Self-Employment and Maternity Leave: Part 1

Red tape

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the growing gaps between blog posts. Babies are great fun and too cute, and along with this privilege comes a lack of sleep, and a sharp drop in available time for activities other than holding and feeding said baby. Bloggers in the blogosphere all espouse the importance of blogging regularly, but I have yet to find tips on how to blog frequently with a week old baby. So blogging frequency here at illumine blog is expected to drop for the next few months, but I will try to make sure that fresh content is published on a semi-regular basis.

Mommy’s trying to run a business
This is the first time that I’ve gone on maternity leave as a self-employed worker, rather than an employee. I’m steadily learning that self-employed women on maternity leave are few and far between. It seems that women who are self-employed are either older with older children, or younger but without little kids and without plans to have babies until their careers are well established. So I thought I’d share my experiences with you, and maybe it will prove useful to someone out there.

The first topic in this series is: Bituach Leumi (National Insurance)
Female employees in Israel receive their maternity compensation from Bituach Leumi. When a female employee gives birth, she has to fill out some forms, have her employee fill in some of the fields, and take these forms to the Bituach Leumi office in her area. Once these forms are processed, she will receive 84 days worth of compensation based on her salary from a number of months before she gave birth. As an employee, the salary is generally pretty steady and therefore her compensation is easily calculated.

A great fog hangs over the issue of maternity leave for self-employed women. Even my accountant didn’t really know how a self-employed woman receives maternity compensation. He sent me some forms that he said that I needed to fill out. He was wrong on two counts: I didn’t need to fill out any forms, let alone those forms that he sent that were for employees. It turns out that once Bituach Leumi receives notice from the hospital that a woman has given birth, they check to see if she is self-employed, and if so, they calculate the amount of compensation owed to her and deposits it in her bank account.

The only problem with this method is that they base their salary calculations on the previous year’s tax return statement. In my case, this meant that they were using information that was almost two years old to determine my salary: I gave birth on Dec. 31, 2006, and they were using the information from my 2005 tax return, which included my income from January 2005. In January 2005 my business was pretty much in diapers (no pun intended!) so the financial situation of my business has changed a lot since then.

My accountant says that we can try to get them to base the compensation on more recent financial information. He provided two options for doing so: filling out a bunch of different papers that I requested from Bituach Leumi (they had to mail them to me since they are not available for download from their website – this further shows how unpopular self-employment for mothers is), or waiting until we file the 2006 tax return and then requesting further compensation. Since he didn’t even know which papers I needed to begin with, I’m feeling a little doubtful as to the usefulness of either of these options.

What is work?
On the papers that I received from Bituach Leumi explaining how they calculated my compensation, they stated the following: I am not to work at all during my maternity leave. If I do work, I must notify them and they will reduce my (already puny) compensation. But what is considered “work”? If I write checks to pay bills, or fill in my accounting ledger as bills come in, is this work? What if I take care of the administration necessary to pay my employee? Or order more business cards for her? Or how about…writing for my blog? Is that work?

The problem is that if a self-employed person doesn’t take care of these tasks, they will lose money. But by doing this “work,” they don’t earn a cent/agora either. And anyways, very often being self-employed means working eight hours and only earning actual income on three. Unfortunately, Bituach Leumi is such a bureaucratic, anti-capitalistic institution, that I think these questions would actually be beyond them. In the meantime, it’s all one big guessing game for this mommy.