Leaving while on leave?
September 10, 2008 1:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I give notice at one job while I'm at the end of my maternity leave without burning bridges?

So I'm nearing the end of my maternity leave, and being a mom has opened up some new priorities for me. Chief among these is the desire to NOT have a huge commute every day (and other considerations, like being closer to her daycare, having more flexible hours, things like that). Being a programmer means recruiters contact you all the time anyway, and while on maternity leave I decided to check out the market. I have a second interview tomorrow with a large company that will give me a five-digit raise as well as offer the option for full-time telecommute and very flexible hours (so long as the work gets completed, they don't care WHEN it's done, as long as you're available for meetings and such).

I love the company I'm with now, particularly the people, but this is an opportunity that doesn't come along every day. (And, my primary skills are atrophying as we spend too much time NOT focusing on our primary objectives.) So, if they make the offer and I accept (we're still in the negotiations phase), how do I give notice to my current job? I want to be professional and show my consideration to people who helped me out so much, but I have to consider my family first.

Throwaway email maternitynotice@gmail.com if you need to reply offline. Anon because several co-workers are part of the hive mind these days...
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A programmer that has to come into the office is not sending out enough resumes.

Just tell them you're a mother, and speak nothing of money.
posted by plexi at 2:03 PM on September 10, 2008

Would you stay with your current company if they offered you the telecommuting opportunity or the raise or any other single piece of what big company is offering you?

If you'd still move, then I'd just resign as normal -- brief resignation notice, and if they ask, let them know you're pursuing opportunities closer to home with more flexibility for you to care for your new child. Give them as much notice as you can that you're not coming back, but people resign at the end of mat-leaves all the time, and if they've been without you for a few months, it shouldn't be a huge hassle to be without you a few more weeks while they replace you.

If you'd negotiate, then it's, well, trickier, and I'm not sure I have any specific advice to offer.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:20 PM on September 10, 2008

It has been my experience that a significant number of new mothers who go on maternity leave do not come back. Many either did not estimate what the time and effort was in raising a baby or simply wanted to stay on the health plan as long as possible. Not coming back after maternity leave is not going to be a big surprise. Tell them your priorities have changed and you prefer finding work you can telecommute to. Either they will wish you good luck or make you an offer of the tele-commute.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:21 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I hesitate to raise this, because I think it's totally legit and understandable that undergoing something like childbirth can change your priorities and plans in a way that is really unforeseeable.

But: if this is a smaller company, or if you've received actual pay (and not just unpaid time off) during your maternity leave, I think you should make every effort to go back to work for at least a short amount of time, even if it's just a few weeks to orient your replacement. And I think that you should let your company know ASAP if you're not planning on coming back, so they can start looking at hiring someone to replace you.

Obviously, the best thing for *you* is to not say anything, take the other job, and take the full extent of your maternity benefits before quitting. However, this sort of situation with women leaving at the end of maternity leave is responsible for some companies choosing to do things like hire mostly men rather than women, or ask about childbearing plans while interviewing women with a wedding ring, or other technically illegal stuff that happens anyway. I don't think any of that is right, nor the do I agree with the justification that "I can't hire married women because they have babies and then quit, leaving me on the hook," but I think you should take seriously the bad feelings this move is likely to engender from your former company, and maybe consider not just the effects that may have on you (will they badmouth you to future employers?) but the potential effects on other women in that company who come after you. This goes double if you work in a field that is heavily male-dominated in the first place. From your employer's point of view, you very well may have taken maternity leave knowing you had no intention of returning--cashing your paycheck (if you had it) and more importantly, preventing them from hiring someone to replace you--then waited until the very end to let them know, which really screws them over for doing the right thing (offering maternity leave).

Given that, if it were me, I'd make every effort to not just quit at the end of my leave. I think approaching them before your leave ends, and apologetically explaining that a new opportunity "fell into your lap" (don't tell them you job searched!) and given your new kid you can't pass up the opportunity to work from home, but that you're willing to come in for (2? 3?) weeks to tie up anything that you left undone while you were gone and to transition your work to someone else would go a long way towards removing some of the bitter taste in their mouth. They may well say, "don't bother coming back, see you later," in which case you're golden!

If you work for a huge company, and/or took unpaid leave only, I guess it probably won't be such a surprise / leave them feeling as screwed over, in which case you should probably just tell them "a new opportunity fell in my lap" and apologize for leaving at a bad time (after an extended leave), maybe with an offer to be available for a month by phone to answer any questions for your replacement. Don't mention the stuff about your primary skills atrophying as your reason for leaving, or it will sound like you've been planning on leaving since before baby came along and you were taking advantage of maternity leave to job-shop when you knew you wouldn't come back.

Congrats on the kid, by the way!
posted by iminurmefi at 2:42 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Not coming back after maternity leave is not going to be a big surprise.

Yes this. If you really like your current job, you could tell them that you'd stay if you could restructure your job in such and such a way, but it's not even really necessary. It could certainly be frustrating to your coworkers to lose a teammate, but no more so than if you left at any other time -- in fact maybe less so, as they have (presumably) already developed some way to pick up the slack while you have been gone.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:48 PM on September 10, 2008

You really cannot help but burn a bridge if you quit after maternity leave. Taking three-to-six months off at the company's expense and then coming back for one day and giving notice is totally unfair to the people who have tried to preserve your system in your absence. It is a horrible thing to do.
posted by parmanparman at 9:07 PM on September 10, 2008

Just a note -- the OP did not say this was paid leave.
posted by dhartung at 9:59 PM on September 10, 2008

What jacquilynne said. If you really like your current company and want to stay, ask them if you can telecommute, but don't tell them about the other offer until it is firm.

As for the moral majority crowd giving you grief about bailing directly after maternity leave - ignore them. Business is business. You are entitled to the maternity benefits, and you are entitled to change employer as and when you choose. I can guarantee that if business circumstances changed such that it was no longer convenient for your company to employ you, they would not hesitate to show you the door.
posted by Jakey at 1:42 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It is a horrible thing to do.

Horrible to whom? The manager who is going to leave in two months for a better offer at a different company? The co-worker who is going to leave in six months to follow his dream of surfing in Costa Rica? The director who will be let go soon because of "restructuring" ?

Work is a temporary arrangement of people who will be there only as long as they (if they are lucky) or someone else finds it convenient. You are fortunate enough to be writing your own exit script to a better situation. Follow it.
posted by mikepop at 5:41 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It is a horrible thing to do.

That is what I was thinking when a friend was recently made redundant just after her maternity leave finished. She hadn't yet returned to work because she had extended her leave (unpaid) for a few months to sort out things like daycare. And then surprise, no job. I have to wonder if she had been working then maybe her office might not have lost the business that they deemed to be the reason for making her redundant (it was her account or some such, so it seems like the company was unable to "preserve her system" in her absence).

So yeah, sometimes it comes down to business being business.
posted by gspm at 10:39 AM on September 11, 2008

At the place I work, one of the ladies left for maternity, and never came back. She started elsewhere when her job was up. She brought her baby in, and doesn't look to have hurt anyones feelings with her decision.

As to this being a horrible thing to do, most companies you work for aren't doing you any favours. They are paying you because you provide them a service, and they continue to pay you because they make money from your service. I don't think there is any thing wrong with being cold when it comes to your business dealings.

Just be straight up with your employers, explain your situation, etc.
posted by chunking express at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2008

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