This is what my life looked like the day my job was terminated by Elemis.
A week after Heather Lane returned from maternity leave to her job at luxury British skincare brand ELEMIS, she received the news that no parent wants to hear: Her infant daughter, Zéa, had cancer. Stage IV neuroblastoma, to be precise, and would need emergency surgery.
Lane requested an extension on her FMLA (family and medical leave) to take care of her daughter in June 2015.
In July, barely a month later, she was told that her request was denied — and that her position was to be terminated, effective the end of the month. And with that went her health insurance.
Now Lane is fighting back, and it all started with a petition on Change.org.
"It was like a smack in the face."
While Lane was still on maternity leave, she had learned that ELEMIS had restructured, and her job had been given away while she was out but was told that she'd have a position when she returned.
Lane had worked as the territory manager of sales for the southeast region of the US. The new job they offered her covered a smaller territory — which meant less money and was, essentially, a demotion, she told Revelist. (It's also illegal, according to the Department of Labor.)
And when Zéa was diagnosed, Lane made sure to keep the company up-to-date about what was going on, as the focus was now on her daughter.
"I kept communication open with them," she said. "I wrote emails to HR and cc'd my manager... everyone replied with prayers and well wishes."
So it came as a huge surprise to her, then, when her extended FMLA request was denied and she was let go.
Lane received a termination letter in response to her request for more leave.
"We almost lost our home."
With no income and no health insurance, Lane had to begin paying for Zéa's treatment out-of-pocket. In addition to the surgery, she had eight rounds of chemotherapy, and has to travel from their home in Miami to New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital every three months to see specialists.
The tumor, which had been compressing her spinal cord, caused partial paralysis; soon Zéa will also have to receive treatment to learn how to walk.
If it weren't for the generosity of foundations that helped her family financially, Lane said, "we wouldn't have our home; we wouldn't have our car."
"My credit is ruined, there are medical bills stacked so high they will never be paid," she added on Facebook, "but my daughter is alive! Some children (a lot) don't make it this far."
"The law may not apply."
Lane is in touch with a lawyer to see if she has a case. She might, but she also might not.
According to Lisa Guerra, a worker's rights attorney who's been practicing for 10 years (though not in Florida), there are a lot of factors that could come into play.
"If she took 12 weeks [of maternity leave], that may be the company’s basis for denying her the [FMLA] extension," Guerra said, as federal law says that employers are only required to provide 12 weeks. "It might be this weird place where the law doesn’t apply for the extra leave."
Not only that, but an employer can demote you when you return from leave if they have a legitimate, business-related reason to do so, like a loss in funding or something.
Basically, there are a lot of loopholes.
When I reached out to ELEMIS, a company spokesperson has this to say about the matter:
At ELEMIS, our associates are at the center of everything we do. We are committed to treating all of our team members with dignity and respect, and to fostering a caring and supportive work environment. As a matter of corporate policy and in accordance with privacy and legal requirements, ELEMIS does not comment on personnel matters. We are of course deeply saddened for our former team member and her family, and are actively looking at how we can best support her — just as we would for other current or former team members. We also recently made a donation to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the premier pediatric cancer centers in the United States, as a way of showing our support and consistent with our longstanding commitment to supporting charitable causes, including good and reputable organizations dedicated to fighting cancer.
"An apology would be nice."
Still, it goes without saying that what happened to Lane is — for lack of a better word — shitty.
All Lane wanted, she said, was "more time with my daughter," who is now on Medicaid.
And, "I would love an apology."
Lane told Revelist that she later received a call from the CEO of ELEMIS' parent company, Steiner, on October 18. He agreed to make a donation to Memorial Sloan-Kettering on behalf of her family and in support of childhood cancer research.
There's a reason we have laws to protect workers, but sometimes, even the law doesn't have your back. At that point, it's up to the employers themselves to decide whether they want to do for their employees more than what the law requires.
"It is," as Lane said, "about caring for humanity."