my two cents
Von Charlotte Cowles,the Cut's financial advice columnist
Von Charlotte Cowles,the Cut's financial advice columnist
Photo Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Getty
I'm 35 weeks pregnant and just got fired from the tech company where I worked for two years. One of the reasons I took the job in the first place was because it offered great benefits (including 18 weeks of paid maternity leave) and we considered starting a family. Now, of course, I won't get any of that. Instead, I got eight weeks' severance pay as part of my exit package. (Which I know most people don't get, so I should consider myself lucky.) I haven't technically signed my severance papers yet, but my colleagues who have been pushing for more money have so far been unsuccessful, so I will do probably just take what is offered.
I was good at my job and my department did well; I know my dismissal was not for merit. I also know that what they did was perfectly legal. I wasn't fired because I was pregnant - I was fired because they had to downsize.
I am devastated and scared and so upset that we are in this situation at a time that should be joyful. Fortunately, my husband is still working, but I made more money than him and his work is less stable (he runs his own business). He was planning to take parental leave but now it looks like he won't be able to because we need the income. I'm not sure how to manage job hunting while also caring for a newborn without his help. We have some savings but I didn't want to use it all that way - we were hoping to buy a house in the next few years.
Do you have any advice for managing a layoff and a new baby? This is terrible timing.
First of all, I am very sorry that you are in this situation. It's never a good time to be fired, but this scenario is particularly terrifying. I imagine you are experiencing a kind of mourning for the life you wanted your child to have - one with more security and certainty and comfort. Don't pressure yourself to find silver linings or try to "fix" things. what happened to you really sucks and you have every right to be upset and take your time to process it.
Before you do anything else, I encourage you to gather your support system and lean on it firmly. Your family, your friends, parent groups, a therapist, your obstetrician, ex-colleagues who have also been laid off — reach out to them, stay in touch, and let them know how you are doing. Being a relatively new mom myself, I assure you that many people will surprise you with their generosity. Accept more help than you think you will need.
(The same goes for free stuff. Many parents are constantly on the lookout for valuable things their kids have outgrown—don't be afraid to ask for specific items rather than buy them.)
In the meantime, it sounds like you're a planner, so let's break down your next steps into manageable chunks. There are many big things that are out of your control right now (your occupation, the birth of your baby), so it will ease your mind to focus on where you can do something.
First, create a health plan. If it makes more sense to keep your former employer's health insurance plan through COBRA, make sure you know what it will cost and that you can add a dependent (your baby) to the plan after the birth.
Your hospital bill is probably the biggest expense on your horizon and can vary wildly depending on your insurance and the type of delivery. You don't want this to be a stressful surprise. "Ask the finance department at your hospital or doctor's office to give you an estimate of what you'll have to pay out of pocket," says Jamie Bosse, financial planner and author ofMoney Boss Mama, a book about managing money as a parent. Later, once you get the bill, you can oftennegotiate with the hospital to lower it.
Next, take stock of your regular expenses andhow you expect them to changeafter your baby is here. "This can give you confidence in how long your savings will last if you don't find a new job right away, and help you figure out what expenses you might want to cut or change during that time," Bosse says. She also recommends keeping your severance pay in a high-yielding savings account so it's accessible but at least earns some interest.
I understand that you may not want to tap into your long-term savings, but if this buys you some extra time to enjoy your baby and allows your husband to be more present in your child's first few months, it seems like it is to me value. However, that is a personal choice that you as a family must weigh.
In the meantime, it might be worth trying to negotiate for amore generous compensation, says Merry Kogut, a Washington-based employment attorney. "If you had an employment contract, read it carefully to see if you were promised anything if you were fired," she says. Better yet, let an employment lawyer do it – you can find one atnela.orgwho conducts a 30 or 60 minute consultation session to outline your options.
One could even argue that one should receive at least part of the parental allowance, says Kogut. "If your company has already agreed to your maternity leave, you're better able to negotiate it," she explains. It's not guaranteed - employees often lose the vacation time they've earned when they're fired. But other times, companies want to save face, and firing a heavily pregnant employee looks bad.
Another priority is to register as unemployed immediately, says Kogut. Receiving severance pay should not affect your entitlement to unemployment benefits, as technically severance pay relates to the work you previously did. However, if you receive your severance pay in installments (also known as "continued payment"), you may not be able to receive unemployment benefits until those payments expire. For that reason, if you have the opportunity to get it as a lump sum, go for it. (The only potential downside is that a lump sum settlement can have tax implications, so consult a tax professional if you're concerned about this.)
Finally, start your job search now. "It usually takes three to six months to find a new job, so get in the pipeline now," Bosse says. “Use the next few weeks before baby arrives to update your resume, update your LinkedIn page, and get involved with your network. Maybe you can set up some interviews before the baby is born or let the recruiters know you're in the market and when you're available."
Remember, you don't have to tell potential employers that you're pregnant at your interview. But even if you do, it is illegal to discriminate against you in the recruitment process.
I know this isn't how you imagined your transition to motherhood. I wish we had better employee support systems. None of this is ideal or fair, but it's not your fault either. I hope that creating a plan and most importantly nurturing a strong support network will help ease your fears in the months to come. Remember: no one does this alone.
Charlotte Cowles, The Cut's financial advice columnist, answers personal questions from readers about personal finance. Email your money puzzles firstname.lastname@example.org.
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