Know Your Rights: Telling Your Boss You’re Pregnant
Becoming pregnant can be both a blessing and a curse for the working woman. On the one hand, you may be beyond excited at the prospect of bringing a new life into the world. But the other side of that coin is that you will almost certainly have to take a leave of absence from work, a situation that many career women dread. Sadly, pregnancy carries something of a social stigma in the working world. There is an antiquated notion that women who become mothers will no longer function in the same capacity that they did as childless employees. And while it’s certainly true that a baby will split your focus, it doesn’t in any way mean that you can’t still be a valuable worker and a productive member of the team. Luckily, there are laws in place to protect your rights when you are a working woman who finds herself in the family way.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is on your side. Enacted in 1978 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this law states that employers may not hire, fire, or otherwise discriminate against employees based on pregnancy and related conditions (provided they have more than fifteen employees). Further, you may fall back on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, which protects your right to take medical leave associated with pregnancy and childbirth without the fear of reprisal (firing, for example). So if you are denied employment because of pregnancy (although this is unfortunately difficult to prove) or you are fired due to pregnancy, childbirth, or caring for a newborn, you definitely have an actionable claim against an employer.
That said, you may still be a little nervous about discussing the matter with your supervisor or the HR department. But it is imperative that you do so for the sole reason that it serves to protect your position with the company. Suppose that the company finds out you are pregnant before you inform them and they decide to terminate your position (or simply fire you). They have a reasonable argument that they were unaware of your condition because you hadn’t yet informed them of your pregnancy. As soon as you tell them that you are expecting a baby you will be protected under the laws listed above; in short, it will become extremely difficult for your company to get rid of you without having it look like discrimination.
Also, you need to start preparations for your leave of absence as soon as possible. This means finishing up projects before you go on maternity leave, or alternately, getting other workers up to speed so that you can seamlessly transfer projects. You may even have to hire and train a temp to replace you until you return. Believe it or not, your company (and your job security) will only benefit from letting the cat out of the bag early.
Plus, there is no reason to increase your pregnancy stress by holding back the information. In this day and age, more and more companies are coming to the realization that maternity leave is like an extended vacation. Although some new mothers do opt to stay home indefinitely with their infants, most return to work after several weeks and pick up right where they left off. So don’t be afraid to speak up and share the good news with the office. Legal issues aside, you’re likely to face a lot more trouble in the long run if you try to hide the truth.