Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. Going back to work while still coping with Postpartum Depression is even harder. Returning to the workplace might intensify your PPD symptoms, or trigger new ones. Even if you love your job, the workplace means separation from your child, finding a new routine, and juggling all the new responsibilities of motherhood. It may also mean fielding endless questions about how your baby is doing, how wonderful it is to be a mom, how tired you might be feeling, and any number of triggering questions you don’t feel comfortable answering.
While your first instinct may be to keep everything quiet, there could be benefits in sharing your experience with your doctor, coworkers, or even a lawyer to make sure work isn’t contributing to your health issues.
To help prep you for your new role(s) and the path ahead, we got work-ready tips from two women in the know about Postpartum transitioning and the law: The Motherhood Center’s Marketing and Community Liaison Caroline Sedano, and Alexandra Berke, Esq. of Berke-Weiss Law PLLC.
What to tell your doctor
It’s important to make sure your doctor is aware of your Postpartum Depression diagnosis and can provide written documentation of it. This documentation will be important if you think you are at risk of discrimination due to your diagnosis.
Know your rights
Many women suffering from PPD may be eligible for reasonable accommodations from their employers, which may include more leave from work that you’d initially expected—or is initially detailed or offered by an employer. Depending on the size of your employer and location of your work, you may be entitled to protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act (at any company with 50 employees within 75 miles); Americans with Disabilities Act (at companies with 15 or more employees, depending upon the severity of your PPD); Pregnancy Discrimination Act (at companies with 15 or more employees)—and the New York City Human Rights Law (companies with 4 or more employees in New York City).
Pregnant women are protected from discrimination under various federal, state, and local laws, including those outlined above, but they can be fired for legitimate business reasons. Too often, pregnancy discrimination is masked as a performance issue. Luckily, many of the laws provide for reasonable accommodations in the workplace for pregnancy or disabilities resulting from childbirth, including PPD, if employees can perform the essential functions of their job with a little assistance.
While employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations that impose an undue burden on them, in some places, such as New York City, employers are at least required to engage in a conversation with pregnant employees about accommodations. There are no hard or fast rules on accommodations, so you can get creative in proposing suggestions that bring a comfort level to both you and your employer (such as proposing to shift your work hours so you come in later; or working from home on doctor’s orders). Requesting a reasonable accommodation can be a tool to protect your job and ensure that challenges you face at work are addressed and attributed to a change in circumstance, instead of performance.
Maximizing Your Leave
The New York State Paid Family Leave law went into effect January 1, 2018, allowing employees to take up to 8 weeks of leave to bond with their children. That leave does not need to be taken all at once: it can be taken one day at a time, within a year of birth. Make sure you understand every type of leave you are eligible for. Do you also have access to Family Medical Leave Act leave? Disability leave? Other parental leave from your employer? This can ensure you take the leave you need at the best time for you.
For example, under the Family Medical Leave Act, you have access to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period. So, if you took eight weeks off when your child was born, and were later diagnosed with PPD, you are legally allowed another four weeks of leave. Of course, depending on your employer, you may be eligible for more than 12 weeks per year, and New York Paid Family Leave may also extend this period.
WHAT TO TELL YOUR CO-WORKERS
Eventually, you may go back to your day job. Telling people at work that you suffered or are still suffering from PPD may be the last thing you want to do. But your coworkers might surprise you. Many of them may have had their own experiences dealing with similar issues during pregnancy or postpartum. If keeping it a secret may cause you discomfort, being open and honest with the people you spend all day with could give you an added layer of support. Start with one or two coworkers and see what happens.
EASE BACK INTO IT
Remember not to take on too much right away. You’ll find your groove in time. In fact, many women report being more productive than ever after having a child. Figure out what work schedule works best for you and your family, and ask for it. Many employers are flexible when a new mother returns to work and will allow a four-day work week in the beginning or leaving early some days.