Everyone knows about maternity leave, but sometimes women need to take time off before a baby arrives. If you’re having fertility treatments or trying to adopt, here’s what you should know to get the time off you need.
Whether—and when—to tell your boss that you’re undergoing fertility treatments or arranging an adoption depends a lot on your relationship with your supervisor. While most workplace experts caution against revealing too much personal information, how do you explain being late for work because of blood tests and ultrasounds, and then needing to get home for hormone injections? Or what if you must travel abroad to bring home a baby, and then want three months to bond with your adopted child?
Stacey Singer, a 37-year-old reporter, wanted two weeks off while she underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF). She’d already used up most of her vacation and sick days for uterine surgery that was needed before the IVF. She asked for—and got, an unpaid but much-appreciated leave of absence. “My profession can be stressful, with unpredictable hours, but you can’t miss those injections,” says Singer, now the mother of 3-year-old James. “I found it best to be honest. If you’re not, you miss out on the support of co-workers.”
Telling your supervisor about your fertility treatment or adoption plans can also ensure that you don’t miss out on what’s required under the law. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles employees up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It applies to all workplaces with 50 or more employees (or those that employ 50 or more people within 75 miles of each other). To be eligible, you must have worked for your current employer for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. Adoption is clearly covered under the law, and adoptive parents are accorded the exact same rights as biological parents.
Whether fertility treatments qualify, however, isn’t definitive, cautions Joanna L. Grossman, professor of law and associate dean at Hofstra University School of Law in Hempstead, New York. “Women will not find much [legal] protection,” she says. “The nature of fertility treatments is not a good fit with the statutory requirements.” Grossman explains that in order to take FMLA leave, an employee must have a “serious health condition” that renders them unable to work for at least three consecutive days. “If the infertility is caused by some underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis, then an employee could almost certainly take FMLA leave to have the condition treated,” says Grossman. But the actual IVF or insemination probably doesn’t qualify, although many employers are flexible with FMLA leave.