Reader: 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.
Karla: “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 two-person 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 bleary-eyed 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 self-care 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.
Need an employment lawyer? Check out these options.
Nolo : Legal information and a directory of lawyers in all specialties.
Findlegalhelp.org: Directory of legal services and lawyers, provided by the American Bar Association.
DC Employment Justice Center: Advocacy for low-income workers. Offers regular workers’ rights legal clinics.
Avvo : Free legal advice and a directory of lawyers with ratings.
Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association: Local affiliate of the National Employment Lawyers Association; directory of Washington-area lawyers focusing on employment issues.
First Shift Justice Project: Employment law advice for parents and caregivers. Offers free counsel to those making less than $22 per hour and low-cost consults for applicants above that threshold.
Thanks to Tom Spiggle, Spiggle Law Firm, for introducing me to some of these resources.
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