Preventing Pregnancy Discrimination: What You Can Do

Pregnant -- and working? Here are four ways you can promote a supportive workplace during your pregnancy.

We know: It's not your job to be the pregnancy discrimination police. (That's the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor.) And of course you can't control how your coworkers or bosses think or behave.

But there are steps you can take to help prevent pregnancy discrimination and promote a supportive workplace during your 9-month path to parenthood. Here are some of the most important.

  • When are you due? Find out!

Know Your Stuff

Confusion (and bad feelings) can arise when moms-to-be don't fully understand their workplace rights and responsibilities. Skip this pitfall by doing a bit of homework.

  • Read the manual. Your trusty employee handbook is a valuable resource: It outlines the policies and processes related to maternity and child-care leave at your job. Read it with an eye for things like how much vacation time you can use during your leave, when you should provide medical or doctor's notes, and how much leave you actually get, says Donna Galatas, CEO of The Galatas Group, a human resources consultancy for small businesses in Frisco, Texas. It will also list the right people to talk to about any questions or problems you have.
  • Shop pregnancy books.
  • Study your legal rights. You don't have to be able to pass the employment law section of your state's bar exam, but you should brush up on your rights as a pregnant employee. These resources from the Department of Labor can help you get started:What to Expect When You're Expecting (and after the birth of your child)? at WorkPregnancy & Childbearing Discrimination Factsheet

You can also learn more at the EEOC website and from your state's Department of Labor.

Keep Up the Good Work

It's simple, but it's important: Make sure the quality of your work stays top-notch -- especially in the period just before you reveal your pregnancy. "If your bosses know that your work has been good before you announced your pregnancy," says Martin Levy, president of the human resources consulting firm Human Resources 4U, "it will help reassure them that the level of your performance isn't going to change."

Start Spreadin' the News

Telling your boss that you're pregnant is something you want to do the right way. Unfortunately, there isn't a single right way.

"You should pay attention to your company's culture," says lawyer Tom Spiggle, author of You're Pregnant? You're Fired! Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.

This means informing your boss about your pregnancy in a way that's in sync with how your team operates. For instance, if your office documents everything with a formal email and cc's everyone from HR to the CEO, then that's exactly what you should do for this, too. But if your workplace is more casual, a sudden shift to ultra-formal language and procedure might feel just off enough to make a normal work relationship feel unnecessarily weird.

Another key: Tell your boss first. "There are no real secrets in offices," Galatas says, so if you tell an office pal who slips and spills the beans before you do, your boss may be left asking herself why you wouldn't tell her first, which can create awkwardness.

And while it's not required, when you speak with your boss about your pregnancy, be prepared to answer a few questions about what that means for your role in the organization. "Many bosses will hear the news and their survival instinct kicks in -- they'll think, 'what does that mean for me?'" Galatas notes. A few preliminary answers can help you to set your manager's mind at ease.

Make it easy to accommodate you

If your pregnancy means that you'll need to ask for accommodations, doing so constructively is crucial. Here are some things you can do:

  • Be Specific. Ask your doctor to write down exactly what you need, rather than merely listing your condition. "For instance, if the doctor's note only says you have migraines, we won't automatically know how to help you with that," Galatas explains. "But if it says you need to work in a room where you can control the light, or work a certain number of hours, or have reduced hours, that's a request the business can evaluate."
  • Be flexible. From an HR perspective, anything your company agrees to do for you is something they'll have to be willing to do for everyone else, so you may not get exactly the accommodation you want. But if the company offers you options, take some time to consider their proposed ideas -- cross training, a different shift, or reduced hours -- with an open mind. If it just won't work for you, suggest an alternative.

Taking steps to be a positive participant in your workplace while you're pregnant, and to prevent pregnancy discrimination, will be great for you -- and for all the pregnant workers who come after you.

Copyright © 2014 Meredith Corporation.

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