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, 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 can be a consideration. Or, you may get a job offer during leave.

Quitting a 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.

Is Quitting the Right Decision 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 work for you after maternity leave, 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, maternity leave can be a good 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

Here are a few things to keep in mind and some questions to ask yourself before submitting a resignation:

  • Do I want to quit my job or extend my leave?
  • Am I financially prepared to quit my position?
  • Would changes to my schedule (reduced hours, work from home, etc.) allow me to stay in this position?
  • Do I want to eventually re-enter the workforce?
  • What are my three-month, six-month, one-year, and five-year plans?
  • What will I do about benefits if I resign?

The Ethics of Resigning During Maternity Leave

Is it wrong to quit during maternity leave? The ethics are difficult to pin down, to say the least. Most likely, only you can decide what feels right for you, given your relationship with your company, manager, and co-workers.

Many people feel full disclosure is the only ethical option if you know you want to quit prior to your 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 since most companies aren't forthcoming prior to layoffs, furloughs, and other decisions that can be detrimental to employees.

Timing plays an important role here: if you are aware prior to your leave that you definitely will not return, 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, and change your mind after week ten.

Regardless of when you quit, provide notice—two weeks is standard. Fundamentally, your primary loyalty should be to yourself as an employee and 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, unexamined since you were hired, now is a good time to dig it out. (At 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 that you may have signed and the company rules.

The Timing of Your Resignation

Should you resign during maternity leave, prior to taking maternity leave, or return for a brief period and then resign? Your decision may be influenced by financial considerations; quitting prior to maternity leave may mean losing insurance or paid time off. You will want to balance your personal needs and financial considerations with your relationship with your boss.

How to Give Notice Gracefully

If possible, speak to your manager in person about your resignation. This personal touch generally helps to preserve your relationship with your manager. 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 letter with your resignation. Here is advice on:

As with any resignation, do your best to avoid burning bridges; 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.