Not Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

not returning after maternity leaveHave you ever considered not returning to work after maternity leave, either so you can stay home with your little(s) for a while, or get a new job with better hours or logistics (like an easier commute)? We’ve talked about how to resign gracefully in general, offered SAHM career tips, as well as pondered how to negotiate maternity leave ahead of time — but not specifically about quitting right after maternity leave. How can you quit without burning bridges or cheating your own family out of maternity leave benefits? Reader M asks: wondering about not returning after maternity leave - image of a pregnant mother

I have a question about potentially not returning to work post-maternity leave. I have been thinking about transitioning to another law firm that is much, much closer to home and that has significantly less travel (I have an hour commute each way and will have two children under the age of 15 months once this one is born). The other firm is open to my coming on board when I’m done with maternity leave. My question is when would you tell your current workplace that you are moving on? We had an associate come back from a very extended leave and quit her first week back and it left a bad taste in the partner’s mouths. I don’t want to burn bridges, but I also don’t want to hurt my benefits while on leave (I’m in California and will be receiving a mixture of disability pay and Family Bonding pay — my firm does not offer any paid maternity leave). When would you advise giving notice?

Oooof. Tough question, and I can’t wait to hear what readers say. Because every company’s policy is different, as are the state laws surrounding disability and maternity leave, it’s kind of difficult to say in general — but these would be my considerations:

  • First, in general, don’t quit until you’ve got another job. If this other job is a maybe thing, don’t quit your current job — unless you are absolutely, definitely sure that no matter what, you will not go back to your first job.
  • Know your rights at your current firm and under state law, including your company’s handbook. As The Balance notes, “[a]t some companies, if you take maternity leave and then do not return, you will be responsible for paying for your health insurance and other benefits, such as disability pay, used during your leave.”
  • On the “how will my firm take this?” question, consider whether there’s any vesting period for employees to use disability pay or maternity leave. If you can only take maternity leave after you’ve been at the firm for six months, that implies to me that the firm views it as an earned benefit for prior performance, versus a promise of future performance. (Similarly, with the California law at issue, they note that you have to have paid into the state fund over a certain number of paychecks — I’d look into whether or not you can use the Family Bonding pay even if you’re attached to a brand new employer.) Here, you note that a previous employee quit after one week back and that left a bad taste in people’s mouths — but was that because she wasn’t there to transition someone new? They felt like she had other tasks that should have been offloaded earlier? You have to consider the personalities at play with her, as well as the specifics of her situation.
  • Know the maternity leave policy at the new firm. During the interview process for the second job, make sure you know what the maternity leave policy is, as well as the disability pay — if possible, see if you can negotiate a better maternity leave for yourself, as discussed in this old Corporette post (tons of great comments in there, too).
  • You might want to contact an employment attorney if you think this is going to turn acrimonious — lawyers are experts in these things for reasons. Just touching base with someone and having a brief conversation now could save you a world of problems later.

Readers, what would your advice be to Reader M in terms of what to consider? Have any of you quit a job right after maternity leave (or seriously considered not returning after maternity leave), only to go to a new job immediately after? Have you been on the other side of things, and been “burned” by an employee who quit right after maternity leave? Do tell… 

Psst: We’ve also talked about how to prepare at work for maternity leave, returning to work after maternity leave, staying connected to the office during maternity leave, maternity leave projects, and the ideal maternity leave.

Further reading on not returning after maternity leave:

  • How To Quit Your Job While On Maternity Leave [Fast Company]
  • Resignation Letter During or After Maternity Leave Example [The Balance]
  • Maternity Leave: Deciding Not to Go Back [Working Mother]
  • What If You Decide Not To Go Back To Work? [Fairygodboss]

A CorporetteMoms reader wrote in, thinking about not returning after maternity leave -- she wondered what she should consider, and how she could quit without burning bridges behind her or cheating herself and her family out of maternity leave benefits.


  1. Your eligibility for disability pay and paid family leave in CA is calculated retrospectively. Your eligibility would not reset by virtue of new employment.

  2. One thought to consider: Your firm might allow you to work remotely if you tell them about your concerns. If you otherwise like your job, don’t rule out the possibility of negotiating something that works better for your life.

  3. Sabba says:

    Sigh. This post makes me wish for government paid maternity & paternity leave for all workers. Women not returning after leave is (I think) a reason many companies don’t offer good maternity leave benefits, or offer a stingy benefit. Every employer I’ve worked for has had that one woman who quit after maternity leave (or a week or two after coming back), and people are still talking about it with derision years later. We need to do better.

    But I also can’t blame moms that decide to stay home after leave. Things from special needs to childcare issues can cause a mom to stay home. However, I think that moms should think twice if they planned to return to work and are potentially having a change of heart without a major intervening factor coming into play (like having a special needs baby with endless doctor appointments, or having childcare arrangements suddenly fall through with no good alternatives coming into place). I like the advice of not making any unplanned major changes a year after birth, including leaving your job. Wait a year and then see if you still want to quit, change careers, move housing, etc. It is such a major life change and PPD and other hormones can easily make it harder to be true to yourself in that first year.

    • I agree with all of this, but I’ll add that having a child can quickly change the equation on what women are willing to put up with from their employer. I’ve known several women who have quit at the end of leave and went to a new job because the break made them realize how unhappy they were, or certain issues that were tolerable enough no longer seemed worth it, in light of other major life changes. It’s not that unusual for women to struggle with going back to work even when they like their jobs. Being away from your baby to go back to a job that’s mediocre or worse is very, very unappealing. In situations like that, I wouldn’t tell anyone to wait a year before making changes.

    • I don’t think employers don’t offer maternity leave because of those who quit after maternity leave. Whether the employer offers it or not, people have babies and they have to miss work for that. The opposite is borne out in the research– employers who offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave are much more likely to retain employees (according to Forbes).

  4. This. I left my job 4.5 months after my return bc I realized I didn’t want to spend a lot more in child care to work more at a job that I didn’t like and where I was underpaid to begin with.

  5. I would not tell them anything until you have an offer from the other firm in hand. Sorry they had a bad taste in their mouth, but thems the breaks.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I left my job after maternity leave last year after unsuccessfully trying to negotiate something part-time. It was not the norm at the large firm I worked for. It is so frustrating to me that companies cannot be more flexible with creating part-time work arrangements. I found it ironic that my company was very supportive in regards to the birth of my child by providing one of the best breast pumps in the industry and a lactation consultant, a 4 month paid maternity leave and a career coach to help me transition back to work. However, the one thing that I really wanted, to reduce my chargeable hours (and willing to reduce pay for a reduction in hours) so that I could spend more time with my child and continue to work for the company after my leave, they could not provide to me because that type of role would not fit their employee structure.

  7. “Or certain issues that were tolerable enough no longer seemed worth it.”

    This. I had this feeling when I returned from maternity leave. It was like a veil had been lifted and I started to notice for the first time all the issues I had with a lot of things at work. I knew they existed before I went on leave, but they were no longer tolerable when I returned from leave. I told my boss about them and told her that those issues made me want to quit. She was too afraid to lose me so so removed all those issues. Problem solved.

  8. Govt Atty says:

    I did. At 8 months pregnant I got an email from a former internship supervisor that my one time “dream job” in govt was hiring. I waddled in for an interview thinking I just had to see, despite being really happy at my private practice job. I figured that decisions would take a while anyway, since it was govt, and also figured they probably wouldn’t pay me what I made in private practice. I got an offer either the day I delivered or a few days after, but I countered to ask for my civilian pay rate and didn’t hear back about it until the end of my leave. Given that my firm’s policy was that there was no paid leave, I was surprised that I was paid my salary while on leave. It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make, and telling the partners I worked for was even harder (not to mention the stress until I told them)—I must have said “this is so hard” a hundred times to them. Ultimately, I felt like the universe was talking to me. Private practice, and my litigation practice in particular was crazy hectic and if there was ever a time to have a challenging, rewarding job with good work/life balance and flexible scheduling/work from home fall into my lap, this was it. I had a lot of guilt about “mommy-tracking” when I was on the verge of a lot of advancement at work (not to mention the guilt because I was paid through that time), but advancement meant a lot of hustle during years of my daughter’s life that would only happen once. Obviously, there is more that went into the decision, and I can’t say I don’t miss my old work or colleagues ever, but I am so happy with the decision and the universe for putting the opportunity in my path. I now truly love my job and have (for me) the perfect work/life balance. Also, I cant recall specifically if I offered to pay back my maternity leave pay, but did allude to it in some way and the partner brushed it off. I think that he knew I had earned it, and actually made reference to the fact that I had done some important (billable) drafting during my leave.

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