September 28, 2016

When having a baby hurts your career.

Sixteen months ago I had a baby. Two and a half years ago my husband and I moved to Saskatchewan for my career. If you do the math on that one, I worked for 15 months before going on my year-long maternity leave. I knew that my employer was probably not going to be thrilled with the situation, but I was not about to put my family on hold forever for a job.

Leading up to my maternity leave there were a number of instances where my boss made it fairly clear that he did not appreciate the situation. Without going into great detail, he lessened my work load, didn't give me projects, and no longer acted like he trusted me to do my job. It was a difficult several months.

Then, six weeks before my leave was scheduled, my replacement started. This wasn't a big problem, as I assumed my boss just wanted to make sure she knew the ins and outs of everything. Two days later, though, she took over my full position, including my title and work space, and I was demoted to an overpaid receptionist, a position that I technically supervised.

After crying about it after work that night, I contacted HR. I was informed that what had happened was constructive dismissal and that, if I chose to pursue it, I would be eligible for severance. An employer can't demote you by changing your responsibilities or who you report to like that. 

My boss was forced to apologize, but nothing changed. I decided to focus on the fact that I'd be having a baby instead of my frustration with my work. I told my boss in no uncertain terms that I expected to put back in my normal role day one my return, and he promised that I would have a job and be getting paid. I left it at that, aware that there would likely be a battle upon my return.

I popped into the office every month or so during my leave, not wanting anyone to forget who I was, and usually bringing baked goods. It's how I buy love. I was missing a very big organizational event and everyone was really busy, so I figured it was the least I could do. Banana bread and Timbits soothe the stressed out soul.

A couple months before my scheduled return, I phoned the office and spoke with the second in comand, confirming my return to work date, and requesting some end of summer holidays. She said she didn't foresee any issues, so I shot off an email to our HR guy to let him know about the conversation and asked to see if he knew what my job would look like upon my return. He had told me to email him around Thanksgiving and I still hadn't heard back from him in April.

HR replied back to my email the next day letting me know that he and my boss had been talking about what my return to work would look like and could I please come in for a meeting after hours the next Monday? Hello, red flags. I knew then that I would not be going back to the same job I had before. 

I contacted a friend that works as an HR manager for some advice and to be sure I knew what my rights were going into the meeting. When you go on a maternity leave your employer is required to keep a position for you. It does not have to be the exact same one you were in before, but any shifts have to be lateral in pay and responsibilities. That said, sometimes employers will restructure employees out while on leave. Yes, it is allowed, but it's complicated and employers need to be careful how they do it. Is it good? No, but done properly and legitimately it is legal.

When I went into my meeting that Monday night they handed me a letter letting me know that, due to restructuring, they no longer needed someone to fill my position full time. When I asked what they would be doing instead, they said they weren't quite sure yet, but that the position would be eliminated the day I was scheduled to return. In the letter they offered me one month's salary, to forgive my outstanding moving expenses and maternity leave top-up, provide me with minimal moving expenses should I decide to move back to B.C. before the end of the year, and offered some financial help to work on my resume.

When an employer ends their relationship with you and you have outstanding return to service commitments with them, it's their job to eat those costs. They were offering me the bare minimum, with some moving expenses thrown in to sweeten the deal.

I countered their offer, requesting a severance amount more in line with the standard for such circumstances, indicating that my husband and I had relocated specifically for this job and the five year contract I had signed. I also noted that I would be unable to find equivalent work and wages before my return to work date.

In their response, they politely declined, stating that their offer was firm.

My second letter was not as friendly. I laid out the list of reasons why they got rid of me because I was pregnant and had a baby. I was clear and unemotional, using concrete examples, of which there were many. I reiterated my counter offer and informed them that if they didn't change their offer I would be getting a lawyer.

It took a couple weeks to hear back from them, as I later found out they had hire an employment lawyer to deal with another lawsuit against them from a former employee. I really didn't want to get a lawyer, knowing that they're expensive and that it would be months before I would see any money. I also didn't want to back down. 

When the letter finally came, it was a big moment. My former boss wrote that my accusations were offensive and untrue, but that I was right about a legal battle being a waste of money, so they would give me everything I asked for. It was a big, victorious moment. I'm not saying I sang We Are The Champions, but I'm not saying I didn't.

A couple months later I had lunch with a former colleague from that office. She told me that my boss had hired someone to fill my eliminated position part time, and that she made significantly more money per hour than I had. I just laughed. Of course, right? Of course he hired someone else to fill the position that they didn't need, the one they kicked me out of due to restructuring. 

After that I got in touch with a lawyer. We had a good meeting and he didn't charge me for the time on the initial consultation. It turns out that, while what my boss did is despicable (not my word), because I had signed their severance agreement in my right state of mind there wasn't much I could do. He also told me that he was impressed with the severance amount I negotiated and that, had I come to them in the beginning, chances are that I wouldn't have gotten as much and would have had to pay legal fees on top of that.

When I went to the lawyer I wasn't looking for more money I just wanted to know if there was anything I could do to ensure that what happened didn't get swept under the rug while my boss essentially got away with it. The only thing I can do is send a letter to the head of the board that hired my boss, but the lawyer didn't recommend it as a wise career move. I took his advice and haven't done anything more and, while the situation still rankles me a little, it's over. 

The only thing I can do now is share what happened. I want to share my story and experiences because this happens much more often than we think it does, and a lot of women don't stand up for themselves. It's a lot easier to take the initial buyout and use it as an excuse to stay home longer with your kids. There is nothing wrong with that but make sure you're getting the best deal you can get. Don't let people walk all over you. And while you're at it, ask for a higher salary at your next job interview. Don't undervalue yourself. We are women, let's roar.



Remember, I'm Canadian and speaking from a Canadian perspective.

September 21, 2016

Lately.

Can we talk about molars and how horrible they are? Have we done this before? They're like giant icebergs trying to break through tiny gums. We were lucky, Parker's first three came through and we didn't even know it. His fourth, though, is killing us so hard. I didn't go to work today because he only napped for 30 minutes Monday and Tuesday at daycare. This is unacceptable on so many levels. He's been so sad and snotty that I just decided to keep him home and do my best to get him sleep today. And, glory Hallelujah, it worked. And, bonus, I got to take a sick day when I'm not sick and no one can blame me for enjoying myself during nap time.

I just finished reading As You Wish, Cary Elwes' memoir about working on The Princess Bride. I currently have the movie on hold at the library (I only had it on VHS growing up) and I just pulled the book off my shelf. I read it 14 years ago so I'm looking forward to having another go at it.

Did you watch This Is Us last night? Can we talk about how good it was? And I how I swore I wasn't going to watch it again if it made me cry but I made sure the next episode was scheduled to record before I'd even stopped sniffling?

I've been craving ice cream for a while now but trying so hard to abstain. Coconut Bliss was not on sale at the grocery store this week and after a month of birthdays and unashamed vegan doughnut eating I've got to slow down. Don't bother telling me I'm pregnant so it's okay, I did this not too long ago and still have 6 extra lbs of cookie-filled regret. I'm also in a wedding six months post-partum, so I'm trying to make life as simple as possible for myself. Anyway, that wasn't my point. My point was that, after all the molar drama and excruciating days of ice cream cravings, last night I kind of caved and made this bad boy. It was amazing and I wish I had eight more to eat right now. But we're out of frozen bananas at the moment, and I feel like that's probably a blessing.

My CD player broke a couple weeks ago. I'm pretty distraught. I've had it since I was 15 or 16 and it's a beast. You know the kind, with the five CD changer and the big speakers. I can't decide if I should spend $25 and get one off Varage Sale or if I should grow up and get one that isn't designed for teenagers. What do grown ups even use for CD players these days?

I feel like we can't go long without a CD player because I hate Regina radio and Parker loves music. That kid can bust a move like no other. Lady Gaga came on the other day while I was watching The Office and he took her to heart and just danced. He also loves The Office theme. He'll stop whatever he's doing and stare at the TV whenever it comes on. It's the only time he ever cares about television. I might put him in accordion lessons someday.

Working full time last week made me so glad I work part time. I never have to deal with traffic, don't need to pack eight meals to get myself through the day, and don't feel like going to bed at 8:30 every Friday.

Okay, I'm going to go have a hot chocolate before I do something I'll regret. Like make an entire batch of these and eat them all before bed.

September 12, 2016

What's my name again?

It's Monday. I can tell it's Monday because I've already mispronounced my name once already. I told someone on the phone that my name was Awna. With two syllables you'd think I'd be all over that.

I'm working full time this week because I'm the only person in the office. My lunches are huge. I'm still not confident I won't be making 3 o'clock snack runs, though. I haven't worked a full work day in over 15 months so I'm just not confident in my lunch preparing skills. 

We have a sign on our office door that says to knock loudly. This really isn't necessary since a normal volume knock will do, but today someone BANGED on the door like he was checking for survivors in a burning building. I almost cried.

A few weeks ago I developed a weird rash on my eyelid. It looked exactly like leprosy. I had eye leprosy. I didn't make any friends that week. Except I finally made my doctor laugh for the first time in two years when I him about it so that was progress. It's gone now, by the way.

It's supposed to go below freezing tonight. We're busting out the duvet tonight and I am beyond excited. I bought a new cover for it in March and we never used it, so that might have something to do with my eagerness. I got some new boots in the mail on Friday, too, and am enjoying the actual opportunity to wear them. Can I just can an amen for sweater and boot weather? I wore tights to work under my dress last week and wanted to dance a jig. I love you, autumn.

We had family around on and off for a full month. I love my family and having them around, but I really, really enjoyed this weekend without them. Karl even went away, so it was just Parker and I until Sunday afternoon. It was glorious. For the most part. I got to watch what I wanted on the TV, eat whatever I wanted, and no one judged my extreme pumpkin scone consumption. 

I had the girls over for breakfast on Saturday to celebrate surviving last week (it was a doozy) and it was marvelous. Parker had two temper tantrums in front of everyone, to keep me humble, but it was still good because I got to put him down for a nap and eat cinnamon buns in peace. I will not negotiate with terrorists.

I watched a lot of The Office this weekend. I had a dream one night that I answered my office phone with, "Dunder-Mifflin, this is Pa-Anna." I'm pretty sure it was a dream. 

And now it's time for round two of morning snacks. Pray I don't starve to death later.