I'm just going to say it: Maternity leave in the U.S. sucks. Not only is there no guaranteed paid leave for new parents — but employees must meet certain criteria in order to even qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA.) And for those who are able to take some paid or unpaid time off after welcoming a new child, contemplating becoming a stay-at-home parent or switching jobs altogether isn't all that uncommon. As it turns out, though, new parents should be careful about the timing of leaving their employers. Because this new mom had to repay her employer thousands after quitting during maternity leave.
New mom Emily Manley of Iowa is speaking out after she received a bill for $2,600 from her former employer shortly after giving her two weeks notice during maternity leave, according to People. Not only that, but Manley's employer demanded this payment in full immediately — stating she owed the amount for healthcare costs, along with paid time off she was mandated to use.
“It was kind of a shock. I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t ready for it, but I knew it was a possibility,” she told WHO-TV. “I didn’t know it would happen that fast and that I would have to pay it back that fast.”
See, Manley went on maternity leave after the birth of her 3-month-old son, Jettson, WHO reported. But because her place of employment didn't offer maternity leave, per se, she had to take unpaid time off after giving birth through FMLA. (Sounds pretty run of the mill for the U.S. right?) Except, in order to take advantage of FMLA, Manley first had to utilize all of the paid time off offered by the company. Which she did.
“As part of FMLA you are required to take all of your [paid time off] prior to the unpaid portion of leave,” she told Yahoo. Manley ended up using her paid time off through her company for roughly a month before beginning her FMLA leave in February. While she was off, she ended up receiving a job offer from a different company.
“While on leave I saw an opening with a company that I had worked with previously and they offer benefits that are much better for a young family,” she told the publication. “This new position is healthier for me, our son and my family.”
As People reported, Manley decided to take the job; it just made sense for her family. She began working with the new company in April. Now, her former employer has said she has until the end of June to cough up the $2,600. Since Manley would wind up paying more in legal fees than the cost of the bill, it's not worth challenging. But it still stings — especially considering she just had a baby.
“It’s a lot of money to us. We did our best to save when we got pregnant, knowing that we had bills coming, and did our best for that, but it’s kind of hard to prepare,” she told WHO. “I can understand the company’s point of view, but at the same time, to do that to a young family is really difficult to be on the other side of it.”
If you're like me, then you're probably sitting there thinking, "WTF." How is this a thing? How does her former employer expect her to cough up this kind of money after just having a baby? This is insane!
Unfortunately, what Manley's former employer did is completely within its rights under the state's FMLA policy, according to People.
“I’m not here to ask for money or give a poor me story, I am sharing my story in hopes if other women are out there on leave and looking for a new job, and don’t think that their company would do this — they might!” Manley told People. “Having a child really makes you think about your job, what’s important in life and what you want out of a job. In the end, I’m glad I switched and now work for a wonderful company that respects me as a mother and employee.”
In my opinion, this mom's story is yet another reason why mandatory paid parental leave needs to happen in the U.S. Like ASAP. Because new parents and their babies deserve so much better.