It's not legal to fire someone solely because she's pregnant and opting for maternity leave, however in this climate with so many jobs being eliminated, there's real concern among women.
The Family and Medical Leave Act is federal legislation that requires employers with 50 or more employees to guarantee job protection for up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off.
However, it can be very difficult to document that you were let go because of pregnancy, which leads many to worry about taking time off.
If you're concerned, there are a few issues to consider.
First, understand the root of your concerns. Are you worried because your spouse's job isn't stable and being on maternity leave means your household would be without income? Or are you fearful of losing your job because you're out of sight and therefore out of mind?
Stay engaged in work while you're on leave. One way to fight the fear is to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. That means take the leave, as well you should, but instead of being overcome with worry that you're out of sight/out of mind, take steps to avoid that concern. For example, it starts with working with your boss and colleagues to plan a smooth transfer of work while you're gone. Ask to be copied on any key decisions.
Call a close co-worker every other week to just touch base — not to do work; it's more to stay connected than to stay involved. And make a show-off-the-baby visit over lunch with your officemates and remind them that you're looking forward to coming back.
Crunch the numbers: Will you lose money staying home? Next tackle the fear of financial loss — i.e., can you afford to take an extended leave when your household budget is already feeling the pinch in this recession? You have to crunch the numbers. Do a family budget and get it on paper. Can you cut back on some expenses? Can you go back part-time instead of full-time? Does the cost of childcare outweigh the money you'd earn going back? Ask yourself what's most important to your family.
On the flip side, keep in mind that the longer you're out of the workplace, the harder it is to return. That means it's important to stay connected to some extent so if you decide to return, you have a network in place and you're not starting from scratch.