If workers were laid off because they were on parental leave, that would be illegal — but it would be difficult to prove, Ms. Bisk explained, because the criteria companies use for layoffs aren’t disclosed to laid-off workers.
Emily St. James, 42, who was a senior correspondent at Vox, had been up late feeding her newborn the day before Vox Media announced its mass layoffs last month, so she slept in until 9 a.m. on the West Coast. She woke up to a text from Vox’s publisher, then checked her email and saw that she had been laid off. Ms. St. James’s termination date was set as the last day of her maternity leave, which is in late March, and she will get 24 weeks of severance pay beyond that.
“When it happened I think my wife said, ‘Well, isn’t that illegal?’” Ms. St. James recalled. “This has underscored for me the degree to which the social safety net for people who are new parents is very frayed.”
Vox declined to comment for this article.
The lack of legal guidelines has resulted in a patchwork of policies among companies. For those laid off while on parental leave, Amazon is offering to pay out the remainder of their time off, as well as severance packages. Meta and Google, on the other hand, aren’t paying for any remaining parental leave but are offering all employees several months of pay and additional severance.
Several workers who were laid off while on parental leave declined to speak for this article, citing fears of retribution because their severance packages are tied to agreements that they won’t speak to the media.
Niki Woodall, who was an engineering leadership recruiter at one of the world’s largest tech companies, agreed to share her experience without naming her employer. She had been at the company for five years when she told her bosses that she planned to take six months of maternity leave starting last summer. Their family-friendly attitude gave her the confidence to completely unplug from work. She said she left without thinking: “My job is at stake.”
A month before she was set to return, she received a personal email letting her know that her job was being eliminated. She turned to her 4-month-old daughter, who was sitting beside the family cat, Wesa, and said, “Mommy lost her job.”