Q: I am about to go on maternity leave for six weeks, and my coworker’s conniving behavior is making me nervous. In fact, I’m worried that she’s angling to take my job while I’m gone. In the last few months, she has undermined me at every turn, attempted to take credit for my work, loudly complained about my doctor’s appointments, and questioned my dedication because I plan to go on leave. I have three weeks before I check out of work completely — what should I do? I don’t want to come back and find that I’ve been replaced.
A: To start, make sure you know the laws regarding maternity leave and your right to have your job waiting for you upon your return. The simple fact of knowing what’s legal might go a long way toward calming your fears.
Without knowing whether you’re a federal employee or a member of a union, the size of the company you work for, or where you work, it’s not possible to give you specific guidance about your legal rights. Depending on the state you live in and the specifics of your employer, you may be entitled to more than the minimum benefits provided under federal law. A good place to start your research is the National Conference of State Legislators website. Once you know your legal rights, you can more objectively assess your situation.
One option is to confront your coworker. Calmly tell her what you’ve observed and share your concerns and feelings openly. Ask her if she’s aware of the behavior. If you do this in an environment that is open and vulnerable, one of two things may happen: You flush the behavior out in the open, and by confronting it you help contain it — or you potentially discover that something is going on with your coworker that you can’t possibly understand. Having children is an emotional issue for many people, not just the expectant mother.
Another option is to put yourself in your boss’s place and create a smart, strategic plan to divvy up your responsibilities among your coworkers while you’re gone. Juggling multiple maternity leaves, sick leaves, and vacation periods can be a challenge for any employer. Your boss will probably be enthusiastic if you proactively offer a well-thought-out plan. If it makes sense within your plan, you can assign certain tasks to this particular coworker, ones that play to her strengths. This makes you look smart and confident while limiting her access to your other responsibilities while you’re gone.
Discuss the timing of your leave as best you can with your boss, and make it very clear that you have every intention of coming back to your job. In fact, tell her you have put your plan together with the forethought of how you will best be able to slide back into your role when you return.
Do your legal homework and then, based on the specifics of your situation and the players involved, choose the option that makes the most sense for you.
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