The First Trimester
A few months ago, one of ShelterPoint’s own, Stephanie, got some very exciting news: she and her husband are going to have their very first baby! Most of you reading this already “know” her. She is part of our small but busy content team at ShelterPoint that has been educating you about all things PFL for over a year. As work and personal life are coming full circle for Steph, we’re going to follow her journey first-hand through pregnancy and PFL for bonding leave – giving you insider tips along the way!
Steph and her husband found out they were expecting towards the end of 2017. At the time, Steph’s main concern was the health of her child, which is why she didn’t tell her coworkers right away. “The first trimester is really scary — it’s when most miscarriages and all the most critical development happens,” she explained, “also reality sets in that you’re about to become parents.”
Though Steph wanted to keep her pregnancy a secret from her coworkers during her first trimester, she did decide to tell her boss early “because you never know how your body will react. I ended up having a lot of morning sickness, so it was good that I told my boss early on. It also took away some of my stress having an understanding boss who was so accommodating.” By the time Steph was ready to tell everyone about her big surprise, she said that “a lot of people had an idea already because I was just walking around kind of green all the time.”
At the end of her first trimester the news became official, and her work-family had one thought on their minds. “When people at ShelterPoint found out,” Steph said, “one of the first questions they’d ask was always ‘are you going to take PFL?’” But because Steph is still pretty early in her pregnancy, no one has brought up the subject of leave since then. “Except for my mom,” Steph added with a laugh.
“Mom mostly wants to know how much time I’m planning on taking off,” Steph said, adding that her mother-in-law had similar questions as she might be helping “watch the baby for a bit when I go back to work.”
But there’s still plenty of time for Steph to worry about the childcare logistics a little further down the line. Right now, there are other things she has on her plate.
“Trying to figure out our health insurance in general” was pretty daunting, Steph explained. “My husband and I had renewals on 1/1, so figuring that out with HR and understanding how we’ll get coverage for the baby was at the top of the list.” Beyond daydreaming about the paid time off she’ll get to take with Paid Family Leave once her baby arrives, PFL isn’t really on her radar at the moment. “Right now I’m focused on planning and scheduling ahead at work for when I’ll be absent.”
But she’s excited for both the process of her pregnancy and PFL . “It’s always on my mind,” she said. “There’s a little human growing inside you. One little kick and you instantly remember what’s going on.”
PFL Expert Tip for Your First Trimester:
If you or your partner is expecting a baby, here are some important steps you may want to take during the first trimester.
- Get to know your rights as a new working mom. You’ll want to make sure you work for a Covered Employer in New York, and meet eligibility requirements to make sure you have Paid Family Leave available to you.
- Take some time to familiarize yourself with PFL for Bonding Leave.
- Start considering how much PFL you may want to take after the baby comes. Even though PFL is paid, the benefit is still only a portion of your salary. So now’s a good time to start looking at budgets and see how much you might need or want to save up for.
- Plus, unlike NY State Statutory Disability (DBL), PFL isn’t just for birth Moms! Make sure your partner also knows about the bonding time that may be available to them.
The Second Trimester
As Stephanie wraps up her second trimester, she’s started thinking ahead to her Paid Family Leave bonding time off. “Planning for how to manage everything at work when I’m out on leave is probably priority #1 right now,” she said.
“I’m doing as much as I can to prepare for my leave ahead of time,” she explained. Stephanie is working hard to soften the impact for her coworkers when she’s spending time with her new baby. She’s even making manuals and guides for all the work she does on a daily basis to help whomever will handle her duties.
While many companies might find it helpful to use a temp agency to provide temporary help while employees are on PFL, it might not work in Stephanie’s situation. “We’ve considered using a temp agency” to cover things while Stephanie’s out, “but it makes more sense for us to keep things in-house with the kind of work that we do.”
But Stephanie considers herself lucky to work with “such a family-oriented company,” and that her boss “is a mom of 2 little ones and gets it.” She doesn’t feel the pressure to come back from her leave right away, and knows that things will be in good hands while she’s out, due to her preparation and diligence ahead of time.
Stephanie remarked on how quickly the time has flown since she first found out she was pregnant, and while she hasn’t solidified her Paid Family Leave plans yet, she has a good idea of how she’ll be taking her time. “First I’ll be taking DBL as I recover from the birth, and then take about 4 weeks of PFL to bond. That way I can save the other 4 weeks available to me for later, and use it when the baby’s a few months older. But, plans could always change, and until I’m really in the situation I won’t know for sure.” Steph still has some time to solidify her plans. While it’s great that she’s having conversations early on with her employer, it’s important to remember that your PFL carrier doesn’t need any advanced notice of your leave - read more about that here.
As she has progressed in her pregnancy, Stephanie has been surprised with how many things she has to think about. Like childcare. “Looking for childcare, even though we won’t need it for 6-7 months from now has been harder than we thought. Finding a place that takes infants has been a real struggle, and there are already wait lists at some of those places. Doing all the research, and knowing which one to trust with your child can be super overwhelming. Sometimes you have to go with your gut - especially when choices are so limited.”
But with all the things she has to think about and plan for, Stephanie can’t wait to meet her baby. “We were really excited to find out we were having a little girl! It was very special - we took our parents with us to find out the sex of the baby. Knowing now that it’s a girl makes the whole thing seem a lot more real.”
PFL Expert Tip for Your Second Trimester:
If you or your partner are expecting a baby, here are some important tips you may want to take during the second trimester:
- Work with your boss or supervisor to figure out the best way to cover your responsibilities while you’re out. Whether that’s training someone else, delegating your duties, or looking into temp agencies, now’s the time to start figuring it all out.
- Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the PFL forms, and everything else you’ll need to submit along with the forms when you start your bonding leave – but, make sure you don’t file your claim too early – read why here.
- Start considering how much time you’re going to want to take off. Do you want to take the full time available to you all at once? Take half like Stephanie and save the rest for later? Having at least a rough idea could help you and your boss manage your coverage.
- Take some time to read PFL for Bonding and Benefits of Bonding for interesting information on how you can take Paid Family Leave and the importance of bonding.
- Our ABCs of PFL also provides detailed information to answer all of your Paid Family Leave questions.
The Third Trimester
When we checked back in with Stephanie towards the end of her third trimester, she was excited to both meet her baby, and that it was “almost over.” “Overall, pregnancy has not been the most pleasant experience for me,” Stephanie said with a laugh, but she knows it will be worth it as soon as she can hold her new baby.
But there’s still a few more weeks to wait before the baby arrives, and some things to wrap up before she goes out on leave. Stephanie feels pretty confident that her work duties will be handled by her team while she’s out — “I’m a planner,” she said, “which hopefully people can appreciate. We’ve tried to get everything set up ahead of time as much as we can.” Planning so far in advance has helped Stephanie feel a little more secure as she gets closer to taking her leave.
As part of Paid Family Leave law, Stephanie has already provided her boss with her 30 day notice (and then some) that she is planning on taking PFL. While she can’t pinpoint the exact day her baby will arrive — babies tend to come on their own schedule, don’t they? — she was able to give a rough estimate based on her due date. But since she and her boss are close, her boss has been aware of her intention to take leave for a while now — especially since they work for ShelterPoint, and are the team that has been educating you with Paid Family Leave content for over a year. “It’s pretty cool to be able to experience PFL first-hand,” Steph added, “We’ve been living, breathing, and sleeping Paid Family Leave for over two years now, so I’m really looking forward to actually using it!”
As of right now she’s still planning on taking 4 weeks of PFL after her DBL time, but realizes that things come up and that might change. Which is why it’s so important to wait until after your leave begins to file your PFL claim form. Depending on how things go once the baby arrives, she might want to take more time, or take less and spread the remaining time out over the next year. The flexibility of Paid Family Leave allows her to do whatever makes sense for her and her growing family.
But pregnancy has brought some new and unexpected challenges with it. “Things that were really simple, like tying shoes, have become a physical challenge at this point,” Stephanie said, adding that “sleeping is a lot more challenging,” and that her giant C-shaped body pillow has been her saving grace. She even brought it with her when she traveled upstate when her family threw her a baby shower.
“It’s overwhelming all the love and support we’ve received,” Stephanie said about her baby showers. “This tiny person, who isn’t even here yet, is already so loved by everyone.” And she will be well-dressed too — Stephanie received quite the haul of adorable baby clothes from her friends and family, saying that “this little girl already has more clothes in her wardrobe than I do — her closet is full, her dresser is full, but it’s all so cute!”
Stephanie and her husband are spending their time now anxiously awaiting the arrival of their bundle of joy. While Steph’s husband isn’t planning on taking PFL himself (though many dads do), his job provides fully-paid paternity, which will be helpful. Plus, her husband’s “family lives very close, so they’ll be a big part of our support system.” And though Steph’s family lives upstate, “my mom is planning on staying with us for a while after the baby’s born” to help out.
Between the weekly doctor appointments, the last minute planning, and the struggling to tie shoes, Stephanie is still excited to meet her baby girl and “figure out how to be a mom.” She’s only a few short weeks away!
PFL Expert Tip for Your Third Trimester:
If you or your partner are expecting a baby, here are some important tips you may want to consider during the third trimester:
- Don’t forget to give your boss at least 30-days notice for your foreseeable leave. Baby might come early, or be late, but you can help avoid some headaches by staying in communication with your boss from the time you decide to take PFL until you go out on leave.
- This is also a good time to check in with your employer to see how PFL interacts with any other benefits you may have (like DBL, other Short-Term Disability and your vacation/sick time.)
- Start thinking about your options for how you’ll want to use your benefits. Do you want to take DBL first and then take PFL? Or maybe skip DBL and go right out on PFL directly. Will you want to take weekly leave or intermittent days? Now’s the time to start thinking about your anticipated schedule.
- Worried you might be forgetting something important for your baby — like finding a good pediatrician? Making a list of things to do that you gather from parenting books, friends with kids, your OB, and other sources may help you feel more on top of things.
- Take some time to read Benefits of Bonding for interesting information about how bonding can help you and baby bloom.
- Our ABCs of PFL also provides detailed information to answer all of your Paid Family Leave questions.
After Giving Birth
After much anticipation (both with her colleagues at work and with her husband and family), Stephanie had her baby!
Olivia Rose was born Tuesday, May 8 at 7:44 PM. She weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces.
We’re thrilled to welcome Olivia into the world!
If you’re just tuning in to our series, we’ve been following Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mother, who has since taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. Throughout her pregnancy, Steph revealed steps employees can take to get started with PFL, as well as how PFL has benefited her and her family.
When we last left her, Stephanie was anticipating the big day, and working with her team to ensure a smooth transition to her leave. She’d documented processes, updated certain training manuals, and made sure that—as much as possible—her team would know where to find anything they needed. All in all, they were on track for a good hand off.
And yet, despite all the effort to be ready, Olivia had her own plans: she arrived 3.5 weeks ahead of her due date.
The Friday before Olivia was born, Stephanie worked at a conference for the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), where she spent the whole day on her feet talking about ShelterPoint and Paid Family Leave. She rested up that weekend, and the following Monday, went to a routine checkup appointment. After the exam, her doctor let her know that she might want to make sure her hospital bag was packed. Much to Stephanie’s surprise her water broke that next morning, and Olivia was born in the evening!
Even though this came as a big surprise, Stephanie was actually prepared. She often jokes that “she was at her own baby shower,” meaning that she, too, was born early—5 weeks, to be exact—so that her mom was able to bring her to the baby shower! Throughout her pregnancy, she had a suspicion that Olivia would arrive early, too.
With this little tidbit of insight, Stephanie and her co-workers had made sure to try and complete as much of the transition as early as possible. As a result they ensured that the handoff was nearly complete by the time Olivia surprised them by showing up early.
Her husband, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as prepared for an early delivery. He had to spend a few hours at the hospital closing out some loose ends for work.
But for Stephanie, because of her foresight and her team’s work transitioning a little early, she was free to focus on giving birth and spending her first days with her new baby.
And that freedom was a godsend. The first days—and first couple weeks—“were all a blur,” she told us. There’s so much to learn when you have your first child. “You can read, and prepare the best you can, but until you’re in the thick of it you just don’t know all that’s involved.” The baby’s sleeping schedule, her eating schedule. The parents have to completely give up their own routines. “Becoming a mother is the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Stephanie added.
After settling in to home life with the new little bundle, a flurry of family and friends stopped in, to welcome the baby. But, those first few days Stephanie and her husband really leaned on their own parents. “I don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Stephanie.
Despite all the hubbub of a new baby at home, there was still paperwork to hand in. Though her PFL application was due to her PFL insurance carrier within 30 days of starting her PFL leave, she had a bit of time for that because she decided to take DBL (NY’s statutory short-term disability) time first. DBL is considered “pregnancy disability leave” and, in Steph’s case, provided her with 6 weeks of leave. You can read more about how DBL and PFL go hand-in-hand here.
“For DBL and PFL it’s two different sets of claim forms, with different sets of requirements, and they each need to be filed at different points in time,” Stephanie explained, “so, since I wasn’t starting my PFL right away, I knew I needed to just focus on getting the DBL paperwork submitted.” In addition to completing DBL forms herself, she needed her doctor to sign off as well. One important piece of advice Stephanie had to offer was that while she had control of how quickly she completed her end of the paperwork, she didn’t have quite as much control over how quickly her doctor turned around theirs. She told us it took about two weeks and a few follow-up calls to get her doctor to contribute their piece. Her advice? “Don’t wait to bring in or send the DBL claim form to your doctor.”
“I had always planned on taking my DBL time off first, then transitioning over to PFL,” said Stephanie. “But, I’m also living proof of why you really shouldn’t submit your PFL paperwork too early.” Not only did Olivia arrive early, but Stephanie also changed her mind about how she planned on using her PFL bonding time. Originally, she would use half now, and half a little closer to Olivia’s first birthday. But, instead, Stephanie decided to take all 8 weeks of PFL available to her directly following her 6 weeks of DBL time – giving her 14 weeks of time off in total. “I had to laugh a bit to myself when this all came up because I remembered so vividly when we were writing about how it’s actually counterproductive to file your claim before you start leave,” Steph added.
You also have the best chance of having a smooth claims process if you wait until you have all the different pieces required before you submit your PFL claim to your insurance carrier. Another piece of wisdom Steph shared was “it’s not like you walk out of the hospital with a baby and their birth certificate, which is required documentation for a PFL bonding leave claim. It didn’t arrive in the mail until about a month after Olivia was born.” It’s important to note that your insurance carrier cannot make a determination on your claim until all the required information is received. You can read more about that here.
PFL Expert Tip for After You've Given Birth
Once you’re ready to start your PFL for bonding leave, you’ll need to submit the following to your PFL insurance carrier within 30 days after your actual bonding leave begins, not 30 days after you give birth (so, in Stephanie’s case, bonding leave began 6 weeks after baby was born, which means that’s when her 30-day window started):
- PFL-1: Part A is completed by you, and Part B is completed by your employer (they must complete their section and return it to you within 3 business days)
- PFL-2 (Bonding certification) is completed by you
- Supporting documentation proving the relationship between you and child, such as the birth certificate. Form PFL-2 has a checklist to help you identify what exact documentation is needed for your specific bonding situation
- It’s your responsibility to submit all the necessary forms and documentation to your PFL insurance carrier. They should be completed (except, of course, for the portion your insurance carrier will complete) and submitted all together at once. This will help make your claim process as smooth as possible.
- Once your carrier has received your fully completed package, they have 18 days after receipt to make a PFL eligibility determination
- Don’t forget, since bonding leave is foreseeable, you will also need to provide 30-days notice to your employer before your bonding leave begins.
Taking Paid Family Leave
We’ve been following Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mom, who has taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. Now, we check in with her towards the end of her leave.
If you’re just tuning in to our series, Stephanie has been revealing steps employees can take to get started with PFL for bonding, as well as how Paid Family Leave has benefited her and her family.
Coming home from the hospital, Stephanie and her husband began life with their new daughter, Olivia. As Stephanie describes it, “the first few weeks were insanity - feeding her every 2-3 hours, learning how to breastfeed, worrying if Olivia was gaining weight, and not sleeping well. Then there’s the parade of visitors coming through. It was a whirlwind.”
In Part 4 of Steph’s Story we learned that she had changed her plans on the amount of time she was planning to take all at once. Initially, she was planning to take 6 weeks of DBL time, then just 4 weeks of Paid Family Leave, leaving the remaining 4 weeks in day-long increments to use over the following months. Instead, she realized the benefits of having time to bond with her new baby and how important it was for her to spend all 8 weeks of PFL (which totaled 14 weeks of leave, including DBL) with her new daughter to strengthen their bond before going back to work and sending Olivia to daycare.
Stephanie went on, “The fog kind of lifted around week five. Those first six weeks are just about survival—keeping her alive, keeping me alive. And also, healing! You kind of forget in all the excitement that you just gave birth and your body really needs time to heal.” When the time came to submit her PFL paperwork and commit to a period of leave, Steph decided to take the full 8 weeks of PFL. Getting a little choked up, Stephanie explained that the mother-daughter bond was much stronger than she had anticipated. “I just realized once I go back to work, I’d never take another month off,” she said. “And Olivia was just so tiny, I just couldn’t picture leaving her when she was still so dependent on me.” This was her opportunity to take the extra time she would need, and thanks to Paid Family Leave, she was able to take it.
Being well prepared at work made it easier to make adjustments to her PFL time that she hadn’t anticipated she would want. Since Olivia came early, their team had already planned on Steph being on leave through August. “That went into making my decision as well. I never wanted to be an extra burden on my co-workers,” Steph explained. “Though I was still relieved when my boss who’s a mom of a 3-year old and a 6-year old, was so supportive and accommodating with my decision to take more time.”
So, what did Stephanie and Olivia do during those 8 weeks? “I learned how to be a Mom,” Steph said. “In that time I learned so much more about my daughter – like that she has one type of cry that just means she’s tired, and another cry for when she’s bored.” Stephanie explained to us that extra bonding time really gave her the opportunity to get to know Olivia. “Not to say I wouldn’t have learned those things without PFL, but Paid Family Leave gave me 8 extra weeks to be nothing but Olivia’s Mama. I was able to be 100% focused on her and her needs,” she said.
Stephanie reminded us that it’s important for dads to bond with baby, too. And, yes, both parents can claim PFL bonding leave at the same time, if they work for different employers. Even though Steph’s husband didn’t take NY Paid Family Leave, he did take some extra time off when Olivia was first born, and during Steph’s leave.
Steph added, “Not only did PFL give me the time to spend with her, but it gave our whole extended family extra time to get to know her. My parents visited a few times, my brother came to town, and even my best friend and her mom got the chance to come meet Olivia during my time off.” And, it wasn’t just Steph’s family. “We had a lot of really special days at the beach cabana with my Mother-in-law. I got to be there when Olivia had her first splash in the kiddie pool her Grandma got for her.”
Throughout baby’s first year there are a ton of “firsts,” and Stephanie expressed her gratitude for all the “firsts” she was able to be present for because of Paid Family Leave. Steph and her husband even took Olivia on her first plane ride up to Rochester where she got to meet her Great Grandparents, Aunts, and Cousins. “It’s a precious moment in my life that I’ll never forget,” Steph said.
Stephanie was glad to have been afforded the ability to take the full time off all at once. “Olivia’s a little bigger, and sturdier now, she’s thriving, and even holding her head up on her own. If I didn’t have Paid Family Leave, she would have been just six weeks old when she went to daycare.” Steph shares this piece of advice for soon-to-be parents: “Plan for the longest allowed time – even if you may not use it. Plan for it at work, and also financially ahead time. This way, when the time comes, you’ll have the flexibility to make the decision that’s best for you and your family.”
Until then, here’s some of Steph’s favorite pictures from her Paid Family Leave bonding time off!
PFL Expert Tip for Taking Bonding Leave
When you’re ready to go on bonding leave, keep in mind that every family is a little different. You have the flexibility to take the time you need to bond with your child. It doesn’t all have to be taken at once, the way Stephanie took it. You can take some time up front, or in increments over time - whatever works best!
Keep these tips in mind for your time on bonding leave:
- Keep in mind that PFL is flexible. You can take some time now and save some for later, or you can take it all at once. You can take intermittent leave, too. For example, you could take every Monday while your partner takes every Friday, leaving you only three days per week to cover with daycare.
- Focus on the bonding! This is your time to discover your new child, so enjoy every moment!
- Consider joining a parenting group—especially if you’re a first-time parent. This can help you learn tips and tricks to being a better parent, while also offering support for the transition to parenthood.
- If you’re a ShelterPoint member you can check the status of your PFL claim online at: www.shelterpoint.com/claimportal
The Manager Perspective
We’ve been following Stephanie, a ShelterPoint employee who took Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her newborn daughter. We’ve checked in with her throughout her journey to see how she prepared to leave work, see how she handed her work off to her team, as well as how (and when in the process) she submitted her paperwork to claim her benefit.
For this installment, we stepped away from Stephanie for a bit, and instead had a chat with her manager, Katrin. Stephanie and Katrin have been working closely together for 8 years. The Marketing team is small, and Stephanie plays a key role. In fact, when Stephanie told Katrin that she was pregnant, Katrin’s first reaction – as a mom of 2 little girls – was joy for Stephanie, but her manager mindset quickly came back into play: “How are we going to cover Stephanie being out on leave?”
With about 150 employees, ShelterPoint is not yet at a business size where there is much redundancy across positions – at least not in the Marketing Department. So when a team member is out on leave, it’s tough to cover the bases. At a large business, with larger teams, there’s often overlap in skill sets and cross-training, which can make it easier to cover a staffing gap due to reasons like Paid Family Leave. But smaller businesses (and smaller teams, like Katrin’s) may feel a bigger impact.
Over time, Katrin was able to grow the department and structure positions for at least partial overlap in core skills to reduce the risk of coming to a halt if the team is down by one. Automating and streamlining processes made the department run more efficiently, which, in turn, made room in the workload for team members to be cross-trained in select critical areas. And for 2018, Katrin’s department got 2 new positions approved in light of the company’s growth plan and staffing needs. So, when Stephanie announced she’d be taking leave, it was bitter-sweet news: “For one, the race was on – I’d have to make sure that I fill those open positions quickly to allow for onboarding and training (ideally by Steph herself) before she is actually out. Secondly, one of the positions is for an entirely different area of expertise; while the other one, thankfully, is closely related. But even with a new hire we’re barely making up for Steph’s absence – due to learning curves and the like – let alone take on those “bigger & better” things we had mapped out.”
The timing of Steph’s impending leave coinciding with the addition of 2 new team members was lucky in some regards, but it also meant that much of Katrin’s time would still be spent training while Steph is already out, and managing department changes and new staff dynamics that come along when a team increases by 50% at once.
“We had to be extremely well prepared to pull this off without hurting our productivity.” Katrin and Steph strategized how to approach the allocation of her responsibilities, identifying who is best equipped to take on what during her absence: What tasks were critical enough for Katrin to roll up her sleeves and take them on herself, what can be given to the new hire or other team members, and what can be paused or deprioritized while Steph is out.
This in itself opened the next question: “When was the last time we updated our manual?” It had been a while, to be exact: 3 and 6 years ago in preparation for Katrin’s own maternity leaves. And the Marketing department recently underwent so many changes that almost nothing in the manual was of relevance to train someone on what Steph does now. They set a goal that all relevant documentation would be complete a month prior to Stephanie’s due date, just in case.
“I felt confident that we’d hit that goal,” Katrin said, “A) because of Steph’s diligence, and B) because of our good work relationship she felt comfortable very early on letting me know she’s expecting while we kept it confidential until the time felt right for her to announce it to co-workers in general. So, as her manager, I was especially thankful that she told me so early.”
While Stephanie documented away, Katrin’s staff search went into hyper drive. The biggest variable was not just if but also how fast she could hire (the hiring managers among us know how long it can sometimes take to find the right person); and when that hire date would align with a) documentation being completed and b) Steph’s due date – or, really, how soon she could be out if the baby were to follow her mom’s footsteps as a premie. In the end, the stars were aligned right – and Sheila joined the team about 6 weeks before Steph’s early delivery (yes, Stephanie’s baby came ahead of schedule, a little over 3 weeks early). That gave Sheila just enough time to still get first-hand training from Stephanie.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t fill that position in time. You probably wouldn’t have seen as much published by ShelterPoint during that time, as a lot of work goes into getting one of these resource articles out, aside from just writing it. We certainly would have had to be even more selective with what we can spend our resources on.”
Despite being prepared, there will always be surprises. Stephanie’s original plan was to take 6 weeks of New York’s statutory short-term disability (commonly referred to as DBL, short for Disability Benefits Law, which covers time off for recovering from giving birth – learn more here) followed by 4 weeks of PFL for a combined total of 10 weeks, and then to return to work and take the remainder of her PFL leave in short increments over the following months. But, after giving birth and spending time with her new baby, she decided to take her full PFL duration all at once, which stretched her leave to 14 weeks. “As a mom, I totally understood why she decided to take the full amount of PFL time now without putting some aside for later during Olivia’s first year. You need that time for so many reasons – to really heal, figure out this new mom thing, adjust to your new life and find your groove, and soak up all those precious little moments. Your mother instincts kick in, and there’s nothing more important than being with your little miracle,” Katrin reminisced when sharing memories from having her first baby. “But – from the manager’s perspective – I got nervous for a moment and reviewed our editorial plan, pipeline, pending projects and deadlines slated for those extra 4 weeks. But because we were well prepared, and Steph would have been out through that time period anyway (had Olivia been on time), this change of plan had little impact on our team covering her role.”
Now that they’d weathered Stephanie’s leave, however, Katrin is looking ahead to preparing without the pressure of a real leave in the immediate future. “Being able to carve out time for housekeeping on a regular basis is a challenge but helps align the team – especially as we’re growing and our responsibilities and processes are evolving.”
Having felt the same pinch in the ability to prepare as any other business, ShelterPoint is, in a way, learning as they go just like everyone else. But their biggest takeaway is that being prepared for an employee to take leave is the best way to get through a PFL absence with minimal impact on the business. And while it’s difficult to prepare when no one is expected to leave, it’s not a given that every employee will provide significant lead time, meaning there could be a crunch when it’s time for someone to take leave. For this reason, the strongest approach is to have—at minimum—a plan, and if possible documentation already in place.
Katrin’s Recommendations For Managers
- Develop a coverage plan. This includes what your business will do when someone takes leave. Consider these questions when making your plan: How can you allocate responsibilities while you have an employee out? Can you cover it all internally? How feasible is it to bring in a Temp? Identify which tasks (if any) can be performed by a Temp and how long it would take to train a Temp to fill your employee’s shoes while they’re out.
- Document procedures. Don’t let leave events be your only trigger to update Manuals or document procedures. Knowing that this can be a monumental task, start by taking an inventory of tasks and then documenting the essential ones first. Details that are taken for granted or aren’t intuitive can easily slip through, so take the Manual for a test spin: give it to someone else on the team who typically doesn’t perform that task and see if they can execute it without needing to ask for explanations.
- Cross-train where possible. When jobs don’t directly overlap, cross training helps mitigate impact when an employee is out. Understand each of your team member’s skill sets, potential, and be mindful of what’s not their strong suit for cross-training to be successful.
- Keep in mind that PFL is flexible – and your planning needs to account for that. Plan for the longest time your employee could be out – even if they don’t anticipate using it all at once. Circumstances and needs may change, and your employees can adjust their PFL duration and schedule to fit those needs.
- Foster a positive work and team atmosphere that allows your team members to feel comfortable to share their anticipated leave early.
The more prepared you are for an employee to take PFL leave, the easier it will be to mitigate impacts of the employee being out. For a complete look at PFL, including benefits, rates, eligibility, and more, take a look at our guide, The ABC’s of PFL.
The HR Perspective
When an employee takes Paid Family Leave, human resources departments have a significant role to play in ensuring that the employee understands the policy and procedure (including completing and submitting paperwork) so they can easily take leave.
In this series, we’ve been following Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mom, who has taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. In this installment, we reached out to Carmela, the VP of HR at ShelterPoint, for her perspective on Stephanie’s leave.
Carmela and Stephanie have a unique relationship. They’ve been working together since right after Stephanie got out of college. Since they began working together, Carmela has celebrated a number of—to put it in HR terms—Stephanie’s life events. She was there when Stephanie began work at ShelterPoint, when Stephanie got married, and now, when Steph had her first baby. “It’s been wonderful to see how Steph’s life has blossomed,” Carmela said. “When Stephanie told me she was pregnant, I was thrilled for her and Steve!”
Carmela, like most HR teams, already had a protocol in place for when an employee was ready to take maternity leave, which for maternity and bonding leave, includes setting two meetings to discuss all the details and make a leave plan with the employee. Before PFL, these meetings were primarily a matter of talking through NY statutory disability (DBL) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) along with ShelterPoint’s own internal employee policies. But in Stephanie’s case, this would be one of the first meetings Carmela would have for bonding leave since Paid Family Leave became live. So there were more pieces to line up and she had to update her plan to include PFL.
Stephanie had a lot of questions early on, and Carmela would research and answer them as they came up. One tool she finds especially helpful for the employee early on is ShelterPoint’s PFL benefit estimator tool. “I share this with all my HR buddies,” Carmela told us. “It helps the employee estimate how much PFL benefit they can anticipate based on their specific situation, which in turn can help them figure out how much they may need to save up to help cover a longer leave financially.”
But, most of the leave information is given to the employee in the two meetings closer towards the end of their pregnancy. To make it easy for the employee, Carmela has a packet of all the forms and informational materials for all the different types of benefits for new mothers they will need to go over, printed and ready for the first meeting insuring that the employee has all the information they would need to make a decision about how they would take their leave. As far as timing, she usually holds the first meeting about 5-6 weeks before the due date, and the second about 3 weeks before the baby is due. This way, the plan would be in place before the birth, and there would be a buffer in case the baby comes early – spoiler alert, more on that in a minute…
In the first meeting, she goes over a general overview and covers details like:
- What is the employee eligible for? (including DBL, FMLA, PFL, and any other short-term disability options)
- How long do they plan to be out?
- How much vacation/personal time off the employee has in their “bank”.
- The options for leave duration (for example, PFL allows you to take time all at once or in increments, how DBL and PFL durations relate)
- What to expect in the process, including what kinds of paperwork is required and how the paid leave will work.
- Timeline of when to file what, and where.
- Review of benefits and identify what coverage would continue while on leave (health insurance, etc.)
The second meeting she walks through that specific employee’s situation, looking at how many PTO days etc., lays out sample leave specific to that employee, and answers any remaining questions the employee may have after reading through the packet given to them at the first meeting.
In this case, though, Stephanie threw a bit of a wrench in the works for Carmela: Stephanie’s baby, Olivia, arrived 3.5 weeks early. In fact, ironically, Olivia arrived on the very day that Stephanie and Carmela were scheduled to have Stephanie’s final meeting. While this is an unusual case, the paperwork process was not affected because you shouldn’t file your PFL claim until after the baby is born anyway. Steph and Carmela touched base via phone and email after Steph was home and settled after giving birth.
Stephanie wasn’t Carmela’s first PFL claim. She’d processed one other PFL bonding leave, and one for care of an ill family member. “Every PFL claim is emotional,” Carmela said. “While processing a bonding leave claim is filled with joy, it was very different when an employee needed to take leave because of an ill family member. While it ended up okay in the end, I really felt for the employee in the moment, and I worried about their family member.”
Carmela shared with us that PFL requirements have added an additional burden for HR teams to ensure that every option is clearly defined, all the paperwork is processed, and assisting managers strategize coverage. Carmela’s team, like many HR teams, relies on spreadsheets to track all the ins and outs of setting up and executing a PFL claim. While this can work, it can also be very time consuming. When combined with all the other HR functions, Carmela’s team has been exploring introducing a leave management tool and formulating a more formal process to help coordinate PFL, DBL, FMLA, and ShelterPoint vacation and leave policy. “A tool like this,” Carmela noted, “could make it much more efficient to track leave time against each bucket.”
And yet, even now while armed with just a spreadsheet and the first-hand experience of facilitating Paid Family Leave claims, Carmela still feels much more prepared for when her next employee needs to take leave. “It’s a little scary at first, but as you set up processes and see them working, you feel more prepared for the next one.”
Returning To Work
When you’ve been out for 14 weeks to recover from giving birth and to bond with a new baby, returning to work can feel a bit like “culture shock”. If you’re just tuning in to our series, Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mom, has taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. In this, the last of our series, Stephanie shares what it was like for her as she prepared for the next phase of life as a working mom.
For Stephanie this was an emotional transition, and even as we chatted with her now, she got a little choked up as she described it. “Leading up to coming back to work and ending leave, I personally had a lot of anxiety,” she said. “Looking back on it now, most of it was just facing the unknown – Olivia and I had a good thing going, I felt like I was just hitting my groove as a mom, and I didn’t want any of it to change.” How would Olivia adjust to the transition? How would Stephanie feel being back at work knowing that her baby wasn’t right there with her? Would she be able to pump enough milk for her when she was away? “There were some days while I was out on leave where it was a struggle just to find time to make myself lunch, or take a shower. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how there would be time to fit in a 7.5-hour work day,” Steph added.
Stephanie was honest - if it would have been feasible, she would have transitioned to a stay at home mom. But for their family that wasn’t a realistic possibility, so they already had a plan in place for when it was time for Stephanie to return to work. As part of their “back to work plan,” Steph and her husband researched daycares early on in her pregnancy, and found one that was just right.
Before Olivia was born, Stephanie also worked with her manager, Katrin, to establish a flexible work from home schedule for part of the week going forward. This way Olivia would only have to be in daycare a few days per week, and she could be with Stephanie while she was working at home. “I feel so fortunate to work at a company, and have the type of position that can be so flexible. I truly believe being able to partially work from home, has made all the difference for me mentally” Stephanie said, “Just knowing I’ll still get to be with her more days out of the week than apart, makes me feel a little better.”
As the time got closer to her going back to work, Steph wanted to try and help prepare Olivia for the transition to daycare so she’d be somewhat familiar with the people that would be taking care of her. So, in the couple weeks before Stephanie’s last day on leave, she brought Olivia to the daycare center a few times to let her play and get used to the space and the teachers while Stephanie was still with her in the room. It turns out, this was just as good for Stephanie as it was for Olivia because it gave her confidence to know that it was a safe, educational, and most importantly loving environment for her daughter.
In terms of her Paid Family Leave, there was a clear end date that she knew since the time she applied, so there wasn’t any paperwork to complete. Stephanie recommended that you confirm early in your leave that you have all the correct dates marked on your calendar so you know exactly when your leave ends, and when you’re expected to report back to work. She notes that you may want to hang on to any payment stubs and other PFL paperwork in case you may need them for tax purposes. “And, before you go back to work, if you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to check in with your HR department or boss to make sure there will be the required private space for you to pump. I suggest doing this well in advance so if arrangements need to be made, there’s plenty of time for them to do so before you return,” Steph added.
Stephanie also didn’t jump straight into her new schedule all at once - they took it slow. “I tried to not have too many changes all at one time,” Steph explained. For her first few days back Stephanie’s husband took off work and was home with Olivia, giving Steph the peace of mind that she could be away from the baby, but also knowing that she was at home with her dad. She had one day in the office for the first couple of weeks, and then eventually worked her way up to her new in office/work-from-home schedule. Once that transition was complete, then Olivia started at daycare. “It worked best for me to only have to get used to one thing at time,” Steph explained. “Having all these changes happen more gradually made for a more gentle transition.”
Stephanie said those first few days felt, understandably, “weird.” For the first time, she had to go hours without seeing her baby, and as she put it, “felt kind of like I had lost a limb. I had gotten so used holding Olivia and having her close by all the time, to all of a sudden not have her right there was a very strange feeling.” Plus, in the midst of all the buzz of being back in the office, she also had to carve out time for pumping. “Pumping at work is a whole new level of fun,” Steph said with a laugh. Stephanie shared with us that she feels her Paid Family Leave bonding time helped her really establish her rhythm with breastfeeding, and gave her the confidence to continue pumping once she returned to work – something that can feel a little awkward. She explained to us that the best way to ensure she stays on schedule was to set up a reoccurring event on her calendar so that her colleagues don’t book her time for meetings when she needs to pump. “I have the same times blocked out every day, so everyone just knows now to work around it.”
Her colleagues welcomed her with joy (and a little relief, knowing that they would no longer have to cover her role). Katrin and the team decorated their corner of the office festively, complete with a big banner that read “Welcome Back Steph!” They had a cake to mark the occasion (and they cut into it at around 10 am, but who can blame them?). Their excitement reinforced how tightly knit their team is, and as Steph described it, “It was nice to feel missed. We are like a little family here, so I was actually happy to be back.”
But picking up where you left off almost 4 months ago is no easy feat. For example, Stephanie opened her email inbox to over 7,500 emails to sift through. Important Paid Family Leave rates were about to change giving Steph and her team some big deadlines they needed meet, so there was little time to get situated. Stephanie noted that to hit the ground running actually requires a bit of trust. You have to assume that the emails in your backlog have been covered while you’re out. For the most part, Steph just filed them away and started fresh. Steph added, “And don’t go in and expect it to feel normal right away. It took me about the same amount of time I was out before I felt like I was really back.”
Now that they have made through the transition period, Steph shared with us that though she still has times of struggle within the daily grind, in the end she’s happy to be a working mom. Their family has settled into their new normal and Steph expressed gratitude for her husband who takes on making dinner, washing her pump parts, and packing up Olivia’s daycare bag so Steph can enjoy the couple of hours she has with Olivia before bedtime each night. “Priorities have certainly shifted, but I do love my job and it’s important for my daughter to see that she can have a family, and kids, but also a career,” Steph explained. “Being a working mom helps for us to provide Olivia the best life possible. I will always look back my PFL time with her fondly. But, even though I may not be physically with her every day, I do it all for her and her future – and my hope is that someday, that makes her proud.”
PFL Tips for Returning to Work
- Be certain you have coordinated with your employer on the day your PFL ends so that you can be clear on the date you need to report back to work.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself and be prepared for the potential emotional effect you may have when ending bonding leave - there might be some emotional impact associated with the separation of going back to work.
- If applicable, make your employer aware that you will be needing a private pumping space with ample amount of time before your first day back to help ensure it’s ready by the time your leave ends.
- If you can, think about taking the transition in phases, like Stephanie did. If your employer allows you to work from home, this can be a really great way to balance the transition to coming back to work. Be sure you connect with your employer with your ask for an alternative schedule early enough for them to work out the kinks and (hopefully) approve.
- Keep in mind, with all things it may take time for you to get to your “new normal” – and that’s ok!
Remember: everyone’s situation is different! While Stephanie was able to manage her leave and her return to work her way, you’ll need to find the way that works best for you and your situation.