I know that so many working mamas struggle with the decision of how and when to tell work they’re pregnant. And this struggle raises many questions:
- What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978?
- Where do I find maternity leave laws by state?
- Can you fire a pregnant woman?
- What are reasons to stop working during pregnancy?
- How do I announce my pregnancy at work?
- Should I request a doctor’s note to work less hours while pregnant?
- What if I wasn’t hired because I’m pregnant?
- Can I get fired for prenatal appointments?
Today, I’m sharing everything you need to know about pregnancy as a working mom.
From when and how to tell work you’re pregnant, to where to find information about your rights and what you need to know to enjoy pregnancy without sacrificing your professional priorities.
Pregnancy is supposed to be exciting (despite the morning sickness) and if your workplace isn’t supportive or communicative, I want to ensure you have access to resources and the support you both deserve and are legally entitled to.
Before we get too far, it’s important to know that none of the information below should take the place of legal advice. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel like your employer is not respecting your rights, contact an employment law attorney in your area who can help you navigate the situation.
What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” This means that you cannot be denied a job, promotion or benefits because you are pregnant. You cannot be fired because you are pregnant.
The reality is that it’s not always this straight forward, so knowing a little more than just this point can be helpful in a conversation with your employer. Let’s face it, as the months go on, it gets harder and harder to disguise a pregnant belly in the workplace, so letting them know about your new arrival is inevitable. That being said, you are in control of the message and timing.
Consider the factors that matter most, from when you feel comfortable sharing this news from a personal standpoint, but also keeping in mind that it may take some time to plan for your leave of absence while you’re on maternity leave, so giving your employer enough time to plan an organized transition is something to consider.
Do your homework to understand your organization’s policies and the overall environment. Ultimately, PDA is intended to protect the best interests of pregnant women but it also requires personal accountability and vigilance.
Where do I find maternity leave laws by state?
Although we’ve seen steps in the right direction towards better maternity leave laws in the U.S., like the Defense Spending Bill that was passed in 2019 and taking effect on October 1st, 2020, which gives 12 weeks paid maternity leave to federal employees, there’s still a long way to go for the U.S. to get up to speed with other countries parental leave laws.
Until then, it’s important to know what you are entitled to. In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected maternity leave.
While there is a lot of variation across states, 18 states and two territories, have laws that so above and beyond FMLA. Check out Parents Magazine for a complete run-down of maternity leave benefits by state.
In addition, most corporations and companies are taking it upon themselves to offer parental leave benefits as a way to retain employees and increase job satisfaction. So, be sure to check with your company handbook or HR department to find out what benefits are available to you that may be above and beyond FMLA.
Can you fire a pregnant woman?
The short answer is no, you can’t be fired because you are pregnant. This is exactly what the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is intended to protect against.
That being said, you can still be fired while pregnant, assuming you are fired for reasons above and beyond the fact that you are pregnant. This means that pregnancy is not a safe guard if your performance is lacking or you violate the terms of your employment.
If you’ve been fired while pregnant and you feel there may be discrimination happening, it’s best to contact an attorney to discuss your specific matter.
What are reasons to stop working during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is demanding both physically and mentally. Depending on the scope and responsibilities of your job, there may come a time when you are no longer able to perform your regular duties. Depending on the industry or type of work, this is not uncommon. Stay in communication with your manager and doctor. Should the time come that your responsibilities need to change to accommodate the fact that you are growing a human, request documentation from the doctor to make it official.
At the end of the day, your pregnancy is unique and different from anyone else’s so you have to be your own best advocate to know and speak up when you feel like work is causing undo harm to yours or your baby’s well-being. Speak up and be persistent about any concerns you have with your doctor and work together to create a plan that’s the best fit for you and your baby.
This can mean more prenatal appointments or even bed rest. This is not a decision you alone need to make. Your doctor and care team should serve as a resource to ensure you are doing what is best for both you and baby. FMLA can be used prior to having your baby for these situations, but may impact the amount of time you can be out after having your baby. Talk to your HR representative at work to find out what options they have for you if you need to take medically necessary time off prior to having your baby.
How do I announce my pregnancy at work?
The short answer – It depends. You have to make the decision to do what is best for you and your baby in this situation, but keeping it professional and succinct is generally a good idea.
In terms of best and standard practices, it’s common to wait until the end of the first trimester, which is generally when doctor’s appointments will start. Beyond timing, when and how one announces a pregnancy at home and at work varies with the situation. There is no right or wrong way, but controlling the message and timing is key. Workplaces are ripe with gossip so best to share in a limited way if you aren’t ready to share publicly.
Here are a couple of things to think about as you announce your pregnancy to your work:
- Tell your manager and HR before you tell close friends or co-workers at work.
- Tell them in person first. Start with an in person conversation and follow up with an email so you have documentation of the day you notified them of your impending leave.
- Keep it short and professional. It might be easy to get bogged down in a long conversation about what this all means for your career and other things that you might not be prepared to discuss. If you feel like your manager is prone to keeping you for a long conversation, make it a point to stop by and tell them when you have another meeting in 20 minutes. That way it ensures the conversation is short and sweet and less likely to turn into a long drawn out conversation.
- Know your rights and your wants before you tell your manager and HR professional. The initial conversation may result in a series of questions around how much maternity leave you plan to take, when your last day of work will be, and so on. Having an idea in mind around these things can be helpful to setting expectations in your initial conversations.
- Keep it conversational and set the tone for excitement. A great way to open the conversation could be something like, “I have some news I’ve excited to share with you…” or “I’ve been looking forward to telling you something that not many people know yet…” versus “I have some bad news for you…” or “I hate to tell you that I’m going to be taking time off….”. Keep the tone of your conversation positive and empowering to you. You do not need to be apologetic about being pregnant.
I mentioned this point above, but it’s worth repeating – as a follow-up to your in-person conversation, recap the key details in an email that you share with both your supervisor and primary HR contact. This ensures that affected parties have the information they need to help you prepare and tackle the necessary paperwork to maximize the available maternity leave allowance, as well as protect your job. Don’t rely on your manager to communicate the news to your HR partner, in case they get caught up and forget. Copy yourself and save it so you have if for reference if needed later on.
Should I request a doctor’s note to work less hours while pregnant?
Pregnancy is different for every woman. What you are capable of at work will vary from week to week, month to month and pregnancy to pregnancy. It’s important to be aware of how you are feeling and how your job is affecting your health.
The need for a doctor’s note related to how and when you work will come at the recommendation of your doctor and likely, not your request. Physicians are constantly monitoring vitals to ensure both you and baby are healthy throughout your pregnancy. Should a complication arise that requires more attention or a change in your work situation, your physician should be on top of it and overly communicative so that it doesn’t come as a surprise.
It’s important that you are your biggest advocate for your own health and well-being, as well as the baby’s. If something concerns you, be sure to mention at your next prenatal appointment, or reach out to the nurse line if you feel like it shouldn’t wait. It’s always better to ask and find out it’s nothing.
What if I wasn’t hired because I’m pregnant?
This is where the Pregnancy Discrimination Act comes into play and really, why it exists. Pregnancy is exciting and it is also temporary. It will not last forever. The PDA is intended to protect you in situations related to employment, from hiring and firing, to pay, promotions, training and benefits.
The short answer is that you cannot be denied a job because of pregnancy.
The same goes for promotions. Your pregnancy should not be a consideration for a promotion. I once had a friend tell me she was passed up for a promotion and her manager told her it was because “she had enough on her plate right now”.
I think my jaw dropped to the floor!
This is discrimination and any comments that resemble a similar sentiment should be addressed with your HR department and an attorney right away (and it’s especially important to save or print any emails or written documentation of this.)
If you feel you have not been hired or offered a promotion strictly because you are pregnant, you should consult with an employment law attorney who can help you navigate the situation with you.
Can I get fired for prenatal appointments?
This is another area where the PDA provides protection for a pregnant woman. You cannot be fired for being pregnant and the responsibilities that go along with it.
It’s best to discuss with your boss. Is there a time of day that is best to minimize the disruption to your work? It’s all about scheduling and transparency. Your boss should know where you are and when you’ll be back. As long as you are on the same page, prenatal appointments shouldn’t be an issue.
The truth is that out of the most common questions asked about telling work that you’re expecting, most of them don’t have a cut and dry answer. That being said, there are some general guidelines and best practices you can follow to help with a successful announcement at work, which we’ve outlined above.
A key to feeling confident about announcing your pregnancy at work is to know your rights and your workplace maternity leave policies and benefits.
The Family Medical Leave Act and Pregnancy Discrimination Act are two great places to start to helping you feel empowered when it comes to pregnancy and your work environment. The next resource to become familiar with is your workplace maternity benefits and policies. If you work in a larger company, they likely have a place that lists their entire maternity leave benefits and policies. If you work for a smaller or newer company that hasn’t experienced parental leave for an employee yet, you are in an exciting place to set the standard and pave a new path for those ahead of you!
No matter what, you and your baby’s health and well-being should always take priority and positive and healthy work environment will reflect this sentiment when you tell them about your pregnancy. If you find that you’re being discriminated against because of your pregnancy or for any other reason, contact an employment law attorney to discuss your specific situation and bring in an expert who can help you navigate the situation in a professional manner.
The bottom line – if your employer isn’t concerned about your well-being or isn’t supportive of your choice to have a baby, then it might be time to take your talents to a company that does.
More Resources for Pregnant Moms
If you’re a first time mom and actively building your career, you probably have several questions about how to successfully navigate working mom life while maintain your own health and well-being.
The Driven Mama is here to give you a community to feel supported and give you all the resources and information you need to live well as a working mom. Check out some of our most read articles about pregnancy and work: