25

I have been on maternity leave for the past 12 weeks, and am starting back in the office tomorrow. Before I started my leave, my company made it quite clear that they didn't really want me as an employee any more but wanted to force me out with cause rather than lay me off or fire me without cause. If it weren't for this, I would probably have stayed another six months before moving on out of a sense of obligation to stay with a company after accepting maternity benefits.

I updated my resume two weeks ago online and started a job search with the expectation that it would take at least two months to find something, but now have two offers - both better than my current job in almost every way. I am strongly considering giving two weeks notice after accepting an offer, but am concerned that the company might then require me to pay back benefits I received during maternity. I will be checking to see if there is any official policy tomorrow, but am wondering if I can be charged for benefits received even I can't find any written policy about this? Also, can they have me return my benefits even if I return for two weeks?

Should I be looking into hiring a lawyer before giving notice? Money is very tight right now, so I'm not even sure if this is an option for me, financially. I really don't trust this company to be straight with me anymore. However, I'd also hate to miss out on a better job that will treat me well because I'm scared of the repercussions.

ETA: I am not covered by FMLA, though I've been here a full year and the company is mid-sized; there aren't 75 employees of the company within a certain radius (I forget how many miles) of my office. The leave was granted by the company. I got PTO and a benefit for extended sick leave, plus the company paid my health insurance premiums while I was on leave; otherwise, the leave was unpaid.

  • 5
    Relationships, Relationships! Just be diplomatic whatever you do :) – Adel May 23 '12 at 4:51
  • 2
    You write "Money is very tight right now", but if you act on free advice and it is wrong, then money will be that much tighter. – emory May 23 '12 at 4:58
  • Good point, emory. I contacted an employment law firm; hopefully they will respond quickly. One of the offers expires tomorrow, so I do have to decide what action to take quickly. – user843 May 23 '12 at 15:36
  • 3
    Who exactly told you that you were not covered by FMLA based on my very quick research. The law is pretty clear you can take up to 12 weeks in a 12 month period to take care of somebody with a serious medical condition. There are only 3 criteria from what I can tell. dol.gov/compliance/guide/fmla.htm I suggest you get yourself a lawyer and go ahead and accept that other job. Do not trust a single word they say. – Donald May 25 '12 at 13:10
12

It's very unlikely they'll try to get your maternity pay so I just wouldn't even think about.

Give notice tomorrow, make it formal, give two weeks, talk about the new opportunity that presented itself to you.

and nothing else.

Leaving a company is always a bit 'weird' but the main thing is to remain calm and get it done asap.

21

I can only speak for the US, but I hear that most other first world countries are even better than the US when it comes to maternity leave, so the following should also apply.

  1. Maternity leave is a benefit not unlike other paid time off. Therefore, they shouldn't be able to expect it back if you've used it, unless it was written into a contract.
  2. The Family Medical Leave Act (assuming you're in the US) makes it illegal for them to fire you for taking the leave, which is probably why they're trying to coerce you into leaving. Your company's behavior (is it really the whole company, or just certain managers?) could constitute a hostile work environment. If your company is large enough, talk to your HR department, ethic committee, or Open Door line (the anonymous help line that larger companies often have) about the situation. They can probably handle the managers, regardless of whether you decide to stay or leave.
  3. If you are worried about the company retaliating, see if you have any law schools around you. Some have legal clinics, where they provide certain services for free, if you're willing to have a senior-level student head the case (generally under the guidance of a barred lawyer, but the student does the legwork). I've personally had good experience with this path when I needed it, and sometimes, just knowing that you have the backing of legal council can make the company think twice about playing the lawyer game, not to mention that it equips you with someone who knows the laws in your local area. If nothing else, it's probably worth talking to them to see if there is anything the company might use to try to strong-arm you (and, if they do have a "return maternity leave pay" clause, whether it's actually kosher in your area). It never hurts to know your rights.
  • I wasn't covered by FMLA (been there more than a year, but hit by the 'number of employees' loophole). I don't think I have a lawsuit; the actions they have taken have been clearly designed to CYA for upper management, and I don't think I would have a case unless they did fire me. However, they are clearly worried about a lawsuit. I contacted an employment law firm this morning and left a message, hopefully they will call back soon. – user843 May 23 '12 at 15:35
  • 2
    If you are in the US, it's also worth checking your state resources - different states have added employee protections above and beyond FMLA, and also the state may have an employment rights advocate or other guide, as well as FAQs online that are all completely free of charge. Maternity issues often fit into "discrimination" - and you can often check with your state organization to see if the policies or procedures you are being quoted by your company fall in that realm. – bethlakshmi May 30 '12 at 16:33
  • 3
    "talk to your HR department" ALWAYS remember that HR represents THE COMPANY's best interests, NOT YOURS! Be very careful with this! – Codeman Apr 12 '13 at 0:37
  • @Pheonixblade9 - That's going to depend on the specific people in the HR department and whether they play the political games. I know as many "yes men" as I do "bulldogs" in HR positions. Additionally, that's why I mentioned the ethics committee and Open Door lines, which are, by definition, groups intended to look out for the interests of the employees (however, not all companies with HR departments have these other ones, so sometimes you don't have a choice in what department you talk to). – Shauna Apr 15 '13 at 15:30
  • +1 for asking if the company's behavior is really representative of the company or just an angry manager. – Brandon Nov 24 '13 at 1:29
7

I'm not an expert in labor law or even an HR professional, but I had my own company for a long time and did my share of hiring and firing. In the US, employers don't usually have to show cause for firing anyone. Most employment is "at-will employment", meaning you can up-and-leave whenever you want, for whatever reason you want, and the employer can terminate your employment whenever the employer wants, for whatever (legal and non-discriminatory) reason the employer wants, stated or unstated. It's always good to have a documented reason for terminating an employment, but it's not necessary.

This is employment we are talking about, not indentured servitude. So I would stop worrying about lawyers and retaliation and give two weeks notice. Either this employer is a bad apple and doesn't deserve further consideration, or you misunderstood their true intentions or motives. Either way, you and the employer don't have a good relationship and no one is obligated to stay in it.

3

If you are really sure that the company wants you gone, then you aren't helping them at all by staying. However I suggest this approach. Go to HR and tell them you believe they want you gone. Tell them you would rather stay, but if they would like you gone you are prepared to leave. Tell them what they would have to pay you if they let you go (make sure you have found this out - read the laws or have am brief consultation with a lawyer), and offer to go if they pay you some fraction of that - half, perhaps. Meanwhile accept the best of the job offers you've had.

I did this with a previous company. They started giving me flak for 'attitude', while neglecting to raise my pay or give me more than minimal responsibility. It turned out they just wanted me gone, and rather than go through the long process of building a dismissal case they paid me two months salary. I had a job before the end of the first month.

2

My wife has left after a leave not once, but twice. In neither case did she even return after the leave.

In one case it was after the birth of our first child and she didn't like the work she was doing and had found another job. In the other case she had a medical leave and decided to stay at home afterwards.

In both cases the leaves were amicable and in the second they actually offered her part time contract work.

So in general you should not have a problem with leaving, but in this case I think you employer was really looking to unload an expensive employee (having to pay leave and higher medical premiums) than anything else. They will be happy for you to leave and at least in the US they should not be able to request repayment of your leave. The only repayment clauses I have seen are signing bonuses, relocation expenses, and educational re-imbursements.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.