We asked an expert what to do if something like this happens to you.
Sure, it can also be stressful, but worrying about work shouldn’t even be on your radar. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for one woman who recently posted on Reddit about an intrusive boss who won’t leave her alone on maternity leave.
According to Reddit user TheRubyRedPirate, her boss texted her on her first day of leave to invite her to come work in the afternoon "if I'm bored." When the Redditor, who says she works as a vet technician, didn’t respond, her boss sent her a passive aggressive follow-up text the next day "along the line of 'Thanks for not texting back yesterday—totally cool.'"
The Redditor says her boss also accused her via text of misplacing an item at the office, and has also sent messages asking if she could visit at the hospital once the baby arrives. Now the mom-to-be is panicked every time she hears a notification on her phone.
Fellow Redditors reacted with concern and outrage, and offered plenty of advice. “The only response warranted in this case ‘I am on maternity leave’. Repeat as necessary,” one response reads. Many advised her to stop responding completely. Other commenters suggested she should screenshot all the texts, and send them to her boss’s boss or HR.
However, one career coach tells us that the first step should be to have clear, direct conversation with her boss. “The problem here is that writer and her boss never discussed their expectations for her leave,” says Jane Finkle, a career coach in Philadelphia. “Without a doubt they need to have a conversation.”
Finkle says this woman should speak with her boss about how she expects to be communicated with while she’s on leave.
“For example, maybe she doesn't mind one check in a week with the boss via email or phone, but doesn't appreciate texts," Finkle says. "But she needs to be clear about boundaries.” Finkle also suggests reviewing her company's HR policy on maternity leave, and use her company's definition to back up her expectations for communication if her boss pushes back or challenges her.
Some Redditors also noted that according to The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the boss is not allowed to contact her—at all. “Doing any sort of work in leave can disqualify you for FMLA,” the commenter pointed out. However, this isn’t completely accurate. “It depends on what kind of maternity leave you are taking,” explains Georgene Huang, co-founder and CEO of female networking site Fairygodboss. It could be unpaid, paid, voluntary, or federally mandated, for example.
And as for the specific issue of whether your boss can text you on maternity leave? “It's a grey area and is not explicitly prohibited by any law that I'm aware of,” Huang says. However, "whether it is reasonable and fair for a boss to get upset for not responding is a different matter. Based on what this woman posted on Reddit, it seems her boss is being a bit unreasonable and not very understanding of what it can be like to be imminently having a baby.” Still, that doesn’t make it illegal.
The final option? If she is worried about her job being jeopardized, she should communicate with the HR department for advice about the best way to handle the situation, Huang suggests. But be warned: “This is a delicate move since HR may not take your side, but you have to judge based on the way your manager reacts to your attempt to solve this problem.”
Bottom line: Clear communication is the best first step here, and later is better than never, Huang explains. “Hopefully she will get the message and understand, particularly once the baby has arrived.”