LAID OFF AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE
By: Melanie Braga
As I was preparing myself for my maternity leave, all I could focus on was bringing this new life into the world. I did not want to think about all the changes that were happening at my workplace and did not want to “over-think” why my position was not filled by anyone but instead pieces of my job was being dissected and given to different staff members. Why would I invest that extra energy elsewhere when I needed it for my baby? Besides I was going on maternity leave so I had to come back, right?!
Well, wrong. There are many situations that can occur that can change your opportunities in the workplace. Here is my story of how I lost my job before returning after my maternity leave.
I worked for many years in the non-profit world and as many people know that those jobs are dependent on funding and fundraising dollars; therefore, job security is always scarce as it is in many workplaces this day in age.
Before Maternity Leave
As I started to pack up my office and get excited that I would have a year to spend to take care of my baby girl. I couldn’t help but notice that cuts were being made in various departments within the organization and feared that my position could also be on the chopping block. Even though at that time my position was not at risk, I took precautions. For instance, I made sure that I had a copy of the work I accomplished for my professional portfolio and ensured that all my professional connections were updated in my personal contact list. So once my last day arrived, I felt accomplished.
During Maternity Leave
As I cared for my little one, I stayed in contact with my colleagues to keep myself in the loop of what was happening at my workplace and changes were still being made. The landscape of the organization was changing rapidly and I knew changes were coming soon for me. Again, I did not want to focus on the possibility of losing my job as I wanted to make sure that my baby had my full attention; however, I knew it was difficult to not think about it. A month prior to my return date, I got “that” call that many dread; the layoff call. I was informed that due to cuts in the organization, my position and department have been eliminated. The next step was to meet with the VP of Human Resources and the Union President. During this meeting, all my options were given to me which were to take another position that fit my skills with a lower pay and travel time would be much further or take the severance package. Before making a decision I had to look at the law, my rights and my options. To some this decision would be easy to make but I had to think of my new family.
The Law in Ontario
We always need to educate ourselves on what our rights are in the workplace and the laws. Here is what I learned that I did not know before:
“Employees on leave have the right to continue participation in certain benefit plans and continue to earn credit for length of employment, length of service, and seniority. In most cases, employees must be given their old job back at the end of their pregnancy or parental leave.
An employer cannot penalize an employee in any way because the employee is or will be eligible to take a pregnancy or parental leave, or for taking or planning to take a pregnancy or parental leave.”
“Employees on pregnancy or parental leave have several rights.
In most cases, an employee who takes a pregnancy or parental leave is entitled to:
the same job the employee had before the leave began; or
a comparable job, if the employee’s old job no longer exists.
In either case, the employee must be paid at least as much as he or she was earning before the leave. Also, if the wages for the job went up while the employee was on leave, or would have gone up if he or she hadn’t been on leave, the employer must pay the higher wage when the employee returns from leave.
If an employer has dismissed an employee for legitimate reasons that are totally unrelated to the fact that the employee took a leave, the employer does not have to reinstate the employee.”
For more information on Ontario’s Labour Laws, please click here.
From reading our laws and discussing with a couple of labour lawyers, the employer in my case did everything legally. My position being eliminated had nothing to do with me being on leave and therefore, they are able to lay me off. In addition, the employer and the union in my case, did provide me with options to review and consider. Please note that if your workplace has a union, the collective agreement should always be better than the law in protecting employees. Therefore, it is important to know your collective agreement.
My Family Decision
With all the information I received on my rights, laws and options, it was time to sit with my husband and discuss it all. After a long and lengthy discussion, we decided the best option for our family was for me to take the severance package. It did not make sense for me to travel further and earn less as I would be spending more this way. I would also be away from my daughter so much longer and that would not be beneficial for my family. Not to mention how expensive daycare or even a sitter would be. This way I can take this time to care for our daughter until my mother retires in a year and then I can re-enter the workforce. Of course financially it is hard on one income but with a savings mind set and positivity, anything is possible.
My Advice for Others
This is not the best situation for any mom to be in as it is a stressful one for any family. My advice to new moms are:
• Educate yourself on the laws and your rights in your province and country
• If your workplace has an union, know your collective agreement
• Find out about severance packages and your entitlement in your specific workplace. This can be different in different countries and provinces.
• In Ontario, you are entitled to receive Maternity Leave benefits while you are home for 52 weeks. If you do get laid off before you start working again, then you do not qualify for Employment Insurance (EI). This is a shock to many but please note that maternity leave payments comes from the same pool as regular EI. Only if you have contributed back into the system with 52 weeks of work then you can claim benefits. For more info on EI, click here.
• Stay work-savvy while you are on maternity leave
• Before going on maternity leave, save work you have accomplished for your professional portfolio, performance evaluations and professional contacts.
• Update your resume while the details of your position are still fresh on your mind. It is always great to keep your resume updated even if you are not going on maternity leave.
• While on leave, stay connected with your manager and colleagues. This is a great way to be kept up to date with the latest.
• Be active on social media networking sites as it helps make new connections and steward your current connections.
Above all, stay positive and know it’s not the end. This experience has taught me that everything happens for a reason and unfortunately this had to happen to me. I am however, thankful for the opportunities that I had with this employer for the last ten years. I am grateful for the experiences, knowledge, confidence and the friendships that I gained. I know that something better is on the horizon for me and this is only the beginning. In the meantime, I will continue to do the most important job in the world, being a mother to my daughter and spend this precious time with her.
My wish for the future is to have better laws to better protect people who go on maternity and parental leave. In addition, the rules on Employment Insurance should also change to consider situations like mine as unfortunately many women have been in this situation and it is time for change.
– Momma Braga