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When You’re Not Going Back

By Amalah

When do I tell my boss I’m not coming back to work? When do I make the decision not to go back to work? HOW do I make the decision not to go back to work?

Okay. So I’ve been reading up on this topic for a couple of weeks now. It’s an annoying topic to read up on, by the way, because there are no super-handy definitive how-to guides or even just a general consensus. There’s a lot of bad advice and bad behavior and sweeping generalized vitriol being slung at innocent pregnant bystanders BECAUSE of that bad behavior. Mostly, though, it’s a lot of families grappling with a complicated financial AND ethical AND personal issue.

The Perfect-World Option

You tell them as soon as you know you plan to stay home, with as much advance notice as possible. Because of course you just *know* that staying home is the right decision, probably right as your pregnancy tips into the third trimester, leaving your employer with the perfect three-month window to hire and train your replacement.

Pros: Definitely the option that leaves your professional reputation most intact, since you will not be one of “those” pregnant women who take advantage of the company’s leave benefits. And also, OH YEAH, you’re not actually taking advantage of the company’s leave benefits.

Cons: You may lose out on ANY paid maternity leave benefits, as your baby’s birth would likely officially be your last day of employment, unless you arrange some part-time/freelance work afterward to tie up loose ends. You also run the risk of losing your health insurance, if the company decides to let you go ahead of time. (They can’t fire you for being pregnant, but they CAN lay you off once you’ve announced your intention to leave.) That can leave you shelling out a fortune for COBRA or having to change plans and providers in the middle of a very medical-claim intensive time. This could cause some premature financial hardship, or the fear that you’re burning your bridges BEFORE you cross them, especially if your situation changes after the baby is born (i.e. your partner loses their job and/or health insurance or some other financial crisis). And also, OH YEAH, not every woman can honestly make the decision “for sure” before the baby arrives.

Is It For You? If you have already made up your mind 100% to stay home, then legally and ethically, this is your option. Anything else veers into a muddy gray area of insurance scamming — not to mention mega-unprofessional behavior. If you KNOW, your job should should know too. (And if you’re hoping to keep the door open for freelance work or a return to the workforce some day, this is the best way to keep your company’s trust.)

At my office, my boss asked for a meeting about two months before I was due to “discuss my plans.” While I was planning to return to work, this would have been the perfect time to volunteer any plans to stay home (or desire to drop to part-time). Then I could have laid out some major projects and goals from my to-do list that I would like to finish, and offered to interview and train a replacement, positioning myself as a valuable team member for the next few months, greatly reducing the chances that they would have preemptively laid me off right then and there.

The Not-So-Perfect-World Option

Tell them while you’re still on leave that you won’t be coming back as planned.

Pros: Benefits! Paid time off! No disruption in your health care through the birth and multiple well-baby visits! A chance to actually live the life of a SAHM before committing to it full-time! Plus, if you really hadn’t made up your mind, you’re not REALLY leaving them in the lurch and defrauding the system, right? Right?

Cons: Professional ire, disbelief at your claim that you simply changed your mind. Adding to the crap about pregnant women gaming the system and raising benefit premiums and no respect for their bosses and coworkers grumble grumble. Possibility of having to pay benefits back or even legal action, if your company is litigious or extremely strict about their leave policies.

Is It For You? Have you made up your mind for sure? Then: No. Maternity leave is, really, more of a retention benefit. It’s not something they owe you, like a bank of unused vacation days. It’s designed for women who DO plan to return to the workplace (however crappy of a design it is in this country).
But if you haven’t made up your mind, you’re not a terrible person for keeping the option of returning around. It’s a HUGE decision — life-changing, with life-long repercussions for your career and earnings power and retirement — and I’m not sure the third trimester, before the reality of motherhood really hits you, is a fair time to expect every woman to know for sure. Plenty of women change their minds during maternity leave.

However, this is still different than say…waiting until week 11-and-a-half to tell them you aren’t coming back. You should always, ALWAYS try to give them as much notice as you possibly can. Otherwise you’re veering into a moral, ethical and legal gray area. It’s also short-sighted to assume that you will be a SAHM forever and ever AMEN, and will never regret robbing your bridges at gunpoint before setting them on fire.

Internet message boards are full of people figuring out how to squeeze every last paid option before quitting, while others argue that hey, that’s really not cool. Any discussion of a maternity leave overhaul in this country — having companies provide longer leave or more generous leave times in hopes of upping retention — brings out the folk who have a bitter story to tell about how a woman totally screwed their office over with her sneaky leave-taking when she clearly never had any intention of returning. Hey, I’ve got one of those stories too: A friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend of mine worked for a particularly troubled company that shuddered through round after round of layoffs. Late in her pregnancy, she was offered a severance package in order to save someone else’s job, on the off chance she was planning to quit anyway. She turned it down, kept her job, went on leave…and then quit right before her scheduled return, as was her plan all along.

The Real World Option

HOWEVER, of course, real life rarely sticks to schedule. If your baby was a preemie, or has health problems, or you were on bedrest and it all mucked with your leave time and nothing is what you expected it to be like six to 12 weeks later, then you may not have a choice. Similarly if your daycare falls through or your baby still won’t take a bottle or your office announces it’s moving four exits up your area’s most congested highway.

If you do decide to stay home AFTER your baby is born: quit in person, with your HR person and your boss present. Offer to do WHATEVER YOU CAN to help with the transition — working from home, coming in for interviews and meetings, organizing your files and to-do lists and job description. Anything to offset the perception of being all, “Thanks for the money, suckers!” before flouncing out the door.

I probably promised a good 25 different people on a good 25 different occasions that yes, I would be coming back to work after my leave. I don’t think they believed me. So it was tempting to assume that quitting as soon as the short-term disability payments dried up was an okay option, because it’s just “what everybody did.” And despite all my promises, I WAS unsure about the decision. We were waitlisted at half a dozen daycares with no sure-fire spot in sight.

I didn’t know whether my salary would be worth the expense of childcare and commuting and even whether I was honestly all that interested in my job anymore, as freelance writing opportunities seemed like something possibly within my grasp. But I also didn’t know if I’d like being home with a newborn day in and day out, whether I’d be breastfeeding or bottlefeeding or suffering from PPD or so madly in love with motherhood that I was willing to do whatever it took to soak up every second of it. I just wasn’t ready to make the decision before the baby was born or even during my leave — so I went back. Because I’d promised, and because I wasn’t sure. A few months in and suddenly I was sure. Luckily, by that point, maternity leave benefits were a thing of the past, and I was able to quit like any other employee: two weeks’ notice, letter of resignation, a contract arrangement to continue a slew of my duties from home until a replacement could be found and/or I was no longer interested in the work.

It remains the best — and BY FAR, the toughest — decision I’ve ever made.

Final Thoughts

Those of you who genuinely grappled with the decision of whether or not to return: What were the details behind YOUR decision, when and how did you tell your job, and how did it go? Any regrets? Anybody do anything as remotely awesome as this?

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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eva
Guest

After 12 months of maternity + parental leave, 6 at 85% of my full pay and 6 on EI, I took the 4 weeks of paid vacation that I had accrued during my leave. I fully intended to return to my job full time. During that 4 weeks, a friend found a perfect job for me just 5 minutes and no bridge-crossings away from home. I interviewed and tested and interviewed again and they checked references and I got the job! Unfortunately on my 1st day back to work, when co-workers who I adored had done a card and a… Read more »

jodifur
Guest

I’m an attorney for the government which means low pay, but hey, we are family friendly. I had the same meeting with my boss that you mentioned and told her under no uncertain terms would I not be coming back full time. My salary didn’t cover full time daycare and it didn’t make sense. She said she was sure we could work something out. So I went out for 5 months (yeah, government!) and when I was ready to come back I was told PT wasn’t an option. So, I resigned. Then, magically, they offered me a position contracting about… Read more »

Suzanne
Guest

I didn’t get a choice. One of the disadvantages of working for a very very small family company where I was technically the only employee is none of the FMLA laws apply to them. When the economy tanked and I announced I was pregnant they said “so long, good luck” with the promise that maybe they would throw some contractor type work my way. That never happened. Instead I was left wondering if I should try to find a different job for the next 6 months or just become a SAHM to a 3 month old fetus. I was lucky… Read more »

Diana
Guest
Diana

The bureau of labor statistics has some interesting data on this. In 1970 only 26% of married women with children under 3 years old were participating in the labor force, by 1985 it was 50%. It’s held roughly stable – in 2005 it was around 53%. When I was pregnant with my 2nd in two years, I had several conversations with my boss during which it was clear that he just didn’t believe that I would be coming back. I think this is because he is about 15 years older than I am, and his point of reference is a… Read more »

Nancy
Guest

My situation is a little different because I was a public school teacher. I left after my first trimester, because things were going sour at my school, I knew that I wanted to be a SAHM, and the paper work required to take a paid leave (only 6-8 weeks) and get the 12 weeks of insurance coverage guaranteed by the FMLA was a real PITA. Like Suzanne, I was lucky enough to be able to choose. However, I knew that my leaving would put my department in a lurch. I told my assistant principal before I even officially announced my… Read more »

olivia
Guest
olivia

@Suzanne, maternity leave in the U.S. is a joke for sure.
Don’t have much to contribute to this subject since I had worked as a contract employee for three years at the same company when I got pregnant. No paid leave what-so-ever for me. I went back to work 3 weeks after a c-section out of necessity.

CherylH
Guest
CherylH

Luckily, I have an awesome boss. That, and the fact that I had been with this company for over 9 years when I got pregnant, and had basically made myself “indispensable,” (ha-ha) really worked in my favor. I was SURE I wanted to return to work. I was SURE I wanted to return when my baby was 8 weeks old. Of course, I was “sure” of all of this before my baby was born. After he came along (he was my first), my life and priorities completely changed. (Duh!) As he approached about 4 weeks old, I began to panic… Read more »

mary
Guest
mary

This is hard to do without a long comment! I have two kids now. I always said I would be part time when I came back (my employer is great about this) and that I would return after my FMLA was up. Well, it got to be about 10 weeks after my first dd was born and I freaked out and was just generally not ready. My dd hated (hated) bottles, group daycare was seeming really bad to me, and I was just too attached to her to leave her at that point. Another complication in all this was my… Read more »

paranoid
Guest

Thank you so much for posting this! I can’t even tell you how many debates I’ve gotten into about the ethics of maternity leave, and I was starting to feel a little bit lonely. I knew before I got pregnant that I was going to be a SAHM (my job, even “part-time”) was thoroughly incompatible with having a family). I’d intended to let the firm know about 3 months before the baby came, but ended up actually leaving when I was around 12 weeks because DH got a job offer and we moved to a different state. Making the decision… Read more »

Charity
Guest
Charity

When I was 8 weeks pregnant, I was offered a promotion. I already knew that after having my son, I would not be returning to the office. So I declined the promotion and told my boss about the pregnancy. I just didn’t feel right accepting a position I knew that I couldn’t commit to long term. Perhaps it might seem stupid for me to do that. But my boss was very appreciative of the open conversation. I took 3 months off (it’s a small company, so no paid leave), and then have been working part-time at home (averaging 12 hours… Read more »

Two Wishes
Guest

While I can definitely see the ethical problems with waiting till after the baby is born, I can think of another benefit to that option: After a few months of parenting, you may decide you’d rather be back at work. Some women surprise themselves with a decision they never would have imagined. Usually you hear about new mothers who suddenly decide they want to stay home, but in fact the decision goes both ways. Personally, I have been on disability for a few years and was fairly sure I’d never return to boring legal work. But after 6 months with… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

I just . . . wow. I had no idea an employer can fire you for being honest about your intentions not to return to your job after maternity leave. And they wonder why women don’t speak up ahead of time? We all want to do right by the company and give them as much notice as possible, but if telling = loosing my insurance covereage – No Way! Especially for a long time employee that has spend years paying their premiums without a major claim, and using only a day or two here and there for sick leave, that… Read more »

Bitts
Guest
Bitts

I learned my lesson from experience: don’t tell. A LOT CAN CHANGE in the year after your baby is born. Who knows how you’ll feel once your leave is up and you have to make the call to come back or not?!? Why shoot yourself in the foot by saying you’re not coming back for sure? Burn that bridge and your employer will be IN NO WAY obligated to rehire you if you end up needing/wanting to go back to work. By the time your leave is over and it’s time to really make the decision, things may look VERY… Read more »

Amelia
Guest
Amelia

I just told my employer that I am 14 weeks pregnant with my second, and everyone wants to know if I am coming back. Yes, I am (no way we can afford for me not to as I am main breadwinner and love my job)…BUT, I feel like there’s no way I can do 5 days a week anymore…this post and the comments are great and I’ll be using some of the tips to discuss a shortened work week once the new baby comes (after my unpaid-other than using my vacation time-maternity leave despite working for a major hospital–don’t get… Read more »

charlotte
Guest

I came back after 8 weeks of Short Term Disability and two weeks of vacation time, since taking state-funded paid leave would have meant giving up my corporate tuition refund, and I was still in the process of completing my engineering degree. Leaving my 10-week-old in daycare full-time was heartbreaking; trying to pump at work even more so; and let’s not talk about PPD and meetings and figuring out how to find the energy to get up in the morning and put on a suit and makeup. Then the sh*t hit the fan, daycare-wise, co-worker-wise, and work-assignment-wise, and lo and… Read more »

Quinn
Guest
Quinn

Oof. What a topic. (How did I just see this if it’s dated September 14th? I’m very confused.) Well, I was laid off during my pregnancy. My company had just been bought by a larger company, and I was the only editor, so they said that they just wanted to abolish my department. It could be true, or it could have been they decided to abolish my department simply because I was pregnant. The end date I was given was the very first one and it was right at the beginning of my third trimester. I was lucky enough to… Read more »

Destiny
Guest

When I was pregnant with my first, I though that I wanted to be a SAHM. Before I even went on leave, I was able to quit my position and take a part-time one where I worked from home. After having the baby, let me tell you. I HATED being home all day with my daughter. I felt so unproductive. So un-used. I was depressed and very unhappy. i had committed to nursing/staying home for 6 months and you better believe I was out there getting a new full time job right at 6 months. A close friend of mine… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I am at a loss of what to do because I currently work outside of my field. A few years ago I moved back to my home state and was offered a job at a family company. Unfortunately the “family” part of the company drastically changed and I am very unhappy with the politics and work environment. I am grateful that I was able to have this job ( while my husband finished school) I do not feel appreciated nor happy here anymore. Financially I do need to work, but I am planning on looking for a different job while… Read more »

Anastasia
Guest
Anastasia

As guilty as I feel about not telling my boss that I don’t plan on coming back, I really don’t see any other option. I’m extremely dissatisfied with my employer anyway and probably would have already quit if it wasn’t for wanting the health insurance for my pregnancy and delivery. My ridiculous salary, which is a well-known problem in my company for my position, doesn’t cover the cost of daycare, and I don’t think it’s unfair to want to take advantage of the insurance plan I’ve been paying into and have only used for yearly prevetative checkups for 5 years.… Read more »

Primrose
Guest
Primrose

I am struggling with this decision right now, which is how I came upon this old post and comments.  I was working part-time in a clinical position and part-time as a Teaching Assistant while working on my doctorate degree when I became pregnant with my second child.  Whoo…yeah.  My husband is in full support of me becoming a SAHM since his mother did the same thing.  However, as I am looking at completing my degree within the next year, I feel like I am wasting so much training and education!  I haven’t been able to return to my clinical job.… Read more »

A
Guest
A

Really needed this post – thank you! I am 20 weeks (my first), and my husband and I have decided that I’ll stay home. I am really looking forward to my next chapter, except my company doesn’t think I’m leaving (the owner inappropriately asks “you’re not leaving are you?” all the time). And I feel (oddly) guilty. Especially because I’d like to leave at the beginning of my third trimester, which seems to be earlier than the norm. At the end of the day, the cost of day care would eat up a strong portion of my salary. Plus my… Read more »