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When Work Intrudes on Maternity Leave

Ariel Carpenter, a Los Angeles public-relations executive, didn't give birth at her desk, but that might have been easier. She spent much of her three-month maternity leave handling projects from home and fielding up to five calls a day from her colleagues. "The phone never stopped ringing," she says. "They even called me at the hospital the day after I delivered!"

Blame it on a slower economy and short-staffed offices: More moms are finding themselves in a similar situation, says Jodi Grant of the National Partnership for Women & Families. But under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you have the right to a work-free leave, since you're not being paid for your time. You're legally protected from being penalized for refusing to work while you're out.

Still, you may want to make yourself available for some requests, to stay in your boss's good graces. Here are ways to keep the workload manageable, especially if the FMLA doesn't apply to you if you're on paid leave:

  • Line up pinch-hitters.Designate coworkers to handle your duties, and spend a few weeks getting them up to speed beforehand.

  • Set up ground rules.If calls are unavoidable, explain that you'll only accept them at the end of the day or at lunchtime, so they're not constant.

  • Say no with savvy.One approach: "I can't focus on this a hundred percent right now, so if it can't wait, it's better that so-and-so handles it."

  • Ask for compensation.If the amount of work is unreasonable, you might ask your manager for an extension on your leave or for additional money. That simple request may stop calls cold.
  • Check out the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list to see if your employer made the cut!

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