Maternity Leave | Working Mother

Maternity Leave: Deciding Not to Go Back

You go on maternity leave but decide not to return to work after the baby is born. Whether it's a last-minute decision or a true change of heart, working moms should know your rights about making that choice.

Mom with Cute Baby & Laptop

Know your rights. “If an employee decides not to return after the end of her maternity leave, the employer usually wouldn’t have legal recourse, just as they generally wouldn’t against someone who took a sabbatical to, say, care for an elderly parent,” says Gina Chang, a labor attorney on the American Bar Association’s Federal Labor Standards Legislation Committee. One exception: if you have a contractual obligation, such as a signed agreement. In some cases, an employer could seek repayment of benefits if you decide not to return.

Be honest. You may not know what you’ll want as a new working mom until the baby comes. If you decide before or during your leave that you don’t want to return to your job, and you want to maintain good relations with your employer (you might need those references later on), tell your boss as soon as possible—not the day before you’re scheduled to return, advises Chang. This way, though you might forfeit the rest of your paid leave, you won’t burn bridges.

Consider your colleagues. When you decide to leave a job abruptly, you risk leaving coworkers in the lurch. Think about offering to return to work temporarily until your employer can find a replacement for you.

Explore flex before your leave. If you know you’ll want some sort of flexibility upon returning to your job, “work with your employer to find a mutually beneficial situation,” says Ness. “Identify the ways you can meet job responsibility and get flexibility, and demonstrate to your employer how it can be done.”

Advocate together. Increasingly, companies are forming affinity groups (like a working mother group) in which employees can discuss shared issues and seek solutions. Use the power of the group to approach your employer with flex solutions. “Finding work-life balance is a challenge not just for parents but for everyone,” says Ness, “and good solutions will ultimately be beneficial for the whole company in terms of retaining talented employees.”

More on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

–facts condensed from Working Mother article by Katherine Lee