Going on leave can be expensive for your company, even if that leave is unpaid. Why? They've lost an employee, and they either have had to make up for that by asking colleagues to take on additional workload, or they have to hire a temp. When you have people working more than they should, they tend to get frustrated and upset and might even start thinking about leaving. That kind of turnover is expensive.
Now, let's say you have a baby and take the 12 weeks off that you're entitled to under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), is it bad form to then come back from work and resign? Even the nicest of bosses might be annoyed. After all, if you had told them prior to the baby's arrival that you weren't coming back, they could have looked for and possibly hired a replacement, rather than leaving your place open, as they are required to by law.
So, should you do it?
Generally no. You shouldn't take a leave saying that you're going to be coming back when you know full well that you're not. But that is where your obligation ends. If you change your mind, or something comes up, you're not obligated to stay. After all, the company you work for, no matter how fabulous, will let you go without notice if it is better for them financially. There's nothing to stop them from letting you go six weeks after you turn down another job offer, or buy a new house, or have a kid that just got braces, or a spouse with cancer. And, so, loyalty runs low.
There are consequences, however, to leaving after you've just taken 12 weeks off, and that is that your boss may not be inclined to give you the best of references and your coworkers might be annoyed. This is especially the case if you didn't pull your fair share while you were at the office. But, sometimes having a former boss be annoyed with you is absolutely worth it. Take this example from a woman pondering if she should resign:
I am returning to work this week after being out on maternity leave. I love my job and the work I do, but my direct supervisor is such a toxic person that it has made it unbearable to be at work. While on FMLA leave, I found a new job, and I want to take it. He is not above choosing favorites, and he does so blatantly without any regard for how it affects others. He buys gifts for his favorites, takes them to lunch, gives them confidential info about the company or personnel, gives them extra money during the holidays and is generally nicer in his approach with them. Our HR manager is one his favorites and rather enjoys it so she does nothing to put an end to the behavior. I can't take it anymore. I imagine his reaction to my 2 weeks notice after coming back from maternity leave will go over like a lead balloon.
In such a situation, it would seem that quitting means you're permanently burning a bridge, and that's something that I often caution people against doing. But, in this situation, the reality is, this boss will be a jerk to her whenever she resigns, whether it be on the day she comes back from maternity leave or six years later.
A nice boss, on the other hand, may be displeased if you leave, but in three years when he's called for a reference, he will answer based on your performance and not on the fact that you took a federally protected leave of absence. (And for what it's worth, it is illegal to hold FMLA leave against you in terms of performance. However, it would be difficult to prove that the boss was treating you poorly because of the leave, and not just because he's an all around jerk.)
So, when it comes down to it, you have to do what is best for your career and your family, and sometimes that means taking that new job that materializes right after you have a new baby, or have surgery, or any number of other things that require time away from the office.
Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.