Filling in For Maternity Leave: Do I Get Any Rewards?

Last Updated Jul 16, 2010 6:15 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady, I was wondering about something: my boss is currently pregnant and I was asked to replace her during her six-months maternity leave. This involves about twice the responsibilities and work hours on top of managing three people. What happens salary-wise in these situations? Should I ask for raise? Stay silent and hope that the end-of-the-year bonus will make up for the bigger workload? Once upon a time, I could have written this e-mail. I took on new responsibilities, worked my tail end off and hoped that the powers that be would recognize my increased workload and reward me with a promotion and a raise. I didn't say anything for a long time because clearly if I was doing a good job at the extra responsibilities my VP would eventually recognize this and reward me. Right?

Except wrong. The 6 months of maternity leave ended and my boss came back to work. She wanted reduced responsibilities so that she could work part time. This meant that my temporary increase in responsibilities were now permanent, but still unofficial. I complained to my husband. I complained to my friends. I complained to my peers. I became resentful, until finally I couldn't take it any more. I went into my new VP's office and blurted out, "I'm not doing the work of a grade 10! I deserve to be a grade 12!"

Clearly, not the most eloquent argument for a promotion. However, VP said, "You're right. We should have done this a while ago." And within a month I had my new title, new pay grade, and new salary.

My VP was actually an awesome boss. But, she was new to the company, had big things going on, tons of employees and she wasn't thinking, "Gee, Suzanne did take on those new responsibilities. She needs a promotion!" But, when I brought it to her attention, she rectified the situation immediately. (As I said, she was awesome.)

My point (and I do have one) is that nobody cares about your career like you do. Other people aren't thinking about your career. They are busy doing their jobs. 6 month maternity leaves are great for the new mom (and I know, I've taken 2 of them), but a big pain in the patootie for everyone else. So, you must take control yourself. Do not assume that you'll get a big bonus to make up for it. (Depending on how bonuses are structured at your company, there may or may not be any flexibility in how much you receive.) Sit down with your boss and your boss's boss and ask what the expectations are and, in turn, what is in it for you.

Ask directly. "Will I receive a new title and a pay increase for taking on these responsibilities?" This is not rude. This is not inappropriate. This is business. This about you taking charge of your career.

I have no idea what their response will be. I don't know if you'll receive financial rewards for this. (I think you should, by the way, but I don't know that you will.) I doubt they'll reward you at the beginning, but there is likely potential there if you do a good job. But, you need to ask. Whatever the response is, you write it up in an e-mail and e-mail it back to the people you met with.

Thank you for meeting with me to discuss my responsibilities while Sharon is on maternity leave. My understanding is that my new responsibilities will be
  • responsibility 1
  • responsibility 2
  • responsibility 3
If I meet those responsibilities then I will receive
  • benefit 1
  • benefit 2
  • benefit 3
Can you please confirm that my understanding is connect?
The worst thing that will happen here is that they will say no. What is more likely, though is that they say, "Well, we'll see how you handle the new responsibilities." This is not a bad thing. This is an opportunity for your to prove yourself. Take it. But follow up. Ask for feedback as your responsibilities progress.

And one other thing--as your boss prepares to come back, make sure you initiate another conversation on how your responsibilities will change when she returns. You want clarity around these issues. Your boss will probably be assuming she'll come back and it will be exactly as it was when she left. However, you've been spending 6 months doing higher level work and you may not want to go back to your old role. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask questions.

Photo by Chris Denbow, Flickr cc 2.0