It’s Mat Leave Monday! Sort of. Technically. You see, I’m talking about being laid off while you’re on maternity leave in Canada. And I’m talking about this now for rather personal reasons. (If you’re not familiar with how maternity leave works in Canada, you might want to read up on it first.)
I received news last Wednesday that my job had been eliminated. Which was disappointing, because I’ve worked with the company in some capacity or other for 11 years. I knew my co-workers, and I genuinely liked them and the company. I had negotiated a great part-time schedule, and it felt like a good balance. I was very happy to remain in that position while I have these little ones at home.
I was certainly not targeted. The team I was on was decimated, cut in half and then some. It was a decision made for economic reasons by a large company, probably by people who don’t even live and work in the same country. And they treated me fairly by letting me know now, so that I can have the maximum amount of time to plan.
But how can this happen, isn’t your job protected while you’re on maternity and parental leave? As it turns out, it is and it isn’t. You can’t actually be laid off while you’re on maternity leave. I haven’t received an official notice of termination, for example. I just received notice that I will likely (definitely) not have a job to come back to. So while you are on leave and receiving employment insurance (EI) benefits you will continue to be on leave and receiving EI benefits. My scheduled first day back will become my last day with the company, and on that day I will be officially laid off.
Also, you cannot be laid off just because you’re on maternity or parental leave. They can’t just decide they like your replacement better, or conclude that dealing with your baby-having-self is just too much work. But you can be laid off for completely unrelated reasons. In my case I certainly would have lost my job even if I weren’t on leave, for example. You can also be let go if your company closes, or moves, or re-structures.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to being laid off when you’re on maternity leave. The upside is that if you receive advanced notice, as I did, you have some extra time to plan that you wouldn’t otherwise receive. You will receive any severance pay, accrued vacation or benefits, and so on after your maternity leave is over. The downside, though, and this is a biggie, is that you are not eligible for EI benefits upon termination, since you will have used your entitlement while you were on maternity leave.
There is an exception if you haven’t exhausted your maternity or parental entitlements when you are laid off. In that case, you might be eligible to re-activate your claim. However, if you’re receiving severance pay you will have to claim that and so it might reduce or eliminate your benefits until your severance is paid out.
So, what about me, where am I going from here? I plan to continue on as if nothing happened until August, when my maternity leave ends. Then I will receive my severance package, which I plan to use to extend my maternity leave by an extra 6 months or so. During that 6 months I will take advantage of some career counseling and see what else is out there that I might enjoy. My hope is that this is an opportunity to discover what I really want to be when I grow up. And then, if I find myself in a position where I need to seek out full-time work, Jacob will be 18 months old and I will feel (very slightly) more comfortable being away from him for longer hours.
I’m going to be OK, I know that much for sure. But it’s a kick in the pants all the same. I imagine it was for the people who are remaining with the company, as well. Whatever happens, I wish all of my former co-workers the very best of luck.