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Mother forced to pay thousands after switching jobs during maternity leave

WINTERSET, Iowa - Emily Manley is spending her first Mother's Day with her bundle of joy, 3-month-old Jettson.

Like any new mom, the holiday is filled with snuggles, kisses and all the joys of motherhood. But she is also spending it on the computer, crunching numbers trying to figure out a way to pay her old employer over $2,600.

“I didn’t really know anything about maternity leave or FMLA or anything like that,” Manley told WHO.

Her previous employer, which Manley requested to not be named, didn't have paid maternity leave, so she used the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for three months of unpaid time off to be with her newborn.

“They had a policy that you had to burn through all of your [paid time off] prior to taking leave, so really you didn’t have a choice, you had to take it all before you could start leave,” Manley said.

During that leave she was offered another job, one that she says was too good to pass up.

“It just offered some different benefits that would work better for having a little one. It’s a company I worked with before,” Manley said.

But when she gave her two weeks notice, her employer sent her a document stating she owes over $2,600 for the company's share of her health costs, plus the paid time off she used.

And the company wanted the payment in full right away.

“It was kind of a shock. I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t ready for it, but I knew it was a possibility,” Manley said. “I didn’t know it would happen that fast and that I would have to pay it back that fast.”

According to Iowa's FMLA policy, employers have the choice to recover health benefit payments if the employee does not return to work unless reasons are due to a serious health condition or circumstances beyond the employee's control. That means if a mother gets a new job or decides to become a stay-at-home mom during her leave, she could be billed.

“I can understand the company's point of view, but at the same time, to do that to a young family is really difficult to be on the other side of it,” Manley said.

The ex-employer expects the payment by the end of June. In an email it states that is “already an extension of one additional month beyond the original plan offered” and is “completely fair given the length of time that has already elapsed since first starting maternity leave that was covered by FMLA on February 11th.”

Manley says that’s still not enough time, considering she went three months unpaid and just started her new job a few weeks ago.

“It’s a lot of money to us. We did our best to save when we got pregnant, knowing that we had bills coming and did our best for that, but it’s kind of hard to prepare,” Manley said.

Manley did speak with a lawyer. They advised her it would cost more money to fight it with legal fees than it would to just pay them. She hopes her story will give other mothers hope who are going through this same obstacle.

“If there are other women going through this, you’re not alone,” Manley said. “I didn’t work for a large corporation that you would expect something like this to happen. It was a smaller owned local company that you wouldn’t think would exercise that sort of right that they have.”

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