New Mom Forced to Pay $2,600 for Switching Jobs During Maternity Leave

Emily Manley cuddles her newborn baby Jettson.
WHO-TV

It's no secret that the state of maternity leave in America leaves a lot to be desired. Although access to paid family leave is gaining support, not all employers offer it, which leaves many working moms resorting to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take time off after giving birth. That's exactly what Iowa mom Emily Manley did earlier this year, when she took three months off to be with her son, Jettson. But when a new job offer came her way that she couldn't refuse, she decided to say yes. As it turns out, that decision would cost her.

  • According to Manley, her employer's policy required her to use up all of her accrued paid time off before she could take the leave.

    "You didn't really have a choice," she told WHO-TV. And so, shortly before giving birth, Manley used up her PTO days and began her FMLA leave.

    It was a chaotic time for sure, filled with all the same sleepless nights and endless diaper changes every new parent faces. But Manley was thankful to be spending it with her son and no doubt grateful for the FMLA.

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  • However, during that leave, Manley says she received a job offer from a company she'd worked with previously that she just couldn't turn down.

    “It just offered some different benefits that would work better for having a little one," Manley told WHO-TV. "It’s a company I worked with before."

    The decision was understandable -- after all, Manley's a new mom with a baby to consider, and the health care system being what it is in America, it's no wonder that she said yes to an opportunity with better benefits.

  • Manley put in her two-week notice shortly after -- and was immediately hit with a $2,600 bill.

    Although the new mom admits she was aware she could owe some backpay for the paid time off, she wasn't expecting to be hit with such a steep price tag so soon -- or that it would need to be paid back in full, ASAP.

    “It was kind of a shock," she said. "I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t ready for it, but I knew it was a possibility. I didn’t know it would happen that fast and that I would have to pay it back that fast.”

  • However, Manley's former employer, who she has opted not to name, doesn't think the price tag or the deadline should be much of a surprise.

    For one thing, the company is acting in compliance with Iowa's FMLA policy, which gives employers the option of reclaiming health benefit payments if the employee doesn't return to work after their leave. (Barring any serious health condition or special circumstances.) 

    Manley, who gave birth in February, also isn't required to pay up until June, which some might argue is a fair amount of time to save up.

    In an email to WHO-TV, the employer noted that the June due date is “already an extension of one additional month beyond the original plan offered." The company also argued that it's “completely fair given the length of time that has already elapsed since first starting maternity leave that was covered by FMLA on February 11.”

  • Manley said she can see the employer's view, "but at the same time, to do that to a young family is really difficult to be on the other side of it."

    “It’s a lot of money to us," said Manley, who also struggled to conceive and was hit with steep IVF bills. "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."

    It's especially hard to prepare considering she only started her new job a few weeks ago, which means the paychecks haven't exactly been rolling in. In the meantime, these have been some pretty lean weeks for Manley and her husband, but they're doing their best to get by.

    A lawyer advised the new mom that it would cost more money to fight the bill than just to pay it outright, so the couple will pay up next month, however they can.

  • In the meantime, Manley's story has been making its way around the Internet, where plenty of people have weighed in.

    Some pointed out that the employer should have been more up front about this possibility, as well as the terms, before Manley took advantage of the FMLA.

    "She should have been told this by HR," wrote one Facebook user.

    "This is pretty standard," countered another. "Right or wrong, this is our standard. FMLA is for people that can't work ... if you can work, you don't qualify for the benefits. You also must use all paid leave before that kicks in, also standard. Though I feel these rules should have been clearly explained to her. They probably are in writing in a pamphlet no one reads or understands in tiny print."

    "I see nothing wrong" added one woman. "She took that paid time off but quit during the time off and got a new job. They should[n't] have to continue paying her if she's not an employee there no longer."

  • Ultimately, said one Facebook user, the takeaway of Manley's story is to "always read the fine print."

    Manley seems to want to spread that message too, and is sharing her story in hopes of letting other moms know what she wishes she had.

    “If there are other women going through this, you’re not alone,” Manley told WHO-TV about why she's speaking out. “I didn’t work for a large corporation that you would expect something like this to happen. It was a smaller owned local company that you wouldn’t think would exercise that sort of right that they have.”