Physician Moms and Maternity Leave

Many of my physician clients are completing residency or fellowship and evaluating options for their first post-training job. They are also often considering starting or growing a family. If this sounds like you, this post is for you!

Physician Moms Should Ask About Maternity Leave

Please do not be afraid of asking about maternity leave during the interview process and contract negotiations. Employers cannot discriminate against you based on sex, including potential pregnancy. Some may still do this, either on purpose or because of predisposed biases. If you believe you have been denied a job because you asked about maternity leave or other pregnancy related issues, please call me so we can explore a discrimination claim. However, my experience is that most employers have matured in their hiring process, particularly for female physicians, and do not do this. In fact, mature employers may appreciate the fact that you are not shy about asking for more information about issues that are most important to you.

Regardless, it is such an important data point that you really need to know how they handle it so that you can make an informed employment decision.

Short Term Disability and Maternity Leave

Most employers have 6-8 weeks post-delivery covered under their short-term disability policy. Some short-term disability policies will pay 100% of your salary from day 1 through the entire 6-8 week period. Some are less beneficial and will only pay two-thirds of your salary or only up to a maximum amount. For example, I have seen short term disability policies that pay no more than $1,500 per week. They may also have a 7-day waiting period, meaning that the first week of your maternity leave is uncompensated. The difference between 100% of 8+ weeks and two-thirds or a low cap for 5 weeks can be very important.

Stacking Vacation for Maternity Leave

Most physician contracts I have evaluated recently have healthy PTO offerings, around 5-7 weeks per year. Some are as low as 2-3 weeks. You may assume that you can stack most or all those weeks immediately after short-term disability expires, which could result in 6-8 weeks STD + 5-7 weeks PTO, for a total of 11-15 weeks. However, look closely at your employer’s benefits package regarding maternity leave PTO-stacking. Some employers require you to have worked for a 12-18 month period before you can stack vacation like that. It may be helpful to ask them to discuss hypotheticals and how they have recently handled maternity leave or other short-term disability claims.

Physician Recruiters

Physician recruiters often are third party recruiting services, or part of a separate HR/hiring team that is far removed from the folks you will be working with on a daily basis. They may have no idea how the employer actually handles maternity leave. If the recruiter says something vague like, “yeah, I hear they do a good job,” then I suggest we do more digging. I advocate for detailed conversations with your future direct supervisors on issues like maternity leave.

Be Bold About Maternity Leave

Physician moms cannot be discriminated against based on pregnancy and prospective pregnancy. You cannot and should not be penalized for seeking information on your prospective employer’s plans and policies for maternity leave. This is such an important issue for physician families, and an issue I discuss with almost every female physician client. Far too many female physicians do not ask about it for fear of discrimination. I hope we can change that and normalize these discussions on the front end.

How a prospective employer handles maternity leave can be a vital data point in your decision process. It can also be helpful when negotiating between prospective employers. A prospective employer’s weak maternity leave policy can be used as leverage to extract a concession on other important issues, like compensation, moving stipends, call schedule, non-competes and buyouts, signing bonus, when a bonus is paid, termination clauses, or defining physician responsibilities. It is also vital that performance-based compensation models account for maternity leave in a way that does not penalize mothers.

While this post focuses on moms and maternity leave, the same goes for dads and families looking to adopt. It is vital to be unafraid of learning about your employer’s plans and expectations. Dads often are fearful to ask and learn about leave options because of related stigma. Let’s break that trend and normalize this discussion.

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