Facing motherhood, and a layoff
I am the general manager for the D.C. office of a global firm. I am pregnant and due in two months. Last week, my boss unofficially told me that the company is going to lay me off while I am on maternity leave. The boss characterized the layoff as business planning for leadership changes next fiscal year. The news was completely unexpected. I am the primary income earner in our household, and our insurance is through my job. Since I got the news, I have not been sleeping and my appetite is gone.
1. As one of only two people in the Washington office, I am not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Do I have any other legal recourse? 2. What’s your advice for negotiating a reasonable severance package? 3. When should I start looking for a new job? I don’t think anyone will hire someone who needs to start maternity leave so soon.
“If this were my sister, I’d be saying, Talk to a lawyer,’ ” says Tom Spiggle, founder of the Spiggle Law Firm and author of “You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired! Protecting Mothers, Fathers and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.” (Disclosure: I read, loved and blurbed it.) Regardless of whether you have a pregnancy discrimination claim, Spiggle says, a good employment lawyer can offer all kinds of support on your behalf or behind the scenes. Addressing your questions in order: 1. Even though FMLA doesn’t apply to your twoperson office, Spiggle notes that other federal, state or local anti discrimination laws might. The D.C. Human Rights Act, for instance, covers all D.C. employers regardless of size.
2. Even if this layoff is legal, a lawyer can help negotiate a severance package that includes both income and health insurance. As Spiggle says, “There’s a certain value in handing your problem to someone else” — especially if the ax drops during those blearyeyed postnatal months.
3. It’s never too soon to start networking. Some employers will defer start dates for the right candidate — or the interview process could outlast your maternity leave.
Meanwhile, you can set your mind at ease with two practical acts: Cut unnecessary costs now, and research private insurance options at HealthCare.gov. Finally, as someone whose spouse was laid off midway through my first pregnancy, I offer this bonus advice: Make selfcare your top priority. Clear your calendar of nonessential obligations. Lean on family, friends and professionals. Eat. Take your vitamins. If sleep won’t come, rest and meditate. Most of all, don’t let anticipation of hard times rob you of the joy of looking forward to the shuddering cry that will rock your world.