The Math’s the Same

Today is payday, but this week, my paycheck was slashed in half. Money’s been lean since my maternity leave, which, other than the 3 weeks paid at 60% by short-term disability, was unpaid. And then when I came back to work, I was only part-time for 2 weeks, so I was only making half of my salary. My previous paycheck was my first full paycheck, but as the first full paycheck in months, it only began to make a dent in our financial deficit. What with daycare, we’ve been on a tight budget. So we’ve really been looking forward to getting more of a foothold with a steady full paycheck from me.

Unfortunately, my employer’s incompetent HR didn’t cooperate with that plan. You see, we elected a flexible spending account for daycare – a pre-tax deduction. And when we filled out the form, which says “Enter your ANNUAL CALENDAR-YEAR contribution, not a per-pay-period amount,” we did just that. We multiplied the weekly daycare fees times 52 weeks a year, which came out to way more than the maximum you could withhold, so we elected the maximum – just under $5000. There are 26 paychecks in a year, so that works out to about $192 withheld from every paycheck. Except my HR department seems to have a different understanding. They take whatever you fill in as your annual amount, and divide it by the number of pay periods left in the year at the time you enroll. So, in my case, $5000 divided by 9, or more than $550 to be withheld from every paycheck.

Uh, WHAT?! I had even been contacted by HR when I submitted my form, and they had explained that they calculate whatever amount you elect and divide by the number of remaining paychecks, regardless of your intention for that $5000 to be spread out over the calendar year, as their own language implies. So they “fixed” it, and my last paycheck had only $192 withheld. But today’s paycheck? There’s $550 withheld. And though I lost my shit brought this to their attention, they were unable to correct it, and so they’re adjusting the amount withheld from the remaining 8 paychecks of 2011 to balance out the extra they took out of this single paycheck. Fine, except that doesn’t help me pay my bills for the next 2 weeks. Like daycare, for instance, which is now going to constitute half of my pay for the next 2 weeks. And since I’m the only full-time employee in my household, the next 2 weeks are going to be ramen filled.

Then I thought, oh! I can at least recoup alot of what’s missing from my paycheck by submitting my daycare receipts for reimbursement, something I haven’t done yet. A good plan, but when I logged on to my daycare FSA, it only shows the initial $192 contribution, not the extra $550 they also withheld this time.

I would say that I would work even less today than I normally would on a Friday to express my outrage that half of my net pay is gone because of someone else’s incomptence. But then again, 50% times zero is still zero.

How Should I Be Handling This?

When I was laid off last fall, I was 3 months pregnant. I, of course, knew that, but my employer and coworkers didn’t. So while I was ready to move on from museum work, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to trying to find work as a pregnant lady. I have been fortunate enough to land a couple of interviews, and finally one of them has materialized into an offer. It’s working for University of Phoenix, and at the interview for that job, I had to fill out paperwork that says, “The University takes pride in the quality of employees to whom we have extended employment opportunities. In an effort to ensure that you are taking every advantage of your new employee training period, we highly suggest that you maintain 100% attendance during the training phase. Tardiness and/or absenteeism may result in disciplinary action. To ensure your employment success, we ask employees to keep their schedules free of extended appointments and vacations during the first 6 months of employment. Please provide us with the information below if you are not able to currently modify any future appointments. Requests for time off are not guaranteed and may not be paid during your first 90 days of employment. Leaving this section blank indicates your schedule is free of appointments.”

Here’s the thing: if I were obviously pregnant, I probably would have been honest on the form because my interviewers would just march back to HR and say, “Either she’s pregnant or she swallowed a bowling ball.” But I’m not obviously pregnant. Even though I’m due in 3 and a half months, I’m not showing. I was able to wear my regular non-maternity clothes to the interview, and by wearing busy prints on top, I can further distract from what’s going on. More importantly, I’m not sure how I was supposed to handle this.

After I’d been laid off, I got in touch with my HR person at my last job and told her I was pregnant and asked how to handle disclosure at job interviews and negotiations, and she said that in no uncertain terms that I should not say anything until I recieve an offer. (An aside: My friends have been incredibly naive about this, btw. They’re all up on a soapbox screaming “You can’t do that! Employers can’t not hire you just because you’re pregnant! That’s discrimination!”) News flash: Sure, employers can’t discriminate against you because you’re pregnant, but they can find *other* reasons not to hire you, including the all-purpose “It just isn’t the right fit right now.”

So by saying on the form, uh, I’m going to need time off during training to keep up with my bi-weekly, and soon to be weekly doctor’s appointments, that could be a major red flag and they could just say, well, maybe the timing isn’t right right now since you can’t commit to our training attendance policy. And by saying, uh, I’m going to need at least 6 weeks off this summer, they could not hire me because I’m asking for extensive time off during my probationary phase. So I left it blank and signed it.

Now that they have given me an offer,  I told them, and the hiring HR manager was literally speechless before asking if he could call me back. They told me that as far as being absent during training and needing leave “That’s something you’ll have to work out with your trainers and, after 6 weeks of training, your manager. It’s up to your manager on how to handle any of that” since I don’t qualify for FMLA leave. (Another aside: my friends are also aghast that I’m not guaranteed leave. FMLA isn’t universal. It’s not. You have to have worked for your employer for the 12 months prior to your need for time off, and have worked a minimum number of hours. And that’s if you work for an employer that offers FMLA, because not everyone has to.) News flash: Employers can do whatever they want in terms of giving time off for a baby.

The bottom line is that I won’t know until 7 weeks from now if I can negotiate any time off for maternity leave. And no time off would obviously be a deal-breaker. I don’t mean to be an A-hole and take a job only to ditch it in 3 months if that’s the case, but the reality is, I need work, I want this job, and I need the paycheck until then, even if not beyond then. So I start my new job on Monday!

Where’s My Maternity Leave?

Okay, last straw. I have been doing all of the work that falls under my job title PLUS that of the Education Director, along with all of the work that would be done by the phantom archivist, collections manager, registrar, exhibit developer, IT department, and on and on. But today the hammer came down.

My boss is about to embark on her maternity leave. There’s going to be no hiring or temp help during her leave. So during her leave I’m expected to take over her duties as well. In theory, should be easy since she doesn’t really do anything. But in reality, it means managing the upcoming annual fundraiser, even though I’ve never been here to even see it before. I’m supposed to coordinate all of the event’s components and make it happen. This is a huge event — it raises all of our operating funds for the entire upcoming fiscal year. And I’m supposed to just pile that on. On top of managing the move of all collections. On top of running all tours and educational programs. On top of staffing the front desk myself. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There’s only two of us now — myself and my coworker (who works as an administrative assistant), and we’re both working ridiculously long hours, sleepwalking through our jobs, and exploited by our employer with nowhere to turn. I hate that I’ve already decided to bail and look elsewhere for work, because it would further screw over my remaining coworker, but realistically, it’s going to take me awhile to find other work anyway, and I’m sticking to my decision to leave.