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Downshifted After the Baby

It's a working mother's nightmare: You return from maternity leave to find that a colleague has taken over your biggest account. Or that your boss now excludes you from meetings.

Unfortunately, such situations are all too real. These days, thanks to employment discrimination laws, it's rare for employers to fire a woman for becoming pregnant. But there are more subtle forms of discrimination. New moms may find they no longer have important responsibilities, their boss reneges on a promised promotion, or colleagues just take them less seriously now that they're parents.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers are required to give workers the same or an equivalent job after family leave. That means the same pay and comparable responsibilities. But many companies still don't do that. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that of the 10,000-plus complaints it's received since the FMLA was enacted in 1993, 44 percent are from people who say their employers failed to give them a comparable job when they returned from leave.

Short of filing a lawsuit -- which is expensive and difficult, since this sort of allegation is sometimes tough to prove -- how can you eliminate the discrimination? Most experts agree: Confront your employer. But how you handle that conversation is critical.

Talk as if you assume the best. Don't approach your boss in an accusatory manner. "Convey that you believe she's acting in good faith," says Ellen Bravo, executive director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women. "Then she'll be more likely to respond positively."

Mention how much you'd loved your job and had looked forward to returning. Then say, "I'm not sure how or why this happened, but I haven't been given an equivalent job." If there are any family-friendly initiatives at your company, gently remind her of them.