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‘It Happened To Me’: Tips For New Moms Who Are Laid Off After Maternity Leave

Written by Melanie Braga

Maternity leave is a beautiful time where you meet and bond with your bundle of joy. But what if your maternity leave turns into a layoff? Melanie Braga shares her story with PLN. 

Unfortunately, you can be laid off while on maternity leave. It happened to me.

As I was preparing myself for 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. The landscape was changing and even though it made me feel uneasy, I had to focus on my baby. Besides, I was going on maternity leave so I had to come back, right?

About 11 months into my maternity leave, I received “the call” that many dread—the layoff call. I was informed that due to cuts in the company, my position and department have been eliminated. The employer invited me to a meeting, as it was a unionized environment, and there were options available to me.

The author on her last day at work, unbeknownst to her at the time.

At first, I was hopeful that the meeting would provide me with some viable options as all I could think about was supporting my new family.

Arriving at the office, it felt surreal as I kept thinking that this could not be happening. I honestly thought that I would have been “safe.”

I was presented my options, which were very simple; take the severance package, or, accept a different position with lower pay at a much further location. It was also pointed out to me that if I accepted the position and it didn’t work out, I would not be able to receive the severance package.

This was a lot for me to take in and asked for a few days to think about it. This would give me enough time to review the options, discuss with my family and consult legal advice.

The Law in Ontario

The law in Ontario states: “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. 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.”

We need to educate ourselves on what our rights are in the workplace. This experience was an eye-opener, as I thought I knew the laws well.

The Loophole

The wording is everything. According to the law, it states that “in most cases” and “if the employee’s old job no longer exists.” That is the loophole that can be used legally.

“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.

If an employer can prove that the position is no longer in existence and if the reason for terminating the position has nothing to do with the maternity leave, the employer is in the clear.

The employer in my case fell into this loophole category and followed everything legally. There was nothing that I could do at this point. I need to mention 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.

Happens More Often Than One Would Think

Many people are intrigued and even shocked when I share my story. However, I am not the only one as many other women have had similar situations. I personally know a handful of women who experienced it and they know others who have had it happen to them as well.

It’s nothing new, but it’s not widely discussed. At all.

When it is discussed, it is brief and often forgotten like Stephanie Zanin, Melissa Morra, and Tammy Sutherland just to name a few who had similar experiences and were all featured in the media.
However, what is seldom mentioned is Employment Insurance. As a woman who has received Maternity Leave Benefits and is laid off from work at no fault of her own does not qualify for Employment Insurance. The reason being is that the woman did not contribute back into EI and therefore does not have “insurable hours” to claim.

Tips for New Moms for Maternity Leave

This is not the best situation for any mom or family to be in as it is extremely stressful. If you do find yourself in a similar situation or just want to better prepare yourself when you go on maternity leave, here are some tips that can help:

Before Maternity Leave

Before going on maternity leave, save the 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 in your mind. It is always great to keep your resume updated regardless.

While on leave, stay connected with your manager and colleagues. This is a great way to be kept up to date.

Be active on social media networking sites as it helps make new connections and steward your current connections.

Stay work-savvy while you are on maternity leave.

Laid Off After Maternity Leave

Educate yourself on the laws and your rights. Always try to consult with a lawyer as each case or scenario can differ from one another.

If your workplace has a union, know your collective agreement.

Find out about severance packages and your entitlement in your specific workplace.

You are entitled to receive Maternity Leave benefits while you are home for 52 weeks (now up to 18 months). If you do get laid off before you start working again, you do not qualify for Employment Insurance (EI).

Above all, stay positive and know it’s not the end. Try being as prepared as possible by using these tips that truly helped me pick myself up again. My decision was to take the severance package that was offered and I made opportunities for myself to grow in abundance.

I truly hope that the laws will change to better protect moms in the workplace and to have Employment Insurance work better for those who end up in these types of circumstances. In the meantime, I will continue to share my story to bring awareness to an issue that continues to happen in semi-silence.

Photo by Derek Thomson

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.