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Your guide to navigating pregnancy at work

You have finally crossed the 12 week mark of your pregnancy and it’s time to start sharing the exciting news that you’re expecting a baby. While breaking your pregnancy news to family and close friends can be fun and joyful, it takes on a slightly more challenging note when telling your colleagues and boss. It’s important to know your rights as a pregnant person at work as well as what to ask for when it comes to accommodations and how to prepare for your maternity leave. 

What are your maternity rights 

If telling your boss about your pregnancy is making you feel uneasy or if you are concerned about your job security, take heart in knowing that as a pregnant woman, you are legally protected. Over 40 years ago, congress passed The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 to protect expecting women in the workplace. The main purpose of the act was to make it illegal for employers to take pregnancy into consideration when making choices about hiring, firing, and promoting employees. While some states have passed more laws to protect pregnant women, you can rest assured knowing that in America, it is illegal to get fired or demoted due to your pregnancy. In addition, prospective employers cannot use your pregnancy as a reason for not hiring you. 

Some key items include in The Pregnancy Discrimination Act are:

  • Employers must allow for pregnant women to do their jobs for as long as she is capable
  • An employer may not maintain a written or unwritten employment policy or practice, that excludes applicants from employment or denies employees any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  • An employer may not terminate, deny assignments to, or deny promotions to an employee because of her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.
  • An employer may not single out pregnancy or related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee’s ability to work.
  • An employer may not make an employment decision about an employee's work performance based on a stereotype or assumption concerning the employee's pregnancy.
  • When an employee goes on leave due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, the employer must keep her job open for the same period of time that it keeps jobs open for employees who go on disability or sick leave.

How to tell your boss you’re pregnant
While you may be tempted to wait until your belly is the size of a watermelon to break the news of your pregnancy to your boss, there is reason to believe that sharing the news earlier has benefits to your psyche. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology showed that expecting women who share the news of their pregnancy as soon as possible as opposed to waiting until later, have less stress and anxiety while dealing with their colleagues at work.

Emily Martin, JD, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. told The New York Times that she advises telling your boss about your pregnancy earlier on if you are experiencing morning sickness or have doctor’s appointments that will require some time away from work. 

Regardless of when you decide to share your pregnancy news with your boss, keep the conversation concise and focus on your due date and your plan as far as finishing up bigger projects or delegating them to colleagues. Make sure to communicate to your boss that you are committed to your job and fully plan on returning after your maternity leave. One of the most important rules is to tell your boss about your pregnancy before sharing the news with any other colleagues. The last thing you would want is for your manager to learn about your pregnancy from someone else. 

Accommodations at work during pregnancy
You may not know that you can request certain accommodations at work when you’re pregnant. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was put in place to ensure that employers would make accommodations for reasonable requests during pregnancy. Some examples of these requests are more frequent bathroom breaks, uniforms that are suitable for pregnant women and reasonable work hours. You have the right to ask for these types of accommodations so time spent at work is not harming your health and causing unneeded stress during pregnancy. 

Maternity leave basics

It helps to know The Family and Medical Leave Act ensures new moms at most companies in the United States are entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year and requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. Your company falls under the FMLA if they meet the below criteria:

  • Your company has 50 or more employees 
  • You’ve been with this company for at least 12 months (those months need not be consecutive)
  • You’ve worked for your company for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking your FMLA leave

However, not all employers are required to pay their employees during their leave. Only 13 states in America have mandatory paid leave for mothers, but that does not mean your company does not participate in paid leave. It is best to arrange a meeting with your human resources department shortly after you break your pregnancy news to your boss. 

How to prepare for team for your maternity leave 

After sharing your pregnancy news with your boss, you can sigh a breath of relief. As you begin to enter your third trimester, you should start planning for your maternity leave. Here are some ways to best prepare your work colleagues for success while you're on maternity leave.

  • Identify your responsibilities. Create an organized spreadsheet that outlines all major projects along with deadlines, progress and contact information.
  • Prepare your clients. Make sure they know you’re leaving and that they will be in good hands during your leave. Introduce them over email to the team member that is stepping in while you’re out.
  • Transition and train your maternity leave replacement. Take time to sit with them and train them on all your responsibilities. 
  • Create an automatic reply email detailing how long you will be gone and the contact email for your replacement during your maternity leave.