So much good news in one month: you finally landed your dream job and also been surprised by a positive pregnancy test. If you’ve just started a new job and then found out you’re unexpectedly pregnant, what can you do? In this blog post, we’ll discuss what your legal obligations to your workplace are, how to handle conversations with your boss, and how to plan to balance baby and work.
First, you should know that, in the US, pregnant employees are protected by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which outlaws discrimination based on pregnancy in any aspect of employment, including hiring and pay. In other words, it is illegal for an employer to treat an applicant or employee differently because they may be or are pregnant. Some US states have even further protections for pregnant people, so you may want to do a bit of research about the state where you live or work.
The law means that employers can’t ask about pregnancy during interviews and you don’t have to disclose anything you don’t want to at any time during a pregnancy. On the other hand, if this job is one that you’re excited about, it can be an act of good faith to share your pregnancy with your employer sooner rather than later.
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Kristen Jones, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis, found that concealing a pregnancy from an employer may lead to psychological distress in the pregnant person.  Revealing your pregnancy to your employer can also provide you with useful information. For instance, how they react to the news may give you useful information about work-life balance and company priorities. Therefore, if you feel comfortable to speak to your boss about your pregnancy, it might be a good idea to do so.
Go into the conversation prepared. Research as much as you can about the company’s policies for parental leave, whether or not the Family Medical Leave Act applies to your role, and think through what kind of accommodations you may need during pregnancy and after returning to work. Are you on your feet for much of the day but could do your job sitting instead? Or do you plan to feed your baby breastmilk and thus will need a place to pump at work? Also, consider how long of leave you’d like to take and when (or if) you want to come back to work. Being prepared by considering what you want in terms of your job and pregnancy will help you to come across as a confident and prepared employee, which will likely minimize any worries that your employer may have about a loss of productivity.
In the actual conversation with your supervisor, be straightforward. Tell them that you are pregnant and will need time off work in six months (or whenever). If you want to tell them that the pregnancy was a surprise, that’s fine, but you are under no obligation to do so. Give details about your plans for taking parental leave within the company’s guidelines and when and in what capacity you plan to return to work. Send an email after the meeting to detail all the things you discussed so that you have it in writing.
If the response you get from your boss is lukewarm, unhelpful, or hostile, consider whether you need to get a human resources representative involved or to start looking for another job. Sometimes people are taken aback and overwhelmed at what the change in plans will look like for the team and the work, but once they adjust a bit, they’ll be completely helpful and supportive. Other times, bosses are wrongly convinced that pregnancy is the ultimate disruption (despite the fact that an unplanned medical leave can be much more disruptive) and will not be happy no matter what. In that case, it’s up to you how you react. Just keep in mind that it’s illegal to discriminate against someone due to pregnancy status.
If you decide to stay at your job, plan ahead for your parental leave and for your postpartum period, as well as your return to work. If you have high-quality childcare in place before baby is born, you’re much more likely to feel confident leaving them to go back to work that you enjoy.
- Jones, K. P. (2017). To tell or not to tell? Examining the role of discrimination in the pregnancy disclosure process at work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.