It Happened To Me Contest Entry: I Was Fired For Taking Time Off For My Newborn Child

The first nail in my employment coffin came when I discovered the Family and Medical Leave Act. You mean I can take time off to be with my newly born child? Federally mandated?
Publish date:
February 22, 2013
parenting, kids, work, ihtm contest, employent

[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. -- Jane]

By Matthew Poi

In all honesty, I should have seen the signs. My boss was a control freak. The thing she hated most was having to fill in for one of her underlings, regardless of if she had to do anything or not; it was the mere thought that unsettled her.

When I married my wife, I was a contract worker for a defense contract company. For some stability, I didn’t wait for my contract to expire and jumped into the industrial world. I’m a project manager working on a new product. Dates and timelines are the same wherever you go, so I felt pretty good.

And for a while, they were, even as warning signs trickled in. I was chastised for not stapling my papers the “correct” way. She even went so far as to unstaple them and make passive aggressive comments every time she saw me doing it wrong. A job was a job, and I’d experienced worse, so I continued on.

Typical direction from my boss would be: “Call that person. No! Email that person. No! Call that person, then follow it up with an email!” Then she would walk over to my desk and lean over me as she typed.

I would veer to the side at a forty-five degree angle to avoid contact as she wrote, in her own words, an email I was to send to a third party.” Why didn’t she just send the email? At least she showered regularly and did not have coffee breath. That would have been too much.

Time. It was all about the time. She was a hawk, watching the clock, ready to slaughter any mouse that tried to escape a scant five minutes early.

“But aren’t we salaried?” I asked. Never ask such a question to your boss. Being salaried sounds wonderful in theory, until you realize it’s simply forced and unpaid overtime.

Our first child arrived, a girl. My wife and I were elated. After much trying, we finally had our bundle of joy (or baby burrito as we called her due to the swaddling clothes). How had we ever measured the passage of time before we had kids?

The first nail in my employment coffin came when I discovered the Family and Medical Leave Act. What’s this? You mean I can take time off to be with my newly born child? Federally mandated! I’m in!

We discussed the pros and cons and decided it would be good for me to stay at home and bond with our daughter. While you can take up to three months of unpaid leave, I took only one. It was financially hard to swing more.

My boss was not in. When I prepared her months in advance, there was significant pushback.

“You can’t do that,” she said. And her favorite line “But you don’t have enough vacation time!” were repeated ad infinitum. Then she tried to force me to use all of my vacation during my leave of absence, but I refused as that would have left no time off for the holidays.

She steamed. She fumed. She made my life miserable prior to taking the time off. There is something magical about spending time with your new baby that renews you for pain at work. I’m still confused as how, as a mother herself, she could not understand why a new parent would want to be with their child?

Then time escaped us. My wife makes more money than I do, and puts in the hours to match. I ended up taking our daughter into daycare in the mornings, as parents often must.

“Why can’t your wife do it?” she would ask, along with other mildly-surprising sexist questions from a woman not yet fifty. Then toward the end of the day, my wife would have to work late, meaning I would pick up our daughter and take her home as well. The talons struck deep, as every minute I needed off to care for my child was noted with a quick pencil scratch and an indignant look. How dare I.

Fast forward two years, and our second child arrived, also a girl. If it’s good enough for one, it’s good enough for both: I invoked FMLA and took another month off. I wanted to stop a possible future argument when the girls are 30 and 32 about not loving one as much as the other because I didn’t spend time with them as a child.

At that point it was over.

My one performance review thereafter noted discrepancies in performance that weren’t there. Even though I had a laptop and sent emails from home, and was never completely out-of-touch with my projects during my leave, it wasn’t good enough. I was still taking the girls in to daycare, and picking them up on most days. Where was my dedication?

And then it happened. You can always tell moments before you get fired that you’re done. The page over the loud speaker. The phone call telling you to report to a conference room in HR. A sickening concoction of dread, uncertainty, and all of your debts pile up in your head.

Why did the water main break in our front yard? Why did the dog have to get that mystery ailment that cost thousands to treat before it was said and done? How in the world did a tape measure get stuck in our pipe leading to the septic tank? What happen to our savings?

So how did they get me? What loophole did they use? Their stated reason for letting me go: a lack of enthusiasm for work.

Excuse me?

…and you didn’t copy your boss in on enough emails.

That’s all you’ve got? Of course it was, because they had nothing. My projects were on time the same percentage as the other two project managers. I preferred thought-out purposeful emails rather than spastic, reactionary emails. The key difference was I needed to spend time with my kids. They preferred to work late to avoid dealing with their teenagers' issues.

Who knows? I may end up being that guy who tries to work late just to avoid his family life, but for now, I prefer spending my time with my kids.