Pregnancy for a working woman can be a joyous time, but it can also be a stressful time. The good news is some of that stress might soon be alleviated. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would make it unlawful for organizations to “deny employment opportunities based on the need of the entity to make such reasonable accommodations” and to “fail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations of such employees.” The act was sent to the U.S. Senate in May of 2021, and is currently with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. While we wait for further progress, here are five things you need to know now if you’re pregnant and in the workforce.
1. When to tell your employer
When to tell your manager you’re pregnant isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Many factors play into this decision, such as when you’re planning to tell coworkers, whether you work remotely or in the office, the dynamics between you and management, the overall office dynamic, and, of course, how far along you are in your pregnancy.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to let your manager know before the third trimester. This will allow for adequate time to figure out your leave and coverage, as well as make sure everyone is in the loop if you end up delivering early.
If you know your manager will be absolutely thrilled for you, it could be a good idea to tell them sooner—this could mean more support, both through the pregnancy or if the unfortunate loss of the pregnancy takes place. On the other hand, waiting may be the better route if your manager is strictly business, or if you know that the general consensus around pregnant workers isn’t very welcoming. If you work with people who believe that once you get pregnant your performance will diminish, you may choose to push back your announcement to delay any backlash (whether spoken or unspoken).
Of course, if you work remotely, you’ll likely have more time before you feel like you have to tell everyone, since symptoms—including your bump!—can be more easily hidden. If you’re in the office, once that bump becomes impossible to hide, consider announcing, if only to stop any rumors or gossip from circulating around the office.
2. How to prepare for maternity leave
Once you have your baby, you’ll most likely be taking some sort of leave. Whether through disability, FMLA, or formal maternity leave, you’ll be unavailable for work for some period of time. How you prepare for this leave not only shows your manager that you’re dedicated to your job, but also sets you up for a positive return-to-work experience.
Leave preparation can include collaborating with the people who’ll be covering your workload, writing detailed plans and instructions for coworkers who may not be as familiar with your responsibilities, or even completing work in advance (when possible).
3. Know your rights
While the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act currently making its way through Congress is intended to add more protections for pregnant workers, it’s important to know what protections currently exist. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was passed, which provides federal protections against discrimination for pregnant people in the workplace. Also, most states have some sort of state-specific discrimination laws. While the laws in place prohibit certain kinds of discrimination, you might still experience some unpleasant treatment as a pregnant person in the workplace. Since laws vary from state to state, it’s important to understand your state’s specific laws when it comes to accommodations and discrimination. You can learn more about your specific state laws here.
4. Know your priorities
When you become a mother, the way you view family and your career might change. Before becoming pregnant, you might think you know which would come first: career or family. But when you’re actually in the position to choose, your views can alter.
Not all mothers want to continue climbing the corporate ladder, and not all mothers want to be stay-at-home moms and press pause on their careers. Many people find themselves in between these two ends of the spectrum, wanting a job for the sake of mental stimulation while still having the ability to put their families first. Having an understanding of where you fall on this scale will help you navigate your life once you bring a child into the world.
5. Workplace issues to consider after birth
Logistics in the office also play an important role in life as a working mother. If you choose to breastfeed your baby, figure out how your company approaches pumping. Maybe you have your own office and you can pump in there. Maybe your company has a pumping room on site that’s private and sanitary. If neither of these are true, you’ll need to figure out alternative options—but note that the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, regarding this specific issue, has passed the House and has been sent to the Senate. If passed, the act will provide more accommodations for breastfeeding mothers.
Overall, becoming a mother while working can change a lot about your life, the way you think about work, and your priorities. Being well prepared and understanding all the logistics during this situation will help you make the best decisions for you and your growing family.
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