Are you pregnant and wondering how to break the news at work?
You may be ecstatic, but also nervous about how others will react. After all, a pregnancy announcement can signal big changes ahead for your coworkers, too: Will they have to take on more work? Will you return after the baby is born?
Whether you’re curious about your rights in the workplace, wondering how to appropriately announce your pregnancy to your boss or coworkers, or simply trying to hide your morning sickness because you’re not ready to spill the beans, we’ve got everything you need to know right here.
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What Laws Do I Need to Know About?
In the United States there are three main pieces of legislation which govern your rights at work as a pregnant woman. These are the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (source).
These regulations apply to companies with 15 or more employees.
Your workplace is not allowed to discriminate against you because you are pregnant — meaning they cannot fire you, deny you a promotion, refuse to hire you, or involuntarily reassign you because of a pregnancy.
What Types of Accommodations Can I Get at Work While Pregnant?
If you need an accommodation in order to do your job effectively while pregnant, your employer must provide one as long as:
- They provide similar accommodations for non-pregnant employees who have limitations.
- The accommodation does not pose a significant burden or expense on the employer.
Accommodations can vary widely and will depend on your individual job and specific limitations.
Some examples of accommodations for pregnancy-related limitations include:
- More frequent bathroom breaks.
- Permission to sit or stand.
- Permission to work from home.
- Reprieve from certain non-essential work duties.
- Ergonomic office furniture.
- Altered work schedule.
Your employer is not allowed to charge you for any costs associated with your accommodation, or to reduce your pay — as long as you are still doing your regular job.
When discussing accommodations, it is important to note, pregnancy is not a reason to not meet job performance expectations. Accommodations are ways to help you meet performance expectations, not lower the existing standards.
What If I Can’t Do My Job While Pregnant?
If for some reason you find yourself completely unable to do your job while pregnant, you still have some options. You can ask for a temporary reassignment, reduced hours, or light duty — but you may also be subject to reduced pay if you are no longer doing your regular job.
If you have a health condition that precludes you from working at all, you may be able to take unpaid leave as a pregnancy accommodation, or qualify for FMLA leave, which is also unpaid leave but preserves your job while you are off work.
Do Individual States Have Pregnancy-Related Employment Laws?
Keep in mind the PDA, ADA, and FMLA are nationwide regulations and the bare minimum of what your workplace must provide. Several states have enacted their own legislation, which may provide you with additional protections.
- District of Columbia.
- New Jersey.
- New York.
- North Dakota.
- Rhode Island.
- West Virginia.
You can learn about the specific regulations of your state here.
What Should I Do if I Need a Pregnancy Accommodation at Work?
If you need an accommodation at work due to your pregnancy, speak with your supervisor or Human Resources representative. It may be helpful to have a letter from your doctor documenting your health condition and the accommodations you seek.
It’s not required in order to begin the process, but it is likely your employer will require it at some point so it may be a good idea to have it ready in order to make things move at a faster pace.
When Should I Announce My Pregnancy at Work?
It is entirely up to you when you would like to announce your pregnancy. Most women choose to wait until after the first trimester when their risk of miscarriage drops significantly (source). This helps avoid awkward, uncomfortable, or intimately personal conversations in the event that you do have a miscarriage within the first 13 weeks.
However, you may choose to disclose your pregnancy to your supervisor earlier if you are suffering from severe morning sickness that is interfering with your job performance. While you may not be ready to share your condition widely with the whole office, sharing on a need-to-know basis may be necessary.
If you’re not one to make a dramatic announcement or you have your reasons for wanting to hide your pregnancy for as long as possible, you may again consider notifying the “powers that be” earlier than sharing with the general public.
If you plan to take a lengthy maternity leave, it takes quite a bit of planning and it is a common courtesy to notify coworkers who may be affected to give them a reasonable amount of time to plan for your absence.
Give At Least a Month
How Can I Hide My Pregnancy at Work?
If you’re not ready to share your good news, it’s generally fairly easy to hide your first-trimester bump, if you even have one, with loose clothes. But what about the other symptoms?
How do you hide some of the more subtle pregnancy symptoms that may be a dead giveaway?
- Skipping the coffee: Whether you’re avoiding caffeine in early pregnancy or just lost your taste for the stuff thanks to a food aversion, simply fill a coffee travel mug with water. You need to stay hydrated, anyway — and your coworkers will be none the wiser you’re actually skipping your morning joe.
- Food aversions: If you can’t stand the break room thanks to all the smells wafting from the fridge and microwave, pack your lunch in a cooler or lunch box with reusable ice packs. And if you don’t have a private space to eat at your desk, find a bench outside. You’ll not only get a break, but some fresh air, too.
- Extreme fatigue: The typical mid-afternoon fatigue is even more brutal when you’re pregnant. Use your afternoon break to take a quick walk outside. The fresh air and light exercise can help give you a boost of energy that can perk you right up.
- Pregnancy nausea: If you’re struggling with morning sickness or pregnancy nausea, keep palatable snacks in your desk at work to keep your stomach from fully emptying, or suck on pregnancy pops throughout the day.
Tips for Announcing Your Pregnancy At Work
When you’re ready to spill the beans finally, here are some tips on how to do it well.
1. Telling Your Boss You’re Pregnant
When telling your boss you’re pregnant, it’s important to keep in mind that one of their first thoughts will be how to cover your workload while you’re gone, or how to replace you if you don’t intend to return.
While the culture in each workplace varies widely, it’s best to initially communicate your pregnancy to your boss in person, and then follow it up with an email documenting your conversation.
Prior to telling your boss you’re pregnant, it’s ideal if you’ve given thought to the following, and can communicate your plans clearly:
- Whether you intend to return to work after your baby is born.
- An approximation of your maternity leave dates.
- A list of tasks you intend to do in order to help prepare your maternity leave coverage.
If you announce your pregnancy to your boss over email, consider using the following template. You may also use this template to summarize your follow-up email if you shared your pregnancy news in person.
Dear <SUPERVISOR NAME>:
I wanted to notify you that I am currently pregnant with a due date of <DUE DATE>. While I am extremely thrilled about this addition to our family, I also recognize that taking a maternity leave will impact the office so I wanted to share this information with you early so there was adequate time to prepare.
My plan is to work up until as close to my due date as possible, and then return to work after a three-month maternity leave. In the meantime, I am committed to doing as much as I can to prepare things for my absence.
Over the next few months I plan to:
- Make a detailed list of all my current work-related duties.
- Make clear, detailed guides for some of the more complex duties.
- Work with you to identify current employees who may be able to absorb some of the duties.
- Thoroughly train my replacements on how to do certain tasks.
- Finish up <BIG PROJECTS THAT MAY BE DIFFICULT TO PASS ON>.
Of course, the date of the beginning of my leave may vary slightly due to the unpredictability of pregnancy, but I plan to give you as much notice as possible if any changes arise.
I plan to meet with HR to see what they need as far as documentation, and if you think of any other things you’d like me to address in advance of my maternity leave, please don’t hesitate to let me know so I can add it to my to-do list.
2. Telling Your Coworkers You’re Pregnant
The way you announce your pregnancy to your coworkers will vary greatly based upon your workplace culture and your relationships with your coworkers. Do it in the way that feels most natural to the employment environment, whether it’s sharing privately on a one-on-one basis, or bringing cake into the break room with a celebratory “baby on board” announcement.
Rest assured, good news travels fast, so if you’re not able to tell everyone in person, chances are they’ll hear the news through the grapevine soon enough. Try your best to share personally with those you work with most closely, and don’t worry if you’re not able to get to everyone.
After all, it will be obvious as your belly swells over the next few months.
3. Telling Your Employees You’re Pregnant
If you own your own business or have employees that you supervise, be aware they may feel anxious about how your pregnancy may affect their personal work, or how things will run when you’re on leave. Their feelings deserve respect and you should use the utmost care when sharing your news.
Ideally you will share your news personally with your direct reports, assuring them that you will have clear plans in place to ensure your leave is not burdensome to them. Depending on the employee, you may also frame it as an opportunity for them to take on a more advanced role in the company, giving them the chance to prepare for career advancement.
Once the most critical people have been notified of your pregnancy, feel free to share the news more widely at a staff meeting or in an email. Again, reiterate you will have clear plans in place to ensure your absence has the least amount of impact on the company and your individual employees.
Things to Avoid When Announcing
- Don’t announce your pregnancy in an emotional moment: While sharing your pregnancy with family and friends is exciting and celebratory, your announcement at work — particularly to your boss — deserves to be well thought out, prepared, and professional. Resist the urge to announce your pregnancy in an emotional, unplanned moment in a careless way.
- Don’t share with your coworkers before your boss: Regardless of your relationship with your boss, they deserve to hear about your pregnancy from you personally, not through the rumor mill. No matter how tightly you swear your colleagues to secrecy, if you start to share with them before you tell your boss, he or she is bound to find out. Out of respect, let your boss be the first to know, and then share with your coworkers after that.
- Don’t lead with expected accommodations: Be gracious when you announce your pregnancy, and don’t start off with the accommodations you expect to receive. When you share your pregnancy with your boss, simply share the news, your expected leave dates, and your work plan. Instead, address accommodations in later conversations as the needs arise.
- Don’t expect everyone to be thrilled: Every workplace is different, and in many the line between “business” and “personal” is well-defined. While you never have to endure discrimination or harassment due to your pregnancy, don’t expect everyone to be thrilled. In a perfect world, they would be. But if some people aren’t overjoyed for you, don’t take it personally. After all, it’s just business.
- Don’t commit to return after your maternity leave if you actually intend to quit: I get it. Plans change all the time, and it’s entirely possible you had every intention of returning to work but can’t bring yourself to do it once your baby is in your arms. That’s perfectly okay. But some mothers, unfortunately, mislead their employers with plans to return post-pregnancy when they actually intend to quit in order to reap company-issued maternity leave benefits. Not only is this unethical, but it can also have serious financial repercussions. If you quit your job while on maternity leave, you may be required to repay any benefits or health insurance premiums that were provided while you were away from work.
The Bottom Line
Pregnancy is a time of intense planning and preparation, and your work life deserves no less preparation. It all starts with announcing your pregnancy to your employer, which needs to be done with care, respect, and intention.
Prior to announcing your pregnancy make sure you know your rights, which are outlined in:
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
- The Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Individual legislation that may be passed in your state.
In general, you:
- Cannot be fired, denied a promotion, or denied a hire based solely on your pregnancy status.
- Cannot be harassed due to your pregnancy.
- May be eligible for pregnancy- or health-related accommodations so you can effectively perform your job duties.
- May have your regular position preserved while taking light duty, a temporary reassignment, or unpaid leave during your pregnancy, if medically necessary.
Always make sure to announce your pregnancy to your boss prior to your coworkers, and when you share your news make sure you do so professionally by:
- Having an estimated departure and return-to-work date.
- Having a coverage plan.
- Making it clear you will work to make the transition as smooth as possible when you leave.
When you announce your pregnancy at work in a way that lets others know you’re looking out for them, it makes it easier for them to look out for you, too. So if you’re nervous about spilling the beans, don’t be. Just make sure you have a plan before you do it.
How did it go when you announced your pregnancy at work? Share your story with us in the comments — and share this with a woman who may need these tips in the near future.