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The State of Maternity Leave

The Pressure of Being Away

Most women surveyed said they received friendly calls from their coworkers or supervisor, checking to see how they were. But 47 percent of you also said that time home was marred by negative reactions -- such as complaints about extra work and how many weeks you were taking -- from a supervisor or coworkers. A certified pharmacy technician in Indiana recalls getting two calls a week from both colleagues and her boss during her 12 weeks off, "reminding me that work was 'so busy' and 'everyone has to work overtime,' presumably because of me," she says.

Those of you who took the shortest amount of leave told us you were subject to the most complaints, possibly because you were in environments that were inhospitable to parental time off. "I got a lot of grief," says Sheila Leiweke, a manager at a retail store in Colorado Springs. "I kept hearing from coworkers, 'I don't have kids, and I get only one week off a year. You're lucky.'" Those who received short leaves were also more likely to feel pressure to return to work early.

Almost two-thirds of you recounted that your boss or coworkers questioned you about whether you'd really return, though 72 percent of you said you did clock back in as scheduled -- or earlier (9 percent returned later than planned, while 19 percent decided to quit). "One of the biggest barriers that women face is the perception by employers that if you go on leave, you'll never come back," says Martin Malin, a professor of employment law at Chicago-Kent College of Law, in Chicago. "But in most cases, that's simply not accurate." Women who negotiated for more than six months off fielded the most questions about whether they'd be back, and, in fact, they were the most likely to quit: 70 percent didn't return to their job.

Almost half of you said you received work-related questions while you were on leave. While some didn't mind, others felt they were taken advantage of. "I had too many calls while I was home; it was very difficult to focus when I was recovering from my c-section," says Beth Cummings, a collection agent for a chain of department stores in Florida. Twelve percent of you felt compelled -- out of concern for your position or to make extra money -- to pitch in from home. Nancy Campbell, a professor of women's studies, bartered with Ohio State University to get paid time off, since the school didn't offer any. "I volunteered to write a proposal for the department's new degree program and to work with my graduate students," says Campbell, who recently transferred to a university with a paid policy.

Not surprisingly, those of you with a supervisor who's also a parent found him or her to be more supportive. "My boss, who has three kids of her own, hired me when I was eight months pregnant, and when I returned to work from my leave, she told me that my hours were flexible and I should work around the needs of my baby," says Tonya Douglas, a social worker from St. Joseph, MO. Women bosses tended to be more understanding overall: 49 percent of respondents with male supervisors were called at home with questions versus 36 percent with female bosses; 14 percent with male bosses were asked to perform tasks during their leave, while only 9 percent with female supervisors received similar requests.