A reader writes: Hypothetically, when I get pregnant next, I will continue to work until I have the baby, but I will not plan to come back to my job. I love my job and the company and I would definitely like to reapply for a position when my children are a little older (this is not unheard of in my field or in our company.) My question is this: how and when should one tell their employer that they do not plan to return from maternity leave? My instinct is to be honest, but I feel like I could end up in a lame duck situation with regards to work assignments, or worse, be told to just leave my job immediately. Also, I would like to keep my benefits as long as possible before switching to my husband's plan-- for example, my health insurance plan has better maternity coverage, so I'd rather just keep on paying my portion of the premiums (as I am doing now while on leave) instead of having the benefits terminate with my last day.
Part of me feels like it's not very ethical to pull a switcheroo on my employer by not telling them until after I have gone on leave, and I'm wondering if it's verging on theft to continue to take benefits when I know I'm not coming back. I care about my coworkers and don't want to leave them in the lurch, either. I've always gotten good performance reviews in this position, so I feel that if I handled the situation well that I could likely reapply for a job in the future. Is there a good way to handle this kind of situation without burning bridges?
Since you have a good relationship with the company and you want to come back some day it is critical that you handle this correctly.
Now, correctly is different from legally. Legally, you have no obligation to tell your company anything regarding your plans after the birth of your yet-to-be-conceived child. (And for the sake of your coworkers, don't mention the fact that you are trying to conceive. Nobody at work wants to know that much about you.)
You've given me some good clues as to what you will face. You like your job, you've gotten good performance reviews and you like your coworkers. This means that, in all likelihood, they like you too. It also probably means that your boss is a good person.
I have enough experience with people having babies to know that just because someone thinks they will leave (or, conversely, stay) after giving birth, doesn't mean they will. Case in point: I told my boss flat-out that I was leaving after the birth of my first child because I didn't want to put my baby in daycare. After the baby was born, she offered me part-time from home, no babysitter needed. Score. I stayed with that company for five more years.
[See the 4 big career potholes.]
Conversely, I've seen coworkers swear up one side and down the other that they love their jobs and will be back right after the 12-week FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave expires. I believe they were sincere. But, once that baby appears, they just can't do it and they end up resigning. Mind-changing around motherhood is common.
So, this is what I would do in your situation. Six or seven months into your pregnancy, I would inform your boss that right now your plans are not to return from maternity leave, but you'd like to keep your options open. Then you work with your boss and your coworkers to develop a plan. Even if you decide to come back, you'll be gone for 12 weeks anyway. Your work cannot be left undone for that long.
Most bosses will appreciate your honesty and understand that you don't want to drop your insurance coverage immediately. If they push you to resign so that their insurance doesn't get billed for the birth, remind them that you could take COBRA anyway and they'll only save a few hundred dollars.
You've been paying for short-term disability insurance. I don't think it is unethical to use it. In fact, that's why you've been paying for it. Good luck with your plans. May everything turn out just the way you want it to.
Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.