We Assumed Our Employee Would be a Stay-at-Home Mom

We have just over 50 employees, so we are subject to FMLA. An employee had a baby a couple of months ago and went on maternity leave. We were all 100 percent sure that she would quit to stay home with the baby. Her husband has a good job and her sisters are stay-at-home moms. So, we started working on replacing her. We hired her replacement and she’s great! Better than our former employee. I just got an email from the new mom saying, “My maternity leave ends in two weeks, and I’m excited to get back to work!” Yikes. What do I do now?

To read the answer, click here: We Assumed Our Employee Would be a Stay-at-Home Mom

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10 thoughts on “We Assumed Our Employee Would be a Stay-at-Home Mom

  1. You nailed it on the head – the person whose bright idea it was to assume she wasn’t coming back should be the one to go.

  2. Wow. I’m not in HR, so it’s fascinating for me to hear about a situation where an HR employee screwed up big-time. Even to an untrained person like me, this sounds grossly unfair and illegal. So I imagine if the other employees at this company heard about it, they’d think so too. Once it became public and made the news — which it inevitably would — the PR and Marketing departments would really hate HR. I pity this poor individual. Maybe a career change would be wise.

    1. I don’t see where the letter-writer mentions being in HR, so chances are good he/she isn’t. Generally, managers within each department are in charge of their own staff hiring. Sure, they may get assistance and advice on what’s legal from HR, and HR usually puts together the offer letters since they mention benefits and such, but I get the impression this person is a manager in a different department who made the decision to make a permanent hire rather than just a temporary maternity coverage (whether through a temp hire or redistributing the work), not HR.

  3. I had a coworker in my (very crappy) department who transferred to a different department, then got pregnant and went on leave. When she came back, she was reassigned right back to the crappy department she left. Granted, it was legal – the pay and duties were similar. She found out about this transfer on her first day back.

    And boy did it send a message to all women of child bearing age that if we went on maternity leave we could probably expect a similar negative surprise on our return.

    The LW needs to take their lumps here. Neither the returning employee or the new hire deserve to bear the brunt of this mistake!

  4. Great response, Suzanne. This is a perfect example of why smaller companies without HR-trained staff should always have an outside expert to talk through such issues BEFORE decisions are made. Good HR people simply think differently.

    I am an independent consultant with over 20 years experience and I serve in this role to a number of clients. The cost of consultation is minor compared to the HR, Legal, and PR nightmare such a situation can cause.

    1. It’s well worth it to have an HR consultant for these types of things if you can’t afford full time HR.

  5. Sounds like someone didn’t like the person who got pregnant and left for a maternity leave and made as ASSUMption, that person won’t be returning.
    First of all with all the litigation about employee rights, I am surprised someone still thinks the best way to replace a person is to eliminate position by hiring in another, Thanks to worker right laws, pregnancy, child birth and maternity leave cannot be used as a reason for termination unless the employee states that intent after finishing all of the above. This company will still have to absorb the cost of this employee returning to work.
    Now if they want to be a real pain, they can document if the performance of returning worker, especially if job performance is effected by childcare. Unfortunately. true.

  6. Great answers; However, unlike others here I won’t “pile on” the original letter writer in saying that what they did was wrong.

    There is nothing that I read that indicates that the employee out on maternity leave wasn’t liked, or they wanted to get rid of her, etc.

    Given the circumstances described it could have been likely that the employee might not come back and the company has to be prepared for that situation as well. It would have been bad to NOT be prepared for someone not returning.

    Too many times to count I have worked at a company that has a fantastic temp fill in for someone out only to NOT be able to hire permanently because they have to keep the position open for when/if the employee returns.

    When/if a company can afford BOTH the employee out and the “newcomer” that is great. But, finances are limited and such is often not the case.

    1. Hiring the temp, however, is better than doing what looks like a permanent hire. Before my youngest was born, I was the “fantastic temp” brought in to cover for someone out on Workers Comp. The boss didn’t expect her to return, but had to keep the position available just in case, even though she wanted to bring me in permanently (and I would have loved to know I had a steady job to go back to after my son was born). But being the temp, I knew I could be told at any time to just not come in again, for any reason at all.

      Just reading the headline for this column made me all kinds of squeamish. Never, never, NEVER, EVER, NEVER -assume- anything about anyone out under a protected leave (FMLA, leave as an ADA accommodation, workers comp, etc.), except that they might come back to work; the moment you act like they aren’t coming back, that’s when you’re going to get bit the hardest.

  7. I’m sorry but did you think the FMLA paperwork you were aware you had to provide was just for kicks? I do not see how any intelligent person could end up in this mess so innocently. I’ve seen plenty of managers try to game the system to keep the temp who turned out to be better but nobody just throw up their hands and say how were we to know.

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