Expectant parents have their hands full with the upcoming changes before the birth. Diapers, the nursery, breastfeeding – there are plenty of questions to be answered and preparations to be made. But there is one topic that expectant mothers (and fathers) should not lose sight of: the further course of their professional career. Because while statutory maternity leave is more or less fixed, they have much more flexibility when it comes to parental leave and when they return to work. The following checklist helps parents plan all the important steps up to the end of parental leave.
#1 Announce pregnancy
Most women wait the first three months of pregnancy before informing their employer. By the fourth or fifth month at the latest, the pregnancy becomes apparent to most expectant mothers anyway. The more time the employer has to adjust to the new situation, the smoother the transition will be.
The employee should provide the employer with a pregnancy certificate from her gynecologist showing the expected date of birth. The HR department uses this to determine the maternity protection periods.
#2 Clarify working conditions
During pregnancy, the regulations of the Maternity Protection Act (MuSchG) apply. Depending on the job the expectant mother is doing, adjustments to the workplace or working conditions may be necessary. Only permitted to a limited extent are, for example:
- one-sided activities
- work with hazardous substances and loads
- night, Sunday and holiday work
Depending on the nature of the job, it may also be advisable to change jobs for the duration of the pregnancy.
#3 Work during maternity protection
Maternity protection begins six weeks before the calculated date of birth and ends eight weeks after the birth. During maternity protection after the birth, employment is absolutely prohibited. Exceptions are only possible for trainees if their final examination falls within this period. They can take part in this.
The period of protection before the birth is somewhat more relaxed: The expectant mother can decide for herself whether she still wants to work or not. She should think about this at an early stage so that the employer can adjust to it. However, if she changes her mind at short notice, for example because the pregnancy symptoms become too severe in the final weeks, this is also possible at any time.
#4 Talk about planned parental leave
In order for parental leave to begin at the desired time, prospective parents must apply for parental leave at least seven weeks before the planned start date. So for the father, this means seven weeks before the expected date of birth if his parental leave is to begin from the birth. Since the mother’s parental leave does not begin until after the eight-week protection period, it is sufficient for her to submit the application at the time of the birth.
The mother-to-be should discuss her parental leave plans with her employer as early as possible to give both sides planning security. However, she does not have to make a final decision until she submits her application. In these discussions, the employer and employee should clarify their mutual expectations. For example, if the mother-to-be plans to work only 15 or 20 hours per week instead of full-time after her parental leave, this should be mentioned as early as possible to avoid being transferred to an uninteresting position at a later date.
There is also the option of working part-time during parental leave. Up to 30 hours per week are possible in this way. Many companies now offer home office solutions and flexible working hours that make it easier for employees to work during parental leave. If this is not the case, it should be clarified in advance how care can be arranged if the child is sick or the daycare center is closed.
#5 Keep in touch during parental leave
While parental leave is ongoing, employers and parents should keep in touch. This way, employees remain a part of the team, know about new developments and are present at company celebrations. This makes it easier to return to work later. And if there are any changes, such as a reduction or extension of parental leave, these options can be discussed directly.
#6 Examine childcare solutions
Parents cannot simply leave childcare to their own devices. In urban environments, but also in rural areas, there is a glaring shortage of childcare places in daycare centers and with child minders. Long waiting times are the order of the day. If you need a place in a daycare center in a large city, it’s best to register your need as soon as your child is born.
If no daycare or kindergarten place is available, after-school care or child minders can be an alternative. Care by grandparents is also possible if they are still in good health. If the employer offers its own company kindergarten or places in cooperating kindergartens, this is of course very helpful in terms of care.
#7 Planning for return
If the parental leave is nearing its end, the employee should contact the employer at least three months in advance. Then, with some advance notice, they can discuss how to continue after parental leave. If both sides keep in touch on a permanent basis, this discussion often arises all by itself.
Important guiding questions for parents to prepare for this conversation:
Can I return to my previous working hours or would I prefer to work part-time?
If the company employs more than 15 employees, there is a right to part-time work, provided there are no operational reasons to the contrary. A transfer to an equivalent (!) job is also an option. The employer does not have to keep the original position available for employees on parental leave.
How can I ensure childcare in the first few months after the end of parental leave?
Settling in at the daycare center should ideally be completed some time before the start of the job in order to avoid stress during this upsetting time for the children.
Does our previous distribution of roles in the relationship work?
If the mother also goes back to work but has to take care of the household and the children alone, there is a risk of overload in the long run. A sensible division of tasks between the partners should be strived for.
#8 Plan onboarding
Meanwhile, the employer should prepare for the employee’s return. Thoughtful onboarding that fills in the gaps of the past two to three years is the perfect enabler for a successful return to work for moms and dads.
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