If you read my description of how I got a new job while pregnant, you’ll want to see how the story continues, when I got laid off from this job during my maternity leave.

Of course, it’s a story that’s more complicated than how I’m going to tell it, but I’m going to give you the basic facts, and a list of what you can do if you also got laid off while on maternity or parental leave.

By the way, this list of tips will also apply to fathers who are on paternal leave during a layoff. Basically, I learned a lot, and I’ll share the tips here for you to use. I hope they help you through this difficult time.

How I got laid off during my maternity leave

I gave birth to our daughter in December, having only been at my job since mid-August, barely four months before.

I had interviewed during the summer months, and got a new job while I was pregnant. I was so proud of myself! Soon, I had to tell my boss I was pregnant, and three months and three weeks later, I was in the hospital, notifying her and a few members of my team that the day had come. I’d be starting the maternity leave I had planned for.

Let’s jump to the layoff: in the second week of February, shortly after I had spoken with the People Team to accept an offer of an additional 12 weeks of FMLA leave from the State of New York, I got locked out of my Slack account.

Hm, that was funny. My business phone text messaging still worked via the desktop app, so I answered some messages I hadn’t even planned to answer. I chose to check my Google accounts. That was when I saw I was locked out. Was this a layoff?

To make a long story short, I got an email at 1pm that I was among several hundred employees who’d gotten the cut. I was contacted by my HR rep to have a brief phone call because everyone knew that I was on maternity leave.

In the sequence of events that followed, I didn’t get to take FMLA leave after all, but instead, I got severance. I was sent a separation agreement, and had a specific number of days to mull over it and sign it. My benefits would end, I would get paid out and that was the end of my job. Goodbye.

What to do if you get laid off during maternity leave

In the list that follows, here’s a “what to do.” It can be a really hard time, especially if you loved your job or had been there for a really long time.

Try not to panic

Yes, layoffs are scary. I didn’t know exactly how scary they were until a layoff happened to me.

Getting laid off during maternity or parental leave is even weirder. That’s because you weren’t even working, and were getting paid your benefits of your leave, while taking care of your little baby. And as we all know, taking care of a baby in the newborn phase is FAR from easy.

So while you’re feeding your baby, not really sleeping, probably not having too much fun and waiting for your hospital bill to arrive in the mail, you get told that your job is no more, and farewell. It is shocking — it might even be more shocking than being at work and “getting the pink slip.”

Try your best to remain calm. As I found out, I was far from the first person in the universe who had gotten laid off while on maternity leave (of course, if I were European, this never would’ve happened because it would’ve been illegal or something).

Try to look at the situation granularly and consider that there is always a way to solve a problem.

Consider speaking to a lawyer

Here is where I want to share what it went like when I spoke to an employment lawyer.

I asked one of my professional non-work-related networks if anyone had experience with layoffs during parental leave and if anyone had a trusted employment lawyer to refer.

I received the name of a partner of an employment law firm in NYC, and contacted him. I explained my situation, and he asked to see my severance agreement. I sent that over, and he asked my salary. I answered that, and he replied that the firm’s perspective was that I could not fight the termination of my position, but at best, they could maybe negotiate an additional two weeks of severance, and there would be their fee structure on top of that if we won the case.

Did I proceed with the lawyer to make a case?

I did not proceed in going with the law firm. This is because:

  • Getting two more weeks of severance as winning the case, and then paying legal fees, was not going to be worth the time or money.
  • I had been researching if I could fight the case as a discrimination one, and if I could not prove this, there was no point.

Read on.

Determine if you can fight your layoff based on discrimination

If you were laid off because you were on parental leave, that would be discrimination; however, this is much harder to do than it sounds.

It sounds like it would be quite simple: “OMG, I was on maternity leave and the company terminated my role?”

If they terminated your role on the grounds that you were on leave and someone could do your job better than you could and maybe at a lower salary, then that is unjust. On the other hand, if you were terminated in a layoff, and so were hundreds of other people in the organization, that’s a different scenario.

In my case, the layoff was not only me. It was many, many more people than just me. I wasn’t being completely singled out (although I kept wondering why I was the only person from my team who got cut, but the reasons could’ve been any, like I was the newest (which I was) and etc.).

If you plan to fight your layoff as a discrimination case, you have to have significant proof that you were specifically singled out and that others were not laid off. That’s how I see it.

Gracefully move on

This is the hardest part for anyone who was very invested in his or her job, or expecting a promotion, a raise or a new title. I was not expecting any of these in the near future because I was so new. So if this is you, I feel for you.

Like with any layoff, they usually cannot be reversed (unless you win your discrimination lawsuit!).

Your options are to try to get rehired at the same company by reapplying for your position or a different one, or moving on to new opportunities.

I chose the latter, and that is how I got here, writing these tips that I hope help you out.

Connect with other professionals in the same boat

Very coincidentally for me, I had two friends (one from college, and one from the new town I had moved to) who both worked at the same “very large tech company” and BOTH got laid off within weeks of each other, both while on maternity leave.

I connected them with each other and they were very grateful.

It was helpful for me as well, to talk to them both. I even referred my employment lawyer to one of them, and told them about how that conversation went.

My best advice is to talk to friends and family about what happened to you, and maybe someone will say, “Oh, that also happened to So-and-so, let me put you in touch.” It helps to commiserate, be able to share your grief and frustration and to be empowered to move on.

Remember that you are worthy

Layoffs can make you feel like garbage. Why did you lose your job, and all your coworkers got to stay employed, go out to happy hour together and make jokes on Zoom calls as a team? It is not fair.

To further that, you are doing the new full-time job of taking care of a baby and figuring out parenting, which is a LOT to handle if it is your first time. It was a lot for me, to say the least.

Remember that you are a worthy, competent and talented professional and you will get through this. If you need a mood booster during all this, check out my list of unique things to do on maternity leave.

If you know someone who got laid off while on maternity or paternity leave, feel free to share this list of helpful tips with them.