice as to whether I was really coming back.”
    I was asked this too. It always pisses me off. I know that people change their minds, or secretly plan not to come back, but it still pisses me off because it feels like they’re trying to make a determination on whether they should push us out or not. In part because of that, I totally felt pressured to come back earlier to stay in the game but in hindsight, that was personal pressure I put on myself. I regret that a little bit, knowing now what I do about how the company was doing, but I made the decision based on my instincts at the time.

    Our culture really needs to do a better job about the whole parenting thing – entirely! Other societies manage to do it, I would think we’d be capable of doing better as well.

    • June 27, 2018 7:49 am

      I mean, it is a weird question, because even if someone was NOT coming back, their answer is going to be the same. The systems really do incentivize people to claim they are coming back, no matter what.

      I totally agree that it is a culture issue just as much as a financial one. Starting with the financial issue is the most pressing to help the most families, but we could do both. I’m pretty impressed with California’s system, though I am not eligible.


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