I plan to take 12 weeks’ maternity leave, but my manager is pressuring me to return early to work on a big project. Is this legal? How do I get her to back off?
Managers legally can’t tell you to cut leave short if you qualify for it through the Family and Medical Leave Act (you can check workingmother.com/fmla to find out), says Carolyn Wheeler, an employment lawyer at Washington, DC, law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP. FMLA laws “prohibit interference with the right to take that leave and prohibit retaliation against an eligible employee.”
But if your employer is sponsoring your leave and you’re not protected by FMLA, check your employee handbook for conditions to leave—like if it’s subject to a manager’s approval or can be shortened for business needs. If there aren’t any, then you still can’t be pressured to come back early. Even if you’re not covered by FMLA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents retaliation on the basis of pregnancy.
Nannina Angioni—a labor and employment attorney and partner for Kaedian LLP—an all-female law firm in Los Angeles, recommends telling your manager in writing that you definitely won’t be back early to help with the project. “Professionally but firmly reiterate that you are aware the law provides you with job-protected leave and you will be taking it,” she says. “Make clear that you expect the company will uphold its legal obligations.”
Pressure still on? File a complaint with upper management and HR, says Angioni. Explain the situation and provide copies of previous communication with your manager about your leave. If that doesn’t help, “file a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or contact an attorney to tell the company that this conduct must stop. Be clear that you won’t be bullied and you will stand up for your rights."
Sadly, if there are caveats in your policy and you’re not protected by FMLA, then you have to return early—or risk being fired. Still, you can explain to your manager that you were counting on using all of your leave and offer a compromise: In exchange for getting the 12 weeks, you’ll train a temporary replacement or take on extra responsibilities before you welcome your baby.