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Workers on medical and maternity leave are laid off, and yes, it is legal: NPR




Workers on medical and maternity leave are laid off, and yes, it is legal: NPR

Redundancies affect someone who is on parental or sick leave. It is legal for employers to dismiss an employee who is on leave as long as there is a legitimate business reason.

Paulo Sousa/Getty Images/EyeEm


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Paulo Sousa/Getty Images/EyeEm


Redundancies affect someone who is on parental or sick leave. It is legal for employers to dismiss an employee who is on leave as long as there is a legitimate business reason.

Paulo Sousa/Getty Images/EyeEm

Cat Fan was in bed last November, recovering from major stomach surgery, when her phone started blowing up.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, had just announced a first round of layoffs: 11,000 employees, about 13% of the company, would lose his job.

Fan, a mother of three, had been Meta’s recruitment manager for almost five years.

But in the middle of a medical leave, she suddenly found herself without a job. Her termination notice came while she was still on pain medication, in and out of sleep.

“When I woke up and checked my laptop, [I] was already completely banned, she says.

Yes, it is legal to dismiss an employee who is on leave

With the latest wave of layoffs in tech, media and elsewhere, stories are spreading about people being laid off while on medical or parental leave.

“I was washing baby bottles humming a damn Wiggles song stuck in my head…when I got the news,” McKenzie Gregory, an internal communications specialist at Salesforce, wrote recently. on LinkedIn. “I thought I was protected when I was on maternity leave … and I was clearly wrong.”

There is actually nothing illegal about terminating an employee in the middle of a leave “provided there is sufficient documentation that there is a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason that is based on the business,” says Arianna Mouré, a labor and employment attorney at Scarinci Hollenbeck.

In other words, companies cannot use an employee’s medical or parental leave as a reason to dismiss the person concerned.

“They must be treated in the same way, as if they were working as usual,” says Mouré.

Nevertheless, some employers wait until the end of someone’s leave to implement a layoff. In some cases, they want to give that person extra time to get back on their feet. Other times it is to avoid any chance of a costly one legal battle.

Although a company may have a legitimate business reason to fire someone, there is still a risk that an employee may bring a discrimination claim, says Mouré.

Tech companies offer generous severance to ease the sting

Google recently came under fire after CNBC published a story headlined “Google Not Paying Rest of Maternity and Medical Leave for Laid-Off Employees.” A group of more than 100 furloughed employees had asked Google to honor the paid leave it had already approved, CNBC reported.

The story generated comments ranging from “Google, do better!” to “What happened to the human factor?” to “Meaning over men!”

In a statement, Google pointed to the generous severance package it is giving all laid-off employees, which includes Google stock and full salary for a 60+ day notice period, as well a separate severance payment of at least 16 weeks’ salary.

At Meta, which announced a second round of layoffs in March, Fan says a huge WhatsApp group has formed around the issue, with some affected employees trying to figure out if they can negotiate another end date, while others just looking for support.

So far, Fan has not heard of anyone getting extra time because they are on leave. The separation package Meta has offered is also very generous, she says, and includes six months’ health cover.

“Which is wonderful and very useful,” says Fan.

After all, employers in the US are not required to provide severance pay, and many laid-off workers end up with nothing.

“Dumped and then Joked”

Still, even with a financial cushion, Fan says the past few months have been stressful. After the operation, she was bedridden for many weeks, getting up only to shower or go to the doctor. But instead of focusing on recovery, she had headaches like getting her cell phone number back.

Also, she was worried about who else on her team had lost their jobs. Her access to the internal chat system was gone.

“It just felt like you were dumped and then ghosted very quickly,” says Fan.

She knows she’s lucky that she doesn’t have to go into full-time work right away. She still has health coverage until July, and she’s taken on a small amount of contract work while she rebuilds her stamina.

Given the mass layoffs across the tech sector, she’s worried about finding a new job. She has been a technology recruiter for almost a decade. But who needs a recruiter while employment is on hold?

Advice for newly dismissed parents

For the many new parents who have just been made redundant, Karla Leon has some good advice.

In 2020, Leon was in the middle of a four-month paid maternity leave from her job as accounting manager at Booking.com when the pandemic shut down most of the travel industry, and also her job.

The joy her newborn daughter brought her was suddenly mixed with fear of not having a job to return to.

“Try to enjoy your baby as much as possible,” she says.

Jobs will come and go, she says, but baby moments are fleeting.



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