I just got hired for a new job that I am really excited about. The only thing is I am 25 weeks pregnant. They would like me to start in 2 weeks. When do I tell them? -Pregnant New Hire, 30, Atlanta
Dear Pregnant New Hire,
One of the best ways to approach a dilemma like this is to turn the question on yourself. If you were an employer looking to fill a position and the person you hired was going to be out of the office for an extended period of time just a few months after she started the job, wouldn't you want to know? Think about what goes into training a new employee. It takes at least a month to not feel new on the job and successfully acclimate to all of one's delegated responsibilities.
Already six months into your pregnancy, why were you not upfront in the initial interview about your pregnancy? Were you afraid you weren't going to be hired if they knew you were pregnant? Although I can appreciate how that fear may stop you, obviously your employer is going to find out - pregnancy is not something you can hide! Also, have you planned out your post-pregnancy schedule? How long were you thinking of being on leave? Have you arranged for child care after going back to work? If you haven't considered or answered these essential questions, you can't expect to just wing it or have your employer's regulations answer the questions for you.
I'd advise telling your potential employer immediately. You have already gotten off to a bad start with this company by beginning with a lie. And yes, this is a lie by omission. You are putting your employer in a tenuous position by not being upfront with him or her. Once the situation is discovered, he or she will be faced with a difficult business and ethical decision. More and more companies today are supportive of maternity leave; however, you are a new employee and have not given them much advance notice. If your employer is tempted to replace you with someone who will be physically present for a longer period of time, they would have to be concerned about possible charges of discrimination.
Take the high road, admit that you should have told them in the initial interview, and then ask how your maternity leave would affect your position and the company as a whole. Who knows, their offer may stand. However, if they prefer to hire someone else, it may have more to do with your dishonesty than your pregnancy. Plus, you want to start any new job with a clean slate and you're already off to a bit of a muddy start.
But what about your legal rights? I'm not a lawyer, so I decided to consult an expert on this matter. Cynthia Thomas Calvert, Deputy Director of WorkLife Law advises: "Pregnancy leave in the workplace often perpetuates a double standard. Many employees, including men, take a leave for personal, profession or medical reasons and no one bats an eye. However, even today with all the advances women have made, employers still often get upset when women need maternity leave. Legally, you do not have to tell your employer you are pregnant and if you are fired for being pregnant, you would have a discrimination lawsuit. Because of this, we've seen many employers try to get around a discrimination suit by pushing employees out in different ways such as creating a hostile environment or making a record to justify firing the person. If this happens to you, you might want to consult an attorney. Also, realize you are not covered by the FMLA because you have not been at your company for a year; therefore, your employer does not necessarily have to hold your job open for you. If your employer does not fire other employees who need short term medical leaves, however, then you also cannot be fired for taking a short term medical leave. On a positive note, an increasing number of employers are recognizing that addressing all employees' work/life needs is good for business; companies that retain good employees make more money because the companies provide better service and have fewer costs and disruptions related to attrition. If your employer is smart, it will work with you to create a leave plan that will benefit you both."
Being pregnant and having children is one of the blessings and quandaries of being a woman in the workforce. Most men are not faced with the same dilemmas of timing when it comes to their careers. As women, we just have to accept that sometimes it is just not possible to have it all at once. We have to make choices. And at this time in your life, you are choosing to be pregnant and have a baby. A job may need to take a backseat to a car seat. And if you absolutely must start a new job for financial reasons, be upfront in the initial interview. If you don't have to work right now, how about just focusing on your new, and very important job: motherhood. * Christine
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