Well, now I’ve done it.  On the same day the dog had his melt-down about descending the stairs, I totally caused chaos at work.  Rather my intended impending maternity leave caused massive miscommunication and now I’m certain that the stigma of the pregnant woman being nothing but trouble in the workplace is far from vanishing any time soon.

For years, I had labored under misapprehensions about FMLA time.  I knew it could be used after a year of employment, in jobs that employed more than a certain number of employees, as long as you’re not a top-tier, critical employee (e.g., The Boss) for up to 12 weeks each calendar year, and that its basic function is to hold a job while you attend to things like childbirth.  It guarantees the job will still be there while the new mother is coping with sleep deprivation, lactation, and how to set up the Pack and Play.  What I didn’t know is that, for women at least, those maximum 12 weeks are governed by a doctor’s orders.  They are not really “ours” to take as we please.  Some moms may want/need to return to work after 6 weeks; others may want to use the full 12.  I had only understood that maximum = 12.  I didn’t know that they were linked to a doctor’s appraisal of a woman’s readiness/ability to go back to work.  And I didn’t know they can only be taken in whole weeks.  My intention was to take 6-8 full weeks off, then to gradually reintroduce myself to the workplace, while my children were gradually being introduced to their childcare provider (as yet, undetermined, but Mary Poppins will show up one day soon, with references, we hope), while using up the rest of my FMLA time piecemeal.  It would look like I was back at work part-time, but I’d still be a full-time employee, just one using leave. 

Sick leave works this way, as does paid time off.  Short-term disability can sometimes look like this, for example if you have some chronic condition that has “flare ups” (which sounds disgusting no matter if it’s herpes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia) which require occasional time off or treatment.  It might look like our HR employee, who will be taking Fridays off to get her chemo as she recently learned about a recurrence of lymphoma.  But apparently, childbirth and maternity leave does not work that way.  Once a doctor certifies you’re well enough to return to work on a Monday, you can’t magically be “disabled” on Tuesday. 

This doesn’t quite jive with my understanding of the purpose of FMLA, especially as it applies to, um, fathers.  I’m completely grateful and impressed that it does apply to fathers (as well as adoptive parents), recognizing their equal role as parents as well as their need to support the mother/partner in ways other than earning a paycheck.  However, are they ever “disabled” when they take their maximum 12 weeks a year to care for a newborn child?  Do the dads get to use their own discretion as to when they choose to return to work?  Can they use short-term disability to get paid for their paternity leave the same way mothers can?  It can’t be linked directly to the mother’s health, meaning that if mom’s doc says she can go back to work at 8 weeks, he doesn’t have to, right?  It can’t be.  The HR woman told me many spouses try to get the mom to take the first 12 weeks off, then let the dad take the next 12 weeks off, so the babies can have as much time at home as possible to bond with parents. 

So is FMLA for the physical disability of pregnancy/childbirth/recovery, or for the adaptation of the family to its new members?

Understandably, it’s confusing, and I still haven’t worked out all the philosophical kinks.  I still have to talk to my doctor and find out if she’ll automatically sign off for 12 weeks, or if she truly sends women back when she deems their bodies ready.  Mr. Apron still has to find out if he’ll be able to tap into short-term disability the way I will. 

And with all these nuances of the law, a misunderstanding is, well, understandable.  Truly, I can tell myself it wasn’t entirely my fault that HR didn’t know what I was planning on doing.  Truly, if I’m following The Law, I don’t have to tell my employer my intentions until 30 days before I intend to actualize them.  In reality, however, I told my supervisor my original plan back at the end of June, and she used the information to interview and hire my replacement. 

 

Not my long-term substitute, my replacement.  Some people in HR thought I was leaving in mid-October, when the new SLP will be starting.  So I had to explain that no, I’ll be training her while still working, so she can assume my caseload, my duties, and my rollie chair.  I had to clarify that I intend on working until the day my water breaks.  Whether that will remain a reality is anyone’s guess, but it’s my best case scenario.  My guess is that this misunderstanding was the result of word-of-mouth transmissions, and assumptions made by HR by looking at the new SLP’s start date.  No one officially asked me my last day or asked me to put it in writing yet. 

Then there’s the part that’s my fault.  In my original plan, to come back piecemeal, this was for several reasons.  I have already stated above that I wanted to make a gradual transition for my babies and myself.  This summer, my employer did not offer short-term disability insurance, so coming back to work part-time by using up my FMLA was a way of having some income.  This fall, through incredible coincidence, my employer will not only offer short-term disability, but, because it’s an initial offering, I can actually apply for and be accepted.  At 5 months pregnant.  And having some income while on maternity leave will enable me to stay home longer, if I want to or am approved by my doctor to do.  So even if I hadn’t misunderstood FMLA, my plans changed once the short-term disability insurance was on the table. 

 

My supervisor and HR team had planned on my coming back as a part-time employee, and budgeted accordingly. Even though they legally have to hold my job, as it is, or with similar responsibilities, with the same income, they thought I was choosing to cut back my hours.  And budgeted for my replacement to come on full-time.  And gave her a contract accordingly.  So my department is kind of one full-time SLP over budget.  And it’s kind of my fault. 

Now my subsequent responsibility is in part to market our department aggressively (truly something I never went to school for) in order to, essentially, make up for the discrepancy by bringing in money in the form of new clients, new initiatives, new programs. 

To say I’m beating myself up about it is an understatement.  While I know many others played a part in this HR/budget SNAFU, it’s all about me and my inconvenient procreation.

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