How to Navigate FMLA Leave

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Are you starting a family or taking care of a sick family member? There are career steps you need to address before you take your leave.

Before you leave, do this. Speak in "us" language, not in "me" language, and have solutions in mind before you sit down with your boss. Every company and employer handles family leave differently, so do your research and get up to speed on the typical practice of your office. Anticipate what your employer's fears are and be prepared to mitigate them from the outset. Your leave can have a potentially negative impact on your employer, so you have to help them ease into it. There's no set time frame, as every office operates differently.

Customarily, two weeks is the common norm for anyone leaving a position. Be fair and honest to your employer about your wants and needs -- before you officially leave. Remember, The Family and Medical Leave Act could be an option for you (aside from quitting altogether). If you are covered, you are entitled to an unpaid but job-protected leave for twelve weeks. This includes birth of a child, taking care of a sick family member, adoption of a child, personal health conditions or military service.

Another method to slowly ease yourself out of a job but keep positive ties to your company is to learn how to pitch working from home as a win for your employer. Consider all your options (working part-time, taking a year off or telecommuting) and then ask for your ideal schedule. With the push to create family-friendly work environments, employers are more flexible than ever as long as you demonstrate you can and will produce great work.

How to handle a resume gap. Not all employment gaps are due to layoffs or getting fired. You may have taken time off to take courses, have kids, freelance, or travel, and all of those things can make you a better candidate for the job. List the courses you've taken and explain how they will help in this new position. Talk about your freelancing experience and what you learned and accomplished during that time. Discuss the volunteer programs you've been a part of, like the PTA or Cub Scouts. Share your travels with your prospective employer. At the very least, they may find comfort in knowing you've "been there, done that" and won't be taking off to travel the world again!

Never let go of your network. While you might not be 100 percent in the industry right now, you should always stay in touch with your former colleagues and clients. Whether it's liking a post they shared on LinkedIn, attending networking events, reaching out to them via email or even meeting for coffee every few months. Maintaining your relationships will offer insight into how the industry is adapting and keep you abreast of the changes and developments. These tools and industry know-how can serve you well when you are ready to test the waters again.

Where your colleagues are concerned, it'll also keep you fresh in their minds. Those lunch dates and email exchanges will showcase the fact that you've still been actively involved in the industry -- even if it was from a backseat view. If a job opens up down the line, they'll be more open to recommending it to you. Use LinkedIn Pulse to read the most relevant industry news that your professional community is reading and sharing, so you're in the know when you return to work.

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