Laid off during parental leave?
The past few years have brought tumult to workers in many industries. Recently we’re seeing that show up in the tech industry with massive layoffs of a magnitude not seen in over a decade. While layoffs have significant effects on each person laid off, I want to highlight one important group: people laid off during maternity or parental leave.
It’s already a known phenomenon that people going on maternity or parental leave face discrimination. The legal protections provided are pretty lacking, and it’s common for someone to return from leave to find themselves sidelined or forced to switch roles—especially if they are lucky enough to work at a company that provides extended leave and legal protections do not apply to this additional time.
But it’s next-level to find out that instead of having a less desirable job, you are left with no job at all. Depending on the severance package, you may find your income and health insurance cut off before you were even scheduled to come back to work. This is especially hard in families where the person laid off is a single parent or the primary breadwinner for their family. Yes, primary breadwinners have babies and take leave!
Unfortunately in some cases people on maternity or parental leave are laid off. The Family and Medical Leave Act just turned 30 years old and provides some employees with some protections. Though a person should not be targeted with a layoff because they are on leave, it certainly does happen in some organizations that higher percentages of people on leave are laid off compared to the overall population of the company. Hmmm! With the economic situation as it is in tech, I fear that being laid off while on leave is likely to become more common.
Tips for people currently on leave or preparing for leave
- Plan ahead: Though it’s hard to think about, imagine what you might need to do if you are laid off while on leave. For example, you might lose access to your work laptop unexpectedly. Do you have personal files on that laptop? If there are key contacts that might help you in case of a layoff, have you added them on LinkedIn? Former coworkers may have roles at their new employers or be able to connect you.
- Contact info: Make sure that your company has your personal email address and contact information. If there is a layoff you need to be sure you hear about it. We’ve heard reports of people on leave not being properly informed.
- Backup plan: Take a few minutes before you switch into “baby mode” to come up with a backup plan if you are laid off – update your LinkedIn and think of which contacts you might reach out to if a layoff occurs. Do you have a partner who might be able to provide medical insurance through their employment, or would you need to purchase healthcare separately or qualify for state assistance?
- Visibility: Do what you can to make sure that not only your manager but other leaders in your organization know about your contributions. We are seeing reports that in many cases at large companies managers are in the dark about who’s been chosen for layoffs.
- Keep records: If your manager or others have made comments that seem to reflect that you may have your role reduced or affected because of your pregnancy or leave, keep screenshots. (No leaking confidential company information, of course.) It may be helpful to email yourself this information to your personal email account in case something happens while you’re on leave or afterward and you might need a papertrail.
- Manager: Touch base with your manager before you go on leave and stay in touch. You shouldn’t have to, but it can’t hurt given the climate. Maybe even share these tips for managers before you go.
Tips for people who have been laid off
- Not your fault: This is not your fault and you are unfortunately in good company. There’s unlikely anything you could have done to prevent this. In this climate we’ve seen top performers with long company track records get laid off while on maternity leave.
- Severance: Understand what your severance package is - and try to negotiate for more, especially because you were laid off on leave. Think about the value of not only your base salary but also stock vests and bonuses. Especially if you were providing health insurance for your family, and do not have a partner who can provide similar coverage, ask about extending medical coverage or COBRA – you do not want you or your new baby to be without good coverage because there can be high medical bills at this time.
- Seek legal advice: If you think you may have been laid off unfairly, including because of your pregnancy or leave status, it’s absolutely reasonable to consult with an employment lawyer and/or to file an inquiry with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or your state’s corresponding agency, such as the Civil Rights Department in California. A lawyer may help you understand if it’s worth negotiating for more, and what your best strategy might be. You can ask around in a local group or do an internet search for employment lawyers in your area, especially those specializing in equality or civil rights. Some organizations, such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women’s Law Center, provide resources to help employees seek legal guidance.
- Find friends: Ask around to find out who else from your group was laid off. Are there any patterns? We heard of a report of a group with single-digit layoffs yet everyone on maternity leave was laid off. Impressive! You can also help support each other, including pooling resources to get legal advice.
- Understand your financial situation: some people laid off have enough financial cushion to take time to be with their baby for the original planned amount of leave, while others have bills to pay and may need to end their leave early to take a new job.
- Short term options: Luckily remote-work options have become more common recently and those can help you access new employment more rapidly no matter where you are. These may be worth considering if you need cash in the short-term before you find your next long-term role.
- Join with others: Networking groups can bring strength in numbers. Professional organizations and individuals are offering resources to moms and parents who may have been laid off while on leave such as resume review, interview coaching, networking, and referrals to jobs. Many people want to help!
Here at Oath we’re big on more support for moms and parents, specialist advice, and collective change. We’re here for you no matter what happens, and working to build a better world for parents.