Suggestions for planning your leave to care for a new baby or adopted child, including working with your manager and staying in touch with work

The good news about planning a parental leave is that you often have the time to do it right. Whether you will be taking a maternity leave, a paternity leave, parental leave, or an adoption leave, you will be able to predict at least an approximate starting date of your leave. And you are likely to have several months to figure out the details. The following guidelines are meant to help you plan a leave that will work well for both you and your employer.


Understanding leave policies

As early as possible, find out about policies regarding leave and time off for employees who are having a baby or adopting a child. In Canada, maternity, paternity, and parental leave standards are governed by the Canada Labour Code for employees of federally-regulated industries, and by provincial/territorial employment standards for other Canadian workers. The federal government mandates both a leave and a benefits component, the latter being administered by provincial employment insurance plans. 

Depending on the length of employment history and the hours worked, new mothers can take up to a 17-week paid maternity leave, followed by up to 37 weeks of parental leave (also available to new fathers) from their jobs. Employers are required to accept employees back into their jobs, or the equivalent, at the end of the mandated leave at the same rate of pay with the same employment benefits.

You should review your employer's policies as described in your employee benefits handbook, or ask your human resources (HR) department, in confidence, for a copy. Read the information carefully so you know what to expect. Think about the following questions:

  • Will your employer pay any portion of your leave, such as through a maternity leave "top-up" benefit? If so, how will you receive that pay?

  • Are you allowed to add accumulated sick, vacation, or personal days?

  • Does the leave period affect the timing of your next scheduled performance review or salary increase?

  • Will you be reimbursed for adoption fees?

  • Do any other employer programs affect the kind of leave you might take? For instance, are flexible work arrangements available that might allow a phased-in return or an easier transition back to work? Flexibility often varies even among departments in the same organization.

  • What paperwork will you need to complete or provide before, during, and after your leave? What are the deadlines by which you need to provide this information? Will your human resources (HR) representative or a leave coordinator guide you through completing the necessary paperwork?


Thinking about the time frame of your leave

While it's seldom possible to know exactly when your baby will arrive, and therefore when you'll be able to come back to work, it's important to discuss approximate leave and return dates with your employer. Remember to think about these other important factors, which could affect the length of your leave, before you settle on dates with your employer:

  • Consider your personal finances. Are you a single parent? Do you have a partner who works, too? Does he or she want to take a leave? In Canada, workers may apply for maternity benefits and parental benefits through Employment Insurance, but this will not equate to your salary. Depending on your rate of pay, EI benefits max out at about 55 per cent of working pay. If you pay for medical benefits, will your premium increase once the baby comes? Figure in childcare expenses and new tax deductions.
  • If you have a partner, think about his or her feelings and expectations. Some parents find that when both partners take leaves, it shortens each person's time away from the office, and gives the baby a chance to bond with both parents. Do you and your partner both want to take leaves? At the same time? Or one after another? For how long?
  • Think about the demands of your job. Are you involved with a long-term project that may be affected by a lengthy absence? Will the timing of a promotion, major meeting, or product launch affect your planning?
  • Talk with co-workers and friends who have recently taken leaves. What were their experiences like? Did they take time off before their due dates? How much time did they need to recover from delivery, get used to new sleep schedules, or make other adjustments?


Drafting a plan before you meet with your manager

Once you've thought about the timeframe of your leave, outline your ideal leave plan. Remember that just by presenting a plan for your leave, you are already showing your commitment and indicating that you plan to return to work. Think ahead about what you want to say, and be prepared to discuss these points with your manager.

  • Know when you expect your leave to begin. Some people go out a few weeks early. Many work as long as possible to optimize the time at home after the birth or adoption. If you're adopting, do you know the scheduled adoption or foster placement date? If you're having a baby, what is your due date? Does your doctor or practitioner have any specific recommendations?
  • Be realistic when you predict your return date. Don't plan on a leave that is too short. It will be easier for you and your co-workers if you set expectations you'll be able to meet.
  • Make a list of job responsibilities that will be affected by your leave. Include any tasks or projects that may be unfinished when you go on leave as well as anything that is likely to come up while you are away. How will your work get done while you are gone? What responsibilities will have to be handled by someone else? Are there any parts of your job that can wait until you return?
  • Describe ways the work could be handled in your absence. Of course, this is a management decision, but it may help the discussion if you're ready with your own suggestions. Keep in mind that no one way of handling work will be appropriate for every organization or job. Some options might include:
    • dividing your work among others in your department or team
    • assigning another employee to temporarily fill your position
    • hiring a temporary replacement from outside the organization
  • Outline your ideal return-to-work plan. Think about what you'd like to discuss or negotiate. Would you return to your usual hours immediately? Would it be possible to return in a gradual way, for a few days a week or a few hours a day? Is it possible to consider a reduced schedule for a specific period of time? Keep in mind that your employer may have established practices that will limit your choices in some or all of these areas.


Discussing your plan with your manage

As soon as you are ready, set up a time to talk to your manager, early enough to be sure that she hears from you directly before she guesses or hears from others. If possible, you want to create a trusting partnership with your manager in handling your leave.

  • Talk about your "ideal" leave plan. Choose a time when you'll both be able to concentrate. If it's appropriate to your role, provide suggestions for managing your work while you are away. This extra input may help to create a coverage situation that will make your return to work after your leave easier. Be prepared to be flexible and make compromises, especially since employer policies may not allow what you would consider ideal. Try to work toward something that works well for both of you. Make sure your manager knows that you are making an effort to balance your own needs with the needs of the organization.
  • Address any concerns you have about the effect that taking a leave may have on your career. What would happen, for example, if an opportunity for a promotion came up while you were out? Would you be notified? Would you be able to apply? Discussing these issues now may help prevent misunderstandings later.
  • Discuss if and how you'd like to communicate with your manager and co-workers while you're gone. You may find that some mutually agreed-on level of communication helps you stay connected and reassures your co-workers that you will be participating again soon. Some people like to schedule periodic check-in calls with managers and with those who have taken over their tasks.
  • Set up another time to talk. As your departure approaches, you and your manager may need to confirm details about your leave and return, reassignments of work, and the training of anyone who will take over your duties while you're away.
  • Confirm your understanding in writing. Tell your manager that you would like to write a draft memo for his comment, summarizing your discussion and understandings about the length of your leave, how your work will be handled, if and how you will communicate with the office, and your plans for returning to work. Confirming your decisions in writing can help your leave process go more smoothly.


As your leave date approaches

Make the last few preparations for your departure. Depending on your job and on what your manager decides, you may want to:

  • Send an announcement to your co-workers about the start and end dates of your leave. Include information about who will be taking over your work, how often (and when) you can be contacted at home, and the names of other people to contact in case questions cannot be resolved.
  • Participate in training others who will be taking over your work. Make sure you allow time to answer questions.
  • Prepare clear instructions for co-workers who will take over your work. These might include a calendar marked with specific project dates or step-by-step instructions for complex procedures. Organize your files and set up systems that will help people cover your work. When you return, these systems should also allow you to easily see what's been done while you were away. Put a copy on a shared drive, if possible, so others can easily access.


While you're on leave

  • If your baby arrives much earlier than expected, you may put concerns about work on a back burner for a while. When you are ready, set a date for a more detailed discussion with your manager and HR about any changes to your previously outlined plans. If you haven't had the chance to put instructions in writing, try to do it now. (You may have to settle for a simpler set than you had planned.)
  • Throughout your leave, communicate with people at work as planned.
  • Contact your manager and human resources department if you need to change your leave plan. If you have any doubts about your return-to-work date, make them known as soon as possible.
  • As your leave winds down, remind yourself that it's normal to have mixed feelings about returning to work. Getting organized by confirming your childcare arrangements, planning morning and evening routines at home, and, if you're breastfeeding, making plans to continue while you're working, will help ease your transition back to the workplace.



© LifeWorks Canada Ltd 2016