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Dilemma of the Month: Can I Quit While on Maternity Leave?

Back Q&A Mar 1, 2019 By Suzanne Lucas
While on maternity leave, an opportunity for my dream job has come up, and they want someone immediately. The hiring manager said he was impressed with my resume and would hire me. When I told him my situation, he told me to keep in contact and see what happens. I’ve got two more months of FMLA before I return to my current job. Do I have to go back to work and then give two weeks’ notice, or can I just quit? I know this might not be ethical, but legally can they do anything to stop me?

First, congratulations on the new baby! That’s exciting and I hope you’re sleeping at least a little bit. Second, dream job opportunities are few and far between so I understand wanting to jump on it, but remember just because you think a job will be a dream doesn’t mean it won’t turn into a nightmare. I don’t want to be negative, but sometimes people place all their hopes and dreams on a position or with a company that looks great from the outside, and don’t pay attention to the red flags. So, keep an eye open for that!

Related: Can an employer require employees to return after maternity leave?

Related: Don’t Ignore the ‘Not-Mommy’ Penalty

Now, let’s answer your question. You can quit at any time. Unless you are in a union or otherwise have a contract, you’re an at-will employee — which people usually talk about in terms of firing but it also protects your right to quit when you choose. So, yes, legally you can quit now; you don’t have to wait until you return from FMLA. You also don’t have to give two weeks’ notice. That’s a nice thing to do, but it’s not required by law, only convention.

Clearly changing jobs at this time isn’t as easy as you may think, but it’s completely legal. If you have thought through all of this and apply for and get the job, then go for it. So what do you need to do about your current job?

Tell your current boss sooner rather than later. They are planning on you being out for 12 weeks anyway, so if you tell them early that you’re not coming back, they can replace you more easily. It’s considerate to them to let them know.

Do let them know in the nicest way possible. Speak to your boss on the phone, if possible. Otherwise, send an email. You don’t need to go into the office, although that’s normally the protocol. If you speak with your boss via telephone or in person, send a follow-up email just so everything is clear. Keep it positive. Now isn’t the time to burn bridges.

If you wait until your 12 weeks are up and then come back for one day and give notice, that’s actually harder on your boss. She was looking forward to being fully staffed and now this! It’s legal but it’s more likely to burn bridges than telling her now that you won’t come back.

OK that’s the easy part. But should you really take this job? Because when you’re coming back from maternity leave, there are a few more things to think about.

The first is, you say you have two months of FMLA left. Assuming you didn’t use any FMLA time before you gave birth, that means your baby is about 4 weeks old. Generally speaking, you’re officially disabled for 6-8 weeks after giving birth. If you’re getting disability pay, quitting now could make that stop, and your doctor may not clear you for work before those dates. So, be careful about committing to start a new job before you’re medically ready.

The other big concern is health insurance. Assuming you have your health insurance through your job, if you quit without returning they could require you to pay back their part of your health insurance premium for the time you were on leave! Most companies don’t do this, but legally they can, so understand that may be an unexpected cost.

A new job — even your dream job — will be extremely stressful. Make sure you evaluate if this is the time to change jobs, and let the new employer know what you will and will not be able to do. Honesty in these situations can seem scary, but what you want is the best possible outcome, and being clear about your capabilities will help that.
Just make sure you think through things carefully. You don’t want any
surprises. 

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