Working With HR To Maximize Your Employee Benefits For Postpartum

Understanding your parental leave benefits – with all its overwhelming fine print – can be a daunting task! To make the process easier, human resource professional extraordinaire Katy Dahl shares with Adriana how to approach the process so that you can not only maximize your benefits, but also understand if your time off will impact your health insurance, your paycheck, or your retirement age. Katy brings clarity and levity to the topic, to help you avoid unfortunate surprises during postpartum!

Read up on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the PUMP Act, and state-by-state paid parental and medical leave laws at abetterbalance.org

 

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Transcript

Working With HR To Maximize Your Employee Benefits For Postpartum

Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. Im Adriana Lozada and right now we are in the midst of our series called Get a Head Start on Your Postpartum Logistics, where we are focusing on episodes to help you do just that. 

Recently, I talked with Arianna Taboada on What You Need To Plan Your Parental Leave, where we focused more on the considerations on your end in terms of deciding how much time you want or can take off, regardless of who you work for. 

Piggybacking on that, today we are going to go deeper into the specifics of navigating your HR department so you can better understand your benefits and how the time that you take off can impact things like your health insurance, your paycheck, or your when youre able to retire. The idea here is to help you find clarity so that you can make your benefits work for you, and also hopefully avoid any unfortunate surprises relating to your parental leave.

I get that this is not the most fun thing to talk about, but hold on! This is not going to be some boring or anxiety-producing conversation thanks to Katy Dahls incredible ability in breaking it all down for us. 

I mean, personally,  just the mere thought of this topic and all its fine print had me overwhelmed, but in this conversation, I felt like the doula tables were turned because Katy is so knowledgeable and good at what she does, that she made it so that it was not only NOT a painful experience, but I actually enjoyed talking about this. Basically, Katy was my podcast doula in this experience, if you will, and I am grateful. 

Katy has been a human resource professional since 2006 and has extensive experience with investigations in both a workplace and education setting, personally conducting or coordinating hundreds of investigations into issues of discrimination and harassment along with serving as an independent, third-party investigator for public K12 organizations. Katy has also been an avid Birthful listener, which of course, I love.

Since we spoke, two amazing initiatives have been passed into law in the U.S. The first is the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for their nursing child, and a place to pump, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. The other initiative is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which provides workers the right to receive reasonable accommodations like light duty, less physically demanding activities, more flexibility for breaks, scheduling of medical appointments, flexibility also in the access to food, water, bathrooms, and many other things during pregnancy, childbirth recovery, and postpartum. So this is a big win! And these initiatives will make it easier for millions to keep their jobs and livelihoods while also protecting their health. So do make sure that these accommodations are included in your conversation with HR. 

Weve also linked lots of resources on this episodes webpage at birthful.com. 

Youre listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition. 

Adriana: Katy, I am so glad to have you here on the show!

Katy Dahl: Thank you for having me! I am thrilled.

Adriana: And you know, this is one of those topics that is vital— at the same time, it’s so crazy overwhelming.

Katy: Yeah. “Overwhelming” is a great way to put it. And on top of it, you’d rather probably be paying attention to other things like: Where will I have my baby sleep? How will I decorate the nursery? How am I preparing to be a parent? As opposed to “Let me ask nitty-gritty details about my pay and benefits while I’m gonna be off work for having my baby.”

Adriana: Right, right. Even thinking of doing an episode on it, like, I was reading through the handouts that you sent me and I was getting anxious! So, thank you for making this easier for me and then helping all the listeners— you know, make it easier for them as well 

So, let’s get right to it: First, when should you contact your HR to learn about leave benefits?

Katy: So I would recommend the ultimate time to do that is before you accept a job within an organization. Benefits are such a huge part of your compensation package in a lot of circumstances, that you should be asking about them upfront before you ever say “yes” to your employer, because it might make or break your decision whether or not to accept a job.

Adriana: Are there a couple of things, like, that are the most important things to consider in that case? Because it’s not like you’re gonna sit down before accepting the job and go through all the detailed benefits… or maybe that’s just me. Maybe you would!

Katy: You know, I think it just depends. I think that there are some major things that you could ask about, like health insurance, for example. Do you offer health insurance? And if so, how much of it do you pay? And how much of it do I pay as the employee? Because health insurance is incredibly expensive, and if your employer picks up a good portion of the tab, you might consider that when you are considering your total benefits package, because it’s almost like having additional salary.

So, I would probably be asking about major things like health insurance. Ask about what types of leaves are available. What other insurances do they offer, like dental insurance, disability insurance? Especially in the case of people who are considering taking leave for the birth of a child, or life insurance. And a lot of employers will already have some of that information just ready and available for you— but if they don’t, start asking!

Adriana: So if you’re already in a job, you’re already committed. Then when should you reach out to HR to learn about these benefits?

Katy: So the second best time would be “now,” I would say! Number one, before you’re hired, but number two, right now— whether or not you have a baby on the way are planning to have a child. If you don’t understand what’s available to you, make an appointment to see the person that handles that in your organization.

Sit down with them and start asking questions. You need to know what you have available to you just in case something would happen and you would need to avail yourself of those benefits.

Adriana: Is there any wiggle room for negotiation or is it pretty much, like, to “take it or leave it”?

Katy: You know, I think it just depends on the organization. There certainly could be, and there’s no harm in asking.

Adriana: So let’s say now you’re pregnant. When should you let your employer know you’re gonna have a baby?

Katy: This is a tough one, because as an HR professional, I say ASAP. If you find out, sit down and start talking with them. Although I know that sometimes people have concerns or misgivings about doing that, they might be concerned: “What if it’s too early and something happens with the baby and then I have to break the bad news to them?” Or “What if it might affect my ability to be promoted?” for example. So, it’s just such an individual situation. You would have to really think through the potential ramifications of sharing the news, and decide when the best time is for you. And of course, as always, follow your employer’s policy if they have one about reporting potential need for leave.

Adriana: So maybe that’s the one of those things that you need to find out quite in advance, to know when you have to let them know.

Katy: Right, right. And each employer is unique.

Adriana: When planning for that transition of […] with your boss, so not necessarily with the HR department— and depending on the size of the company, obviously that might be all together with the same person— but when planning for that transition, what are some things that you should consider and iron out before you go on leave, in terms of the work part and having that transition be easy, or something that can help you for when you come back (if you’re coming back)?

Katy: I would suggest just have a plan yourself— go in with a plan. Think about each of your major responsibilities. Think about the timing of your leave. Think about how much leave you plan on potentially requesting and or needing, and then sit down with your boss and say, “Here’s what I’ve got going on. Here’s my proposal. Are you okay with it?” Because I think that you’re the best resource for how that transition could go, who could take over your workload and what that might look like specifically.

Adriana: Right! And what sort of… what timing do they need to plan and prepare for that transition? Like, do you have to train this person?

Katy: Yeah, exactly!

Adriana: Flipping that over to the HR department, what’s the best way to go about the process of navigating your leave and the benefits with your HR person or benefits admin?

Katy: So, I like face-to-face meetings. I think nothing can substitute for them! So, if it’s an option for you, do your best to sit down face-to-face with the person that handles the benefits in your organization. Just call and say, “Hey, I’m having a baby (or considering it, or my significant other will be having one). Is there anything that I could do to schedule a time with you to sit down and talk about the ramifications to my pay and benefits and what leave is available to me while I’m gone?”

Adriana: And when we talked ahead of time, you also had a great suggestion of bringing in somebody with you to the meeting.

Katy: Yeah!

Adriana: Why is this a good idea?

Katy: Well, you know, it’s so overwhelming, like we talked about earlier, you’ve already got a lot on your mind. You probably have a baby on the way and are thinking about a million things per minute. So, just bring a friend with you. It’s a second set of ears. Maybe someone to take notes, somebody that might catch something that you didn’t, or think to ask a question that you wouldn’t. So if your employer allows it, bring a friend. Bring a union rep, if you have a union rep. Bring your significant other. Bring your mom. I think just having a second set of ears can be really helpful so that you don’t miss anything important.

Adriana: And say you went through it and you weren’t sure of something, is it okay to go back for another meeting to confirm details?

Katy: Oh yeah. And I absolutely love when people do that. My favorite thing is when someone reaches out and says, “Hey, you’re the second person I contacted after I got that positive pregnancy test. I wanna start talking right now.” And I love when they confirm and follow up. If you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions!

And it’s the employee’s responsibility ultimately to make sure that they are understanding what they’re entitled to and what’s expected of them. So if you are unclear, you need to start asking questions.

Adriana: What is the best way to get that […] I’m sure your HR departments should have a lot of materials with this information, or written up somewhere. You mentioned to me before— I thought that was a great idea too— to take notes. Or, better, to ask them to send you the information they’ve shared with you in writing… Is that annoying to you? Like, if somebody says “We just had this whole meeting, I took notes,” and say, “Hey, can you take another— you know, whatever— hour of your time and write this stuff up for me on paper?”

Katy: For me, it’s not annoying, because I probably already have what we talked about somewhere in writing, and I probably already sent it to you, but absolutely not. And if there were specifics that you wanted clarified, maybe add that same. “You know, we talked about my options for additional unpaid leave when I use up all my paid leave. Could we talk through that again and what that specifically looks like?” and maybe ask questions to prompt them to answer in writing, just so you know that you’re getting the information that it is that you’re unclear about. I think it helps with initial clarification and then in the unfortunate event that there might be a difference opinion that has some kind of material effect on you in the future, you could produce that documentation and say, “Well, I have this email from the HR person on this date, and here is what they told me in writing.”

Adriana: Yeah. Yeah, especially even if the HR person switches or you’re talking to a different […], or your company is so big that it’s a big HR department.

Katy: Right! And another issue that I find often comes up is before the baby arrives, you’re often talking in generalities. What happens if my baby arrives early? What happens if my baby arrives on time? What happens if my baby arrives a little bit past their due date? What happens if I have complications? So, I find that it also helps to “run scenarios,” if you will.

Usually, when I’m first talking with people after they’ve announced that they’re going to be having a baby, is to say, “Well, let’s assume you have your baby on your exact due date, and let’s assume you have no complications.” So I always start with a set of assumptions, and then we work scenarios from there. So do the same thing for yourself. Think about all the potential contingencies that could come up, and then ask about how each one of those would have an impact on your leave or your pay or your benefits or all of the above?

Adriana: I love the idea of running scenarios. I know you’ve been doing this for a long time: Does past experience inform the different scenarios that you propose?

Katy: You know, I would say so. I’m kind of surprised how many people actually have their baby on or near the due date! So, when I am talking with employees, I’ll typically say something like, “Let’s assume you have complications and you’re put on bed rest early. Let’s talk about what that might look like. And then let’s assume you have the baby without any sort of unforeseen complications on your due date. Let’s talk about what that would look like.” So then they’ve kind of got an idea if everything goes as planned— which it probably doesn’t ever actually go as planned— “Here’s what’s likely to happen for me.” And then you can also be planning in advance. 

 

So, a lot of the assumptions that I present to people are based on, “Well, here’s how much leave you have now, so think about that. If you want to go to Hawaii and take your baby moon before your baby comes, how will that impact what’s available to you when the baby actually comes?” and maybe it will affect your decision making in terms of taking leave prior to the baby’s arrival.

Adriana: And I find that, because it’s so uncertain when the baby’s gonna arrive, that if you plan, “Okay, I’ll take leave a week before my due date,” but then the baby is a week and a half late, that’s three and a half weeks that you were gone! That’s a big chunk of your leave.

Katy: Exactly. And some employers may not allow you to take time off before. Maybe they’ll only allow you to do so once you have a medical need. It just depends.

Adriana: And you did send me… It was an overwhelming list of questions that I’m gonna, like, probably just read too quickly for people just to… and ask them to breathe through, ’cause I couldn’t get through it without, like, “Wait, you need to stop. Take a break.” And maybe that’s just because I’m self-employed, so it’s things that I never have to deal with.

Katy: But you have a whole other set of concerns, like, “How am I gonna provide for myself while I am not working?”

Adriana: I’m not saying it’s better or worse, yeah— it’s just equally stressful. Reading through some of these questions that we’re gonna get to in a minute, they have such a big emotional component to it as well, because considering these scenarios is actually having you… it’s almost like creating a birth plan.

Katy: Right?!

Adriana: It really isn’t just about deciding about, well, how much time you’re gonna take; you’re asking the person to put themselves into that possibility, and that’s so emotional.

Katy: It is. It is. Especially if you start talking about: How will you prepare if you’re going to be without pay or without a portion of your pay for a significant amount of time? That’s huge, especially when you’re going to be having a baby and having all kinds of new expenses heaped upon you: medical bills, diapers, that kind of thing.

I’ve often wondered if banks should start… They’ve got Christmas Club accounts to save for Christmas presents, maybe you should start a Baby Club account to start saving for when you add this person to your family and have more expenses anyway, but also in a lot of cases face the possibility of being without a paycheck.

Adriana: Yes! So, let’s go through some of these scenarios. How do you wanna do this? Do you want me to read the questions and go from there? Or do you have some scenarios in your mind that can tie into the questions?

Katy: No, I think question sounds good.

Adriana: Alright, here it goes… So some of the questions for your HR person is: Will I have a job when I return? Will I return to my regular job when I come back from leave? If not: What job will I have? What happens if there’s a reduction in force within my organization while I’m on leave? What are all of the leaves that I am or may be entitled to for my pregnancy— for childbirth, for postpartum recovery period, for any complications that arise with my child for time to bond with my child?

And, I think, let’s break that one down a little bit, because what are the different types of the leaves and what’s usually sort of the ballpark limits of each?

Katy: I think it depends based on where you live. 

I would start, maybe, at the top of the pyramid, if you will: What is the federal law or national law required of your employer to provide you? And then look at your state: Are there any requirements from your state for leave? How about your local municipality or city or ward that you live in? Do they have additional requirements? And then, finally, look at your specific employer organization: What is it that they’re offering you via policy or negotiated agreement? And you’ll just have to layer those pieces on top of each other, because they may meet or overlap, and it just depends upon the situation.

I’ve seen examples of times where people maybe just didn’t have enough paid leave to cover their entire FML period. Or you may be offered a paid leave that’s not 100% of your normal salary, so you need to find out: If I have paid leave, is it a 100% of my salary? Is it lesser? Okay, then how does that impact my paycheck?

Adriana: And because also that leave includes— like you said— it’s not only just after baby is born, but, like, if your child is sick one day, it’s coming outta that, right?

Katy: Yeah, more than likely, just depending on your organization— so that’s another consideration. “Okay, I have this available to me now. When I go back to work, I probably need something available to me in case my baby gets sick or I get sick.” So, you might need to do what you can to save some of the leave, or find out what is available to you if you’ve used it all up during your period of maternity leave.

Adriana: Right! Which ties in nicely to a question you had next on my list here, which is: What is the maximum amount of time away, including any extended unpaid time, that is allowed? Because it might be that, okay, fine, that you went through […] you don’t have any more family leave time left, and you’ve gone through all your vacation time and you still need to take time away. Like, how do you navigate that, without being basically said, “Well, you can’t, you know, continue on the job anymore.”

Katy: Right. And that could unfortunately happen, just depending upon the situation, so ask the questions in advance. Let’s say that your employer says you get 12 weeks paid, no matter what, to use per year, and you have your baby early in the year— well, you might wanna leave yourself a cushion just in case baby gets sick later on and you need something available to you to take later on in the year.

Adriana: It’s all so complicated. Knowledge is power. So we continue on… Some other questions you had here is: Is there flexibility in how I use my leave time? Can I use some of my leave to work part-time or reduced schedule when I return? Can I reserve some of my leave for later (which you mentioned before)? Do any of these leaves run concurrently or are they sequential? With that one, what do you mean?

Katy: So the FMLA is a great example of that. Like I said earlier, the law allows employers to require employees to use their paid leave concurrently (or “at the same time”) that they’re on FMLA leave, although they don’t have to require it. So let’s say they don’t, and you have six weeks of paid leave: you could, in theory, take your 12 weeks of FMLA, and then tack on six weeks of your paid leave at the end of it.

Adriana: Okay! That makes sense to me. 

Other things that you had here are: What do I need to do to request or apply for each leave? When do I need to do that by? And is there a specific form or process that I need to use? Which of the leaves are paid and which are not? How much of my salary will I receive while I’m on leave (which we talked a little bit about)? And then: What, if anything, is expected of me while I’m on leave? Do I have to check in when, how, with whom? …Is this really a thing? Do you have to, like… I thought if you’re on leave, you’re on leave.

Katy: Not necessarily. In some cases, for example, with FMLA, it’s possible that your employer may require you to check in and just say something as simple as, “I still anticipate returning on my planned return date.” Or, to let your employer know, conversely, “I think I may need or want some additional leave time. Here’s my plan. Let’s work on getting that approved.” So it just depends.

Adriana: What happens if you originally created a plan, it was approved, everybody’s on board that you’re gonna be back after, say six weeks… and then something happens and you actually cannot return at six weeks. You are gonna have to take two more weeks, or a week… How can you navigate that?

Katy: As soon as you know that that’s a possibility, contact your employer and ask about it. Say, “You know, my doctor indicated I need some additional recovery time. I’ve had some unforeseen circumstances come up with my recovery. What do I need to do? They’re recommending two more weeks than they did originally.”

Just contact your employer as soon as possible. Don’t ever, ever put yourself in a position where you just don’t show up on your plan return date, and don’t have communication with your employer about that, ’cause that could spell trouble for you. I know some employers have policies where if you don’t return on your expected return date, that is equivalent to a resignation, so they may assume you’ve quit and then try to find your replacement in the meantime.

Adriana: I’m just feeling that scenario and how rough that would be, and how, if you are, you know, in the midst of it with your child, you know, that’s the last thing you’re thinking of. It’s a tough situation. You also had too— this is very interesting to me— asking your payroll person if they could estimate what your paycheck will look like when you are on leave.

Because even a regular paycheck to me looks kind of already hard to navigate with the things that are taken off and the things that, you know, what, which benefits are covered, […] through your insurance or through your husband’s insurance? So, is this really common? Like, do people come up and ask you, “Can you just estimate what am I gonna… how am I gonna be or how much I’m gonna get paid? And when that’s gonna happen?”

Katy: Yeah, I would say that’s fairly common. Some employers even have software available directly to employees through their payroll systems where you can go in and estimate the impact on your own paycheck. But I would say talk to your person who does payroll, and if you know you might be taking some leave that will be partially or entirely unpaid: What does that look like on your paycheck? What net amount might you expect to take home? Or what kinds of benefits might you need to be paying for out-of-pocket when you don’t have a paycheck to deduct them from?

Adriana: Ah, very interesting because, yeah, how your leave is is gonna impact your benefits.

Katy: Right! Health insurance is so expensive, and it can cost in general, I would say, anywhere from $600 for a single plan up to $2,000 for a family plan per month. If you don’t have a paycheck to deduct that from, and you can stay on your health insurance, you might have to pay for that entire premium out-of-pocket!

And a lot of people don’t realize how much that expense is, because your employer picks up at least a portion of the tab. But in some circumstances, just based on your scenario, your benefit may not be protected, nor might it typically be paid for at a hundred percent. So just be planning to potentially have to pay for, for example, your health insurance premium out-of-pocket while you’re out on leave. And it’s a critical time where you probably have a lot of health insurance claims coming in and you can’t let that coverage lapse!

Adriana: Would that payroll or benefits person be able to, when they estimate your paycheck, take that into consideration clearly?

Katy: Typically, yes. I would say that’s something that they’re gonna discuss up front with you. It’s usually pretty easy for people to say, “Here’s how much you’re gonna owe for health insurance.” It might be tough in some circumstances to say, “Here’s the exact net amount of pay you’ll take home.” But they know what the cost for health insurance is and how much of it you are going to be responsible for, if any, while you’re on leave.

Adriana: Yeah. You also had here: How do contributions to FSAs or HSAs work while I’m on leave? Is that a similar situation with the premiums for insurance…?

Katy: Absolutely. Because if you are contributing to an FSA or HSA via payroll deduction and you don’t have a check or an entire paycheck to have it deducted from, there might be some ramifications to those savings tools. You need to pay attention to that in advance. In addition, if your employer doles portions of them out as benefits and you are taking a leave that doesn’t have your benefits protected, you might not be getting those contributions. 

So let’s say you’ve got an FSA card and you’re at the pharmacy ready to swipe the card for your prescription for your new baby, and you’re expecting there to be a certain dollar amount on it and there isn’t, that would be a terrible situation to be in. So ask about that in advance, so you know, if you’re contributing to those kinds of tools, how much will continue to be contributed by whom and when.

Adriana: Exactly! And in your particular line of work, because you work within a school system, there is another level of things to consider, which is accrued time and service benefits. Can you explain a little bit what that’s about? Because I know there’s probably a lot of teachers listening.

Katy: Sure— and that’s not unusual among a lot of organizations. Your pay may be partially based upon your service with the organization, and there may be a minimum service time required. So if your leave may impact that, you wanna know that in advance, you don’t wanna find out next year, “Oh, I don’t get another year of service for salary purposes because I took too much leave to be eligible for it last year.” You wanna know about that in advance and make an informed decision as to whether you actually wanna take that amount of leave or not.

Adriana: Right, because that can impact all kinds of things in terms of, like, even when you’re due for promotion, or for seniority or when you can retire.

Katy: Exactly. Well, and a lot of retirement plans base your eligibility for retirement off a combination of age and years of service. So there, again, a lack of years of service could impact your eligibility for when you can retire and they’ll base that retirement benefit, oftentimes, off of a calculation that includes years of service and salary, which could be negatively impacted by taking leave as well.

So if that’s gonna happen, you wanna know now so you can account for that in your decision-making purposes, so that you don’t find out later, the hard way, if you will, thinking that you’re ready for retirement and then they say, “Oh no, remember that time you took time off for your new baby? You can’t retire till next year because of that.”

Adriana: Have you seen that scenario happen?

Katy: Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar things happen. People just maybe forgot about taking leave or maybe just didn’t realize, for whatever unfortunate reason, that that was going to cause an issue for them. And so I’d rather know upfront and say, “Kate, I know that and I’m making the purposeful decision that I will delay my potential retirement by a year, because it’s more important for me now to be with my little one,” or “It’s important for me to retire at that time. I’ve got plans. And so I’m gonna come back to work a little bit earlier than I kind of wish that I would get to, just because I don’t want it to impact my retirement negatively.” In my current organization, for retirement purposes, it’s a state retirement plan and it’s a number of hours you have to hit. So one hour literally could make the difference.

Adriana: Right, and you certainly wanna know about this, because if you have to work a whole extra year because of an hour that you stayed home…

Katy: Yeah, you might be a little disappointed with yourself if you find out much after the fact.

Adriana: That would suck!

Katy: Yeah!

Adriana: Other questions you had here are, that are great: When do I have to finalize my departure and return to work dates? Right?! Like, all these cutoff moments. It’s all about cutoffs. It seems like quantities and cutoffs, and you just gotta know all when these, all these things are happening.

Katy: Right! And there’s so much gray area that it’s nice when there is, “Oh good. I know there is a deadline for that, so I can meet that. That’s not a problem.” Everything else is gray.

Adriana: True. And also it’s not all negative. You had a bunch of questions here also in terms of what other assistance programs your employee might have that you could take advantage of, such as counseling for postpartum depression, setting up a will, financial planning, or childcare-related benefits, that are a fabulous addition that, you, if you didn’t know, then again you would be kicking yourself!

Katy: Right. Exactly. So, ask the questions: What benefits are available to me? And I would say maybe at the end of your discussion with your payroll or benefits or HR person, say, “Are there any benefits available to me that I didn’t ask about or didn’t think about? I just wanna make sure I know what’s available to me so I can take advantage of it.”

Adriana: What other things are we, are we leaving here out? Are we leaving out here? I can’t even speak anymore! “Are we leaving out?”

Katy: I think that’s it! And I also think it’s really important to not only plan for your departure from and time away from work, but plan your return to work. Also, considerations about, for example, if you’re going to be expressing breastmilk at work, if that is something that you plan to potentially do, start having the conversation with your employer now. Say: “What kind of space is available to me? When can I do it? Where can I store my breastmilk? Who do I go to if I have concerns about this?” And let them know that that’s your plan so that they’re prepared for it— and if they don’t have a space set up, they can make sure to have one. They can account for it in your schedule if possible, and can work with you to make that as smooth a process as possible.

Adriana: And you know, by law, depending where you are, but in the United States, a lot of places have to provide— employers have to provide— you with the time and space to properly pump and, and not necessarily have it be a bathroom, but, like, an actual private separate place. So, definitely, if they don’t already have a place for that, it needs to be planned so that you’re not disappointed when you come back.

Katy: Right, exactly. It’s gonna be tough, I think, to return anyway, especially if you are breastfeeding and or pumping. So just smooth that transition as much as possible and give your employer the chance to be aware and be ready to work with you when you come back, in terms of that space and that schedule, and just knowing in advance that that will go smoothly ’cause you’ve had the conversations in advance and they’re prepared just as much as you are.

Adriana: Katy, what if the benefits you have don’t match up with what you want to do during your leave? Do you have any options? 

Katy: That’s a great question. I would say make sure you know what all of your options are first, and then at that point you might need to consider alternate arrangements, which could include maybe applying for another job. Maybe ask your employer, “Could taking a part-time job or part-time for some time, to make this work out for me? Is there another job in the organization that I could apply for where I could get what it is that I need?” I would be careful or wary about making a rash decision and leaving that employer due to those concerns, unless you know your new employer is going to actually be able to meet your needs.

Adriana: And you mentioned something about, when you wrote to me, about purchasing income replacement insurance. What is that about?

Katy: That’s great. I’m glad you mentioned it, ’cause we hadn’t discussed it yet. So, a lot of employers will offer programs such as short- or long-term disability insurance plans that you can participate in. Some are entirely employer funded. Some are funded only by the employee. If your organization doesn’t offer them, you could seek an outside source, like an insurance broker, to offer them to you. But if you don’t have money in savings to account for the loss of pay and potentially benefits while you’re on leave, you might wanna consider purchasing, for example, a disability insurance program, just as income replacement for you while you’re gone and really carefully weigh out the cost of the premiums versus what kind of income you’ll be taking in.

And when you do that, you wanna find out: What’s the payout? What are the premiums? Are there any waiting periods involved? What’s the maximum period of time that you’ll pay out on? And do the math. It’s not too hard with those to do a cost-benefit analysis. Your insurance provider should be able to help you do that if you’re not sure how to do it. But that’s a great option for a lot of people who maybe just don’t have the funds and savings to cover their lack of salary or benefits while they’re on leave.

I think being strategic about it is really key. If you know you… what you have available to you and you know what your plans are, do your best to plan accordingly. “I know I want 12 weeks with my baby at home and I only get 14 weeks total per year. So I think that that two week cushion will be sufficient for me should there be an emergency when I return, so I’m gonna go ahead and take those 12 weeks at home.” You’ll just have to think through every scenario and if something unexpected comes up, be prepared to adjust. If you get put on bedrest for a month before your due date, that might really make an impact on how much time you get with the baby after they arrive.

Adriana: What are some best case/worst case scenarios that you have seen, without throwing anybody under the bus, naming names, but you know, things that you’ve been like this could have been avoided?

Katy: You know, I think one of the most unfortunate things is when people make assumptions. You know, I assume I get to take leave in the first place, and maybe you’re not eligible for leave. Or I assume I get to take a certain amount of leave and I don’t get to, and they find out kind of late in the game. Or those unfortunate situations where people knew they might be getting a smaller paycheck but didn’t quite understand what that would look like, so they get their small paycheck and then realize, “Oh my stars! I don’t have enough money to cover my bills and my diapers. What am I gonna do?” So do your best to know in advance what’s going to be happening for you and what’s available to you when you’re gone. You don’t want to be the one who goes without a paycheck and didn’t anticipate it.

Adriana: No. No, and the last thing you need is more anxiety when dealing with a fresh newborn!

Katy: Right!

You know, one other thing that I think may potentially be helpful for you is to just ask your friends or family, if they’ve had a baby recently, “How did it go for you? What did your employer offer you for leave and benefits? What did you have to do to get them? What was the impact on your pay? Do you have any tips for me?” So, maybe just ask somebody else. And I think it’s really helpful if you have a friend that works in your own organization that might have some experiences to share from you. But just ask questions, no matter who you ask. And I would say always, always go to the subject matter, experts because your friend who works next door to you in the same office building might have a different situation than you, that you just don’t understand. So don’t take their word for it that they know exactly what will happen for you, because their situation might have been a little different. Go ask the experts or the people who administer the benefits for your organization, okay? “What will happen for me?” So you know.

Adriana: Yeah, and asking them is just a way of getting comfortable, I think, also with the process, and thinking, “Oh, this was what…” you know, “How did it feel for you? And what do you rather have done differently?” But yeah, ultimately, get the information from the horse’s mouth. And I can’t believe I just said that phrase! 

Katy, thanks again for reaching out to do this show. I really appreciate it.

Katy: Oh, thank you, Adriana. I just… I am so grateful for the work that you do. I am an avid listener of your podcast and I hope I can just pay back a little bit of all of the goodness that you are constantly putting out into the world for people. I’ve learned so much from you and I’m so, so grateful for you in the work that you do. Thank you!

That was Katy Dahl, who is a Human Resources Specialist, as well as a coach for high-achieving women who struggle with anxiety. Katy has over 16 years of human resources and leadership experience and especially enjoys working with other women in positions of leadership. In her company, Problem to Resolution, she focuses on coordinating and conducting investigations into issues of discrimination and harassment. You can learn more at problemtoresolution.com.

You can connect with us on Instagram @birthfulpodcast on Instagram. In fact, if you are not driving, it would be lovely if you would take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to Instagram sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode. Maybe it was how you may have to pay for your health insurance premium while on leave! That one certainly blew us away. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes, and download your free postpartum preparation plan. Do consider joining for one of the classes. I’d love to see you there! 

Also, if you find this podcast to be an invaluable resource for you, then a really great way to support us is by yes! taking any one of the classes that I mention, maybe doing a doula workshop with me or trying some of the amazing made by our sponsors. This is what allows us to continue doing this work. 

Birthful is created and produced by me,  Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.

Thank you so very much for listening to and sharing Birthful and telling all your friends all about it. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen. 

And then come back for more ways to inform your intuition.

CITATION

Lozada, Adriana, host. “Working With HR To Maximize Your Employee Benefits For Postpartum.” Birthful, Birthful, June 21, 2023. Birthful.com.

 


 

Katy Dahl, a white-presenting woman with long brown hair and brown eyes, smiles at the camera, and is wearing a red-purple shirt

Image description: Katy Dahl, a white-presenting woman with long brown hair and brown eyes, smiles at the camera, and is wearing a red-purple shirt

About Katy Dahl

Katy Dahl is a coach for high-achieving women who struggle with anxiety, and has been a human resource professional since 2006, with extensive experience conducting investigations in both a workplace and education setting, personally having conducted or coordinated hundreds of investigations into issues of discrimination and harassment along with serving as an independent third-party investigator for public K-12 organizations. Katy is regarded as one of the most highly-trained and experienced layperson independent investigators in education in North Dakota. 

Katy has been a Title IX and Nondiscrimination Coordinator in her role as a human resource professional in education, which she has served in for over seven years. She earned a master of science degree in business management and holds the Human Resource Certification Institute Senior Professional in Human Resources and the Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional certifications. 

Learn more at Problem to Resolution, or contact her for coaching at support@hiimanxious.com

 

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