Mom forced to pay former employer thousands after switching jobs during maternity leave: 'I wasn’t prepared for it'

Paulina Cachero
Mature woman doing paperwork while daughter drawing at table
Mature woman doing paperwork while daughter drawing at table

Emily Manley knew exactly what to expect when she was expecting: additional expenses for baby food, clothes, formula, doctor’s appointments and medicine. But the one cost the new mom wasn’t anticipating was footing a hefty bill from her previous employer.

“It was kind of a shock. I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t ready for it, but I knew it was a possibility,” Manley told local station, WHO-HD.

The company Manley previously worked for didn’t offer paid maternity leave. But, under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), she was eligible for an unpaid, job-protected leave that included the continuation of her original health care benefits and coverage. So the 30-year-old mom took three unpaid months off to care for her newborn son.

Before taking advantage of her unpaid family leave, however, Manley was required to use all of her paid time off.

“As part of FMLA you are required to take all of your [paid time off] prior to the unpaid portion of leave,” Manley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “So I was given the [paid time off] on January 1, required to take it in February.”

While on maternity leave, the Iowa mom received a job offer that she felt would be better for her growing family, and she couldn’t pass it up. “While on leave I saw an opening with a company that I had worked with previously and they offer benefits that are much better for a young family,” Manley said, adding that she accepted the position. “This new position is healthier for me, our son and my family.

Manley began her maternity leave on Feb. 6, and started her new position on Apr. 23rd. Having spent three years at the company, Manley hoped to make a clean, respectful departure from the company, which she requested not be named. Manley gave her former boss more than the standard two-week notice of her resignation.

After she informed the company that she would not be returning, the new mom was surprised when she soon received a billing statement of more than $2,600 from the company. According to the statement, Manley owed the company for its share of her health care costs and the paid time off they required her to use.

“It’s a lot of money to us,” Manley told WHO-HD. “We did our best to save when we got pregnant, knowing that we had bills coming and did our best for that, but it’s kind of hard to prepare.”

According to Vasu Reddy, a policy expert with the National Partnership for Women and Families, a federal FMLA provision says that, unless an employee cannot return due to a serious health condition or circumstances beyond their control, the employer may recover the state’s share of healthcare premiums paid for the individual during periods of leave greater than 30 days. However, “the regulation is silent about whether they recover any premiums from a period of paid leave before the unpaid FMLA leave.”

Now, the former employer wants their money back and they want it by the end of June — a tight deadline that Manley is concerned she may not make.

“My husband and I both have full time jobs that pay well - not six figures, but pay well,” Manley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “With daycare costs, medical bills, and costs for feeding and taking care of a newborn, there's no way we can write a $2,600 check right now.”

However, her former employer says the deadline is “completely fair given the length of time that has already elapsed since first starting maternity leave that was covered by FMLA on February 11th.” In an email, the company added that the payment deadline is “already an extension of one additional month beyond the original plan offered.”

That doesn’t make things much easier for Manley. “I understand that they are a company and they need to make money. It is their legal option to ask for it back,” Manley admits. “[But], I think it is unreasonable to ask for it back this soon after someone is gone unpaid and had a child.”

Although Manley reached out to a lawyer about pursuing legal action, she was advised that the litigation fees would be more costly than paying the bill.

While Manley does not wish to reveal the name of the employer demanding money back from her, she hopes to share her story to help other women who may be in the same predicament.

“I'm not here to ask for money or give a poor me story, I am sharing my story in hopes if other women are out there on leave and looking for a new job, and don't think that their company would do this - they might!” Manley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Having a child really makes you think about your job, what's important in life and what you want out of a job, in the end I'm glad I switched and now work for a wonderful company that respects me as a mother and employee.”

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