washingtonpost.com
New Moms Can Work on Their Own Terms

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 10, 2007 9:00 AM

New mothers nearing the completion of maternity leave often must make a difficult decision about whether or not to return to work. While some can afford to take a few more months or years off, many -- because of financial or other reasons -- cannot.

For those who want or need to go back to work, the challenge is to find a balance of professional and personal life that works for the employee and the employer.

That is a task this working mother-to-be needs help with.

I'll be going on maternity leave soon. I don't want to return to work, but unfortunately have to.

I have had a great year with my current employer and would like to ask my boss about coming back as a contractor or consultant rather than as a full-time employee. I spend the bulk of my time working with people outside the office via e-mail or mail, and rarely interact with the larger staff.

I would save the company money on benefits since I can latch on to my husband's. How should I approach my boss about this?

Since this mother-to-be already knows quitting isn't feasible, says Beth Brascugli De Lima, president of HRM Consulting Inc. in Murphys, Calif., taking a proactive approach to returning to the office is smart.

But because she isn't asking to become a true independent contractor or consultant but simply for a change in employment status, she says, there's a chance her plan will be rejected.

As an independent contractor or consultant, De Lima continues, she'd have the freedom of working with multiple clients and companies at once. This could mean less time devoted to projects for her current employer, De Lima adds, which does not benefit them.

Also, adds De Lima, federal labor laws cover overtime pay, workers' compensation and other subjects that could haunt her employer down the line if the agreement were to go awry. For example, if she worked more than 40 hours per week or worked from a home office, injured herself and wanted to file a claim, her employer would have no surefire way to verify it.

Instead, says De Lima, this worker might present her higher-ups with a few other alternatives. Telecommuting may be an option: She should examine all aspects of her job, De Lima says, and determine what can be done from home. (Since some employers don't support telecommuting, she may need to demonstrate how the company will benefit.)

Another option is to switch from full- to part-time employment for an extended period. If the worker chooses this route, she could schedule regular trips to the office to meet with her managers and provide status reports on projects she's responsible for, adds De Lima.

Overall, concludes De Lima, the most important thing is to present her employer with a well-thought-out plan that clearly explains how her job will get done: As long as she does that, she stands a good chance of convincing her employer of a modification to her role.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive