My manager is expecting a baby in July, and I learned of her exciting news in November—just a couple weeks after she, herself, found out. While she felt comfortable disclosing her pregnancy with me and also with her own manager relatively early on, the popular narrative holds that her experience is hardly universal. And, honestly, that makes sense: Though laws are in place to stop U.S. employers from discriminating against folks who become pregnant, the reality is, there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to how pregnant people are perceived in the workplace. And that’s why figuring out when to tell your boss that you’re pregnant often requires weighing not only legal but psychological considerations, too.
You certainly wouldn’t be alone or unjustified if your first instinct is to wait as long as possible to disclose the news. “There’s a common fear of telling your boss ‘too early’ because it may draw attention to changes in your workday that would otherwise go unnoticed,” says gynecologist Kenosha Gleaton, MD, medical advisor for prenatal brand Natalist. Once your boss knows about your pregnancy, research shows they may act with unconscious bias or embrace deeply ingrained misconceptions about pregnant people being less competent or less dedicated to their job.
“There’s a common fear of telling your boss ‘too early’ because it may draw attention to changes in your workday that would otherwise go unnoticed.” —Kenosha Gleaton, MD, medical advisor for Natalist
But staying mum on your pregnancy news as a way to steer clear of potential bias or awkward interactions isn’t necessarily advisable, either. Keeping the secret may contribute to psychological distress, while also isolating you from your colleagues—who could otherwise have helped you navigate the symptoms of pregnancy. “Some people find that, since they spend so much time with their coworkers, sharing their news with them [earlier] can help them feel more supported, which would be a positive move for your mental health,” says psychiatrist Aparna Iyer, MD. Not to mention, revealing the news sooner can put you in a better position to receive adequate accommodations for pregnancy symptoms or even pregnancy loss, which is most common in the first trimester.
As a result, deciding exactly when to tell your boss that you’re pregnant is ultimately a personal decision, based on nature of your pregnancy and your workplace. Below, experts walk through everything to consider before you pick a date to drop the news.
From the outset, it’s important to know that if you qualify for the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—generally meaning that you’ve worked at a company with 50 or more employees for at least a year—you do need to notify your employer at least 30 days ahead of when you’ll take off to give birth, says Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. (Similarly, many employer-specific parental-leave programs have certain disclosure dates required for tapping their benefits, so if your company has its own policy, it’s worth scanning it for a deadline, too.)
However, there are certainly situations where you may need to take off from work in advance of your due date—say, for unexpected complications associated with your pregnancy that require medical care or incapacitating side effects. In these cases, it’s just required to notify your employer as soon as it is possible and practicable to do so, in order to get FMLA leave, says Frye.
Either way, FMLA guarantees 12 weeks’ unpaid, job-protected time off, and your employer “cannot discourage you from using this leave, manipulate your hours to avoid FMLA responsibilities, use your leave as a negative factor in employment decisions, or otherwise penalize you for it,” she says. Though the U.S. currently offers no federal paid family leave, 11 states and the District of Columbia do have statewide paid-leave programs, which generally require the same 30 days’ (or as soon as possible) notice.
Beyond that, there’s no legal mandate for when to tell your boss that you’re pregnant, but it’s worth noting that whenever you choose to break the news, a few laws exist to protect you from workplace discrimination (even if you aren’t covered by the above).
“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) specifically says that your employer [assuming you work for a company with 15 or more employees] cannot discriminate against you because of your pregnancy, and also that if you have a pregnancy-related medical limitation affecting your ability to do your job, they have to treat you the same way they would any other temporarily disabled employee,” says Kameron Dawson, staff attorney at workers’ advocacy nonprofit A Better Balance. “That means, if you do need time off to recover from childbirth, or if you do need an accommodation in the workplace, like an adjusted work schedule or a change in job responsibilities, that if your job is providing that for other workers who have a medical condition, they have to do the same for you.” (It’s also possible that if you have a high-risk pregnancy or pregnancy-related disability, like preeclampsia, you could be entitled to time off through the Americans with Disabilities Act, adds Dawson.)
Separately, you may also be able to tap into state-level protections (which only exist in 31 states right now) filling the gaps between federal laws. “If you’re not covered by the above laws and you find that you have a need for a pregnancy accommodation, like time off or a stool to sit on at work, you can request that through pregnant workers fairness laws in certain states,” says Dawson. “Generally, your employer will need to work with you to provide you with the accommodation, so long as it’s not an undue hardship on their business.” (A federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that would require these accommodations nationwide was passed by the House last year, but it hasn’t been taken up by the Senate yet for a vote.)
Though, in most cases, your boss can’t legally retaliate against you for becoming pregnant, you wouldn’t be wrong to think that pregnancy can have workplace implications. Fears that your news could be received poorly or could impact your career trajectory are entirely valid, especially given the rising tide of pregnancy discrimination cases in the past few years.
“A general uncertainty around professional standing during pregnancy can contribute to a sense of imbalance for some, but can be downright destabilizing for others.” —Aparna Iyer, MD, psychiatrist
“A general uncertainty around professional standing during pregnancy can contribute to a sense of imbalance for some, but can be downright destabilizing for others,” says Dr. Iyer. “For people whose professional identity is a large part of their overall self-identity, this can feel especially challenging—right at a time when they are already trying to figure out how to incorporate the role of parenthood into their transitioning sense of self.”
As a result, you may still opt to minimize any shred of potential for backlash by being strategic about when you tell your boss, perhaps holding onto the news until your belly starts to show, if you’re working in an office or on-site, or even later, if you’re working remotely. “One positive [of the latter situation] is that you have an added layer of control over when, how, and with whom to share your pregnancy without the visible signs being as readily apparent,” says Dr. Iyer. That could even mean timing your announcement such that it doesn’t fall right before a performance review or important meeting that you’re leading.
Additionally, you might find that managing workplace politics is another reason to keep your news a secret for longer. “Coworkers may have strong feelings or concerns around how your pregnancy might impact your commitment to your profession or how it could leave them with extra responsibilities,” says Dr. Iyer. “It can be so challenging trying to navigate these other peoples’ emotions around your pregnancy when you are still trying to figure out your own.”
Certain shifts in your physical or mental health during your pregnancy could provide valid reasons to break the news at work sooner. For instance, if you’re having pregnancy symptoms like fatigue, nausea, or vomiting that are hindering your workplace experience, or if your work is becoming physically taxing (say, your job requires you to lift heavy items or use toxic chemicals), then it’s worth notifying your manager as soon as you can in order to secure accommodations or modifications [that you legally qualify for or that your employer offers] and protect your pregnancy, says Dr. Gleaton.
You might also take a pulse on your psychological demeanor. For example, if you find yourself working hard to prevent or conceal any noticeable changes to your productivity or availability at work, you’re more likely to burn out, says Dr. Gleaton. “The fear of not being respected as much as before, being viewed as on a ‘mommy-track’ and less professional, or feeling like you have little support could cause mental-health issues such as depression and anxiety, which can affect your pregnancy,” she says. In that case, you may also be better off sharing your news with your boss and coworkers sooner than later so that you can effectively manage expectations and receive the support you deserve and are legally owed.
And if you suspect that you’re being discriminated against after disclosing, visit both the Center for WorkLife Law and A Better Balance to gather resources on how to self-advocate, or contact either organization’s free and confidential legal hotline (415- 703-8276 for the Center for WorkLife Law and 1-833-633-3222 for A Better Balance). That way, you can get connected with a legal expert who can help you figure out the best course of action for your particular pregnancy and workplace.
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