Should You Quit Your Job While on Maternity Leave?

Important Considerations Before You Resign

Mom With Baby on Phone
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Maternity leave is a transformative time. During leave from paid employment, moms recover from childbirth and adjust to the challenges and delight of new babies. For many moms, maternity leave is also a time to reevaluate their employment status.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau one out of every five women quits her job either before or shortly after giving birth. There are many reasons to resign during maternity leave. A position may no longer feel like a good fit given your growing family. Childcare may be a consideration. Or, you may get a job offer during leave.

Quitting your job during maternity leave can be complicated. As with any resignation, you'll want to preserve your relationship with your employer. It'll also be important to avoid any potential financial repercussions for benefits used during maternity leave.

How to Determine If Quitting Is Right for You

Be confident in your decision to resign before giving notice. If you are certain you want a new job, feel that your current job won't accommodate your new parental responsibilities or want to stay at home with your child, quitting is your best option.

If you like your job, but need to make some adjustments now that you're a parent, use your maternity leave as an opportunity to reassess and renegotiate your responsibilities, pay, hours, and schedule.

Start this conversation with your manager early. Come up with a list of issues, as well as potential solutions. For instance, prior to parenthood, business travel may have felt like a pleasure. If it now feels burdensome, ask if the responsibility can be shifted to a co-worker. If late evenings, a long commute, or other schedule-related aspects of the job are a problem, ask about flexible work arrangements.

What to Consider Before Resigning

Consider the following questions before handing in your resignation:

  • Do you wish to quit or extend your leave?
  • Are you financially able to quit your position?
  • Would changes to your schedule, such as reduced hours or working from home, allow you to stay in this position?
  • Do you want to eventually re-enter the workforce?
  • What are your three-month, six-month, one-year, and five-year plans?
  • What will you do about benefits if you resign?

The Ethics of Resigning During Maternity Leave

It may feel wrong to quit during maternity leave, as you gave your supervisor no prior notice. The ethics are difficult to determine and involve your relationship with your manager.

Some people may feel full disclosure is the only ethical option, If you intend on quitting prior to maternity leave. Some posit that quitting at the end or immediately after maternity leave can cause companies to change their maternity leave policy. Others believe that not giving advance notice is fine, as most companies aren't forthcoming prior to layoffs, furloughs, and other decisions that can be detrimental to employees.

Timing plays an important role. If you are aware prior to your leave that you will not be returning, informing your manager is the most considerate decision. Be aware, though, that decisions can shift while you are on leave. You may begin your leave certain that a stay-at-home life is right for you only to change your mind a few weeks later.

Regardless of when you quit, provide notice—two weeks is standard. Fundamentally, your primary loyalty should be to yourself as an employee and a new mom. While you do not want to leave your employer in the lurch, it is most important that you put yourself first.

Legal and Financial Concerns

If your employee handbook has been buried in a drawer since you were hired, now is a good time to dig it out. If you are home without access to your handbook, ask your human resources department to send it to you as a PDF or through the mail.

At some companies, if you take maternity leave and then do not return, you will be responsible for paying for your health insurance and other benefits, such as disability pay, used during your leave.

Consider consulting an employment lawyer for help navigating through the laws within your state, as well as any employment contract you may have signed, and the company rules.

When and How to Resign

Determining the best time to resign requires some thought. You may chose to resign during maternity leave or prior to taking maternity leave, or return for a brief period and then resign. Your decision may be influenced by financial considerations, as quitting prior to maternity leave may mean losing insurance or paid time off. In addition to considering your personal needs and financial considerations, you will need to manage your relationship with your supervisor.

If possible, speak to your manager in person about your resignation.

Request an in-person meeting with your manager to preserve your relationship, especially if you decide to re-enter the work world in the future and need freelance work or a reference.

If you can't arrange to meet in person, you can resign over the phone. If a conversation in person or over the phone isn't possible, you can send an email or resignation letter.

You may feel certain that you won't return to the company, but circumstances can change. You may also want to use your resignation conversation as an opportunity to open a door to potential freelance or contractor work in the future. An offer to assist during the transition is both polite and potentially helpful.