When my job interview went into overtime, I knew it was going well. So I decided to risk it and told my future boss: "I am very excited about the position. And, I need you to know that I am three months pregnant." We looked at the calendar together, and I was due right at her most busy period of the year.
She hired me, and we made a great team. Then, four months after my son was born, I became pregnant again. (This was despite my use of birth control; Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor. Sigh.) It was tough to walk back into her office and ask her to accommodate my condition again. To her credit, her primary concerns were my health and whether I would be coming back to work.
It’s not easy telling your boss you’re pregnant. The stakes are high for both of you. You need your job, health insurance, and reasonable accommodation during and after pregnancy as you raise a child. Your company needs to figure out how to cover your projects or tasks during your maternity leave, and potentially while you are pregnant as well. And then there’s the looming question of whether you’ll come back to work at all.
Here are some guidelines on when and how to break the big news to your supervisor.
Priority numero uno: staying healthy
There is no law that dictates when you need to tell your employer that you're pregnant. Typically, women wait until the end of their first trimester before letting people in on the big news. This has become general practice because if a miscarriage is going to occur, it tends to happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A miscarriage is a difficult enough experience for a woman and her family without unnecessarily adding coworkers and a supervisor into the mix.
Some circumstances can accelerate the need to talk with your employer, however. Today, women work in nearly every field of employment and what was once a “normal” work environment might now adversely affect a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Plan a discussion as soon as you can if you work in a job that’s in a laboratory or requires you to stand for long periods of time. The following fields also call for a conversation ASAP: construction, law enforcement, assembly lines, or chemical processing, which poses the danger of exposure to radiation and chemical poisoning.
Pregnancy impacts people differently. While some women breeze through it looking radiant and feeling fantastic, for other women, it's an exhausting puke fest that cannot end soon enough. Unfortunately, any number of medical issues—such as pregnancy-induced hypertension can trigger the need to scale back from full-time work. Pregnant women may also need to change their work conditions to continue working.
It’s in your best interests to be as realistic as possible. Your pregnant self is not the same as your normal self, and it may not be possible or advisable to try to power through until delivery day. So factor that in when you schedule the disclosure conversation with your supervisor and HR rep. Work with your employer on reasonable accommodations and stay healthy—for you and your baby’s sake.
How to have “the talk”
The most important part of preparing for a conversation with your manager is doing your homework up front. Take time to research your company’s policies and procedures for pregnancy accommodation, maternity leave, and working parents.
Once you know how your company handles leave, it’s time to have the talk. Your goal for the conversation is to reveal your big news professionally, to reaffirm your commitment to the company and your job, and to convey your intention to create a win-win transition plan with your manager.
Here’s how this conversation could go:
- Thank your boss for taking the time to talk and briefly describe what you like about your job. Bring up any recent successes—My work on the recent international conference was both challenging and rewarding in a very new way for me.
- Tell your supervisor you are pregnant and when you are due—I wanted to let you know that I'd pregnant and am due May 15.
- Reiterate your dedication to your job—Following maternity leave, I intend to return to my work here at Company X.
- Summarize your understanding of the company's maternity leave policy, and your plans for a leave of absence and return to work—I will be taking advantage of the company's six week maternity leave and taking an additional six weeks under FMLA.
- Tell your boss that you have ideas for how to make your temporary absence easier for the company and that you will prepare a detailed maternity leave plan. Use InHerSight’s how-to article for guidance with this step.
- Ask if your boss would like to discuss your leave plans now or schedule another meeting.
Don't be surprised if your boss has never managed a maternity leave before. You may be more informed about your company's policies than your supervisor is at that moment. And don't be surprised or bothered if your manager isn't as excited as your family, particularly if you are responsible for big projects with looming deadlines around the time of your due date.
Yes, pregnancy discrimination exists
The U.S. has enacted several layers of security for expectant women and working mothers. These protections are intended to prevent discrimination based on pregnancy, to provide legal recourse if you experience pregnancy-related disabilities before and after giving birth, and to ensure that you have a job when you return from maternity leave.
The three federal regulations are as follows:
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Prevents discrimination that affects hiring, firing, promotions, pay, health insurance, fringe benefits, and more
- Americans with Disabilities Act: Covers pregnancy accommodation and conditions that continue after childbirth as a result of the pregnancy
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Mandates unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks for eligible employees
However, as mentioned in our article on U.S. maternity leave policies, there’s an unfortunate loophole for each of these federal policies. With a few exceptions, they only apply to employers with 15 or more employees.
On the bright side, some states have passed laws to protect women who work for small companies. What’s more, many states now require additional protections beyond those federally mandated, including more extended leaves of absence and even paid leaves of absence. So do your homework to learn what rights you have in your state.
Tip: The Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor has an interactive map showing which states have added additional protections for pregnancy workers and breastfeeding workers.
By Deborah Hill
Deborah Hill is an anthropologist and writer who is fascinated by the ways humans and businesses interact.