Congratulations! You’ve just secured your first maternity (or paternity) leave fill-in assignment. You might be wondering what can you do to help ease the transition for everyone involved including the person you’re covering for, their boss, their team and you, the freelancer? My name is Lydia Schinasi, and I’ve been an Ad Sales Maternity Leave Fill-In for about 11 years. I’ve worked at many of the media companies here in NYC, such as Condé Nast, Time Inc. and Hearst. I’ve learned a lot along the way that has helped me build a great reputation as a successful fill-in, and I’d like to share some of those tips with you.

1. Meet the employee in an informal environment

Have you met the person you will be filling in for? If not, offer to meet close to her office for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. Just be sure to clear it first with your manager. She’s probably feeling a bit anxious about leaving her job for several months, and this is a great opportunity to ease her mind and to start a trusting relationship. Besides making that personal connection, this is a time that you might pick up some valuable information, such as the management style of her boss.

2. Set up paid turnover days

Try to secure as many paid turnover days as possible prior to her due date. Turnover days give you the opportunity to work together in advance of her being out of the office. She can go into labor early, so it’s best to make sure you meet for at least one full day a couple of weeks before her due date. The second or third turnover day can be arranged closer to her last day of work. Sometimes the employer puts a hard stop on her last day, which is easier for you as the fill-in because there’s less room for loose ends. I find that most employees will want to work right up to a due date, so that every possible day of leave is with the baby (or babies!). Try to be flexible with your time in the week to two weeks prior to her due date. You don’t want to be on a beach in Mexico when you get the phone call that the employee is in labor, and can you start tomorrow?

3. What you want to see in a turnover report

The employee will most likely appreciate any help you can offer to prepare for those turnover days, such as what you may need in a turnover report. Offer to show her an example, if you have one. In my line of work, there is a history and status on every advertiser’s account, agency and client contacts, and any next steps.  The turnover should include internal information as well, such as standing team meetings you need to attend and a contact list detailing what colleagues to turn to for various business needs. Ask to have an org chart included, if it already exists. You may also need her passwords for the computer, phone, etc. There’s nothing worse than helplessly watching a flashing red light on her phone your first day, and you not being able to retrieve the message! I also suggest to the employee that they write a “Top 10” list of actions that need to be tended to right away, since there are always business updates after the turnover is written. The employee may or may not get to this if she goes into labor, or she may have gotten to #7 or so, with the thought that she will come in tomorrow to finish the list.

4. Ramp up on turnover days

Time to turnover! Phew! If you are lucky, she has not gone into labor and you have this time to get onboard. Meet at the office, of course. This gives you a chance to meet some of your new co-workers and connect again with your manager. Turnover days should include plenty of time to go over every aspect of the job—not just the turnover itself. Is there a weekly meeting each Monday? Is it already on the calendar as a recurring event? Any other expected tasks, such as a weekly status report, that need to be updated in a system, such as Salesforce? See how she prefers to file emails, proposals, etc. You don’t want to spend your first few days anxiously looking for information. Is there a presentation to learn? Ask if you can use Voice Memo on an iPhone to record her presenting. Listening to it a few times will help you to pick it up faster. Be sure to leave with a copy of the turnover report as well as any other material that will help get you up to speed and hit the ground running.

5. Establish communication style

Finally, ask her how she prefers communication, if at all. If she wants to be completely out of touch, be sure to obtain her personal email so that you can forward her any important non-work related emails that come her way. If she wants to check her work email, kindly ask her to only read “read” messages so that you don’t miss anything in her inbox. And remind her to email you a photo and the details of her new baby! It’s a great icebreaker to send around to co-workers and clients.


I hope this information has been helpful to you and I wish you the best of luck in your fill-in role! Feel free to connect with me via my Emissaries profile: