Telling the Boss

In the olden days, telling your husband you were pregnant was a big deal. Now the big deal is telling your boss:

Reader teaspoon2007 posted this question in the comments earlier this week:

"This may or may not be on topic, but I'm curious what people have told their bosses when they are pregnant with the first kid, have the option to stay at home, and are not sure if they will want to or not? We have been saving my salary and trying to live on my husband's in case that day comes, but I have no idea if I'm going to love staying home or hate it or want to work part time. This is not an immediate issue for us but it might be in the next few years, and I'd be curious what others' experience is. In theory, I wouldn't have to say anything, but I like my boss & I would want him to be able to plan."
Lily Garcia, who offers employment law and human resources advice (good recent examples from The Washington Post include After Childbirth, Return to Work? and Can a Company Lay Off a Pregnant Worker?) has this to say to Teaspoon:

"The truth is that you really don't know whether you will want to stay home or how much you will want to work until the moment of truth. As a new mother, I can personally attest to that. So, my best advice would be to give your best guess as to what you are going to do and ask your boss for understanding and flexibility."

How have you told your boss about being pregnant? When in the pregnancy did you open up? Did your approach change with subsequent pregnancies? What's the best way to keep your options open when you are not sure whether you will return to work or stay home?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 15, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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Everyone thinks it is hard to be a women and to tell your boss your pregnant and want time off. Try being the Dad! I know lots of Dads who were looked at like they were crazy when they said they wanted anything more than a week. Granted, moms need a good 3-6 weeks just to recover physically, but it is just as important for dad to bond with the child as it is for mom. Luckily I have a very understanding boss (with kids) who allowed me to take off what I felt I needed. I have 2 kids (3 & 1.5) and I took off 5-6 weeks with each of them. It is time I would never give back with my children regardless of having limited leave balances when I return. I strongly recommend long leaves of absence for moms and dads after a new baby is born, you will never regret it.

Posted by: happydad | February 15, 2008 7:27 AM

My manager knew I was pregnant when I was just 8 weeks along (due to an 'emergency room miscommunication' by my husband -- long story). However, she was totally cool with it and is, in fact, part of my 'girls' I show the ultrasounds to and such.

Due to financial and other reasons (well, heck, I just love what I do), I'll be returning to work after maternity leave, and my manager is well aware of that.

If I WERE entertaining the idea of not coming back, I wouldn't tell her. Even given our great relationship, telling someone you're not entirely sure about sticking around is really the kiss of death. Even if your boss does his/her best not to let that admission overshadow your work (and commitment), it will. Projects will (conscientiously or not) go go other people, long-range plans will tentatively include you, etc.

I say if you're not sure if you're returning, keep that to yourself until you really, REALLY know what your plans are. Then, tell you boss as soon as possible so he/she can plan accordingly.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | February 15, 2008 7:42 AM

Corvette1975

"If I WERE entertaining the idea of not coming back, I wouldn't tell her. Even given our great relationship, telling someone you're not entirely sure about sticking around is really the kiss of death. Even if your boss does his/her best not to let that admission overshadow your work (and commitment), it will. Projects will (conscientiously or not) go go other people, long-range plans will tentatively include you, etc. "

Ditto

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 15, 2008 7:55 AM

I never had to tell the boss that I was pg. I think if it happened, I would have been more shocked than him!

Posted by: fred | February 15, 2008 8:04 AM

You absolutely want them to think you're coming back until the very last minute, even if you don't intend to come back and you know it.

Happydad, good point. I told my boss my wife was pregnant when she was only maybe four months along, and he said, "great, take all the time off you want, twelve weeks is no problem." As the due date got closer, however, the amount of time he wanted me to take off shrank relentlessly. No dude, not a good time for you to take three months off, uh uh, not advisable. Eventually I was lucky to get two weeks off, which I took after my wife's 12 weeks, and then we put our son in day care.

Posted by: mucus99 | February 15, 2008 8:05 AM

I became pregnant while a new graduate student. I was so thrilled and thought I had the perfect timing ..expecting in June so I could work as a graduate assistant through the two semesters and take off the summer. I happily told the news to my boss--a young, ambitious professor--and that I planned to complete all the research tasks for him during the academic year. His response..."you're no use to me now. Find another sucker to employ you". The Department head, probably terrified of being sued, quickly found me a teaching position, but more than anything I was sad at the guy's attitude. My revenge was to be the first to finish the PhD in my year, publish while in grad school and be hugely pregnant with kid number two while I defended my dissertation. The professor hasn't published much since I left, is now divorced twice and no grad student (male or female) wants to work with him.

Posted by: samclare | February 15, 2008 8:27 AM

I told my boss I was pregnant at 6 weeks; I miscarried at 7 weeks.

When I told him about the pregnancy, he mentioned that our company won't fault me if I don't return to work after the baby was born.

It's been six months since the miscarriage and I still think he wonders when I'll tell him again that I'm pregnant.

Posted by: erin.alissa | February 15, 2008 8:35 AM

What Fred said!

Seriously, though - for both DW and I, the boss' reaction was related solely to whether or not the boss had kids. Whether the boss was male or female, if the boss had kids, he/she knew what was going on, accommodated requests, and worked with us. If the boss didn't have kids, there were lots of comments like "well, how much time ARE you going to take off?" "are you still going to be able to travel?" "how can I rely on you?" etc.

Also agree with what Corvette said - if you think you might come back, the report to your boss is that you ARE coming back until you've absolutely made up your mind. That way you stay in the long-range plans. On the other hand, once you know you're NOT coming back, let that understanding and supportive boss know as quickly as you can so that she can make other plans.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 15, 2008 8:37 AM

I planned to tell at 12 weeks, but not tell that I wasn't coming back until I was much further along (though before I took any maternity leave). As it happened, I was ten weeks pregnant when DH got a job in a different state, so I told him I was pregnant the same day I told him I was leaving.

The only thing that really bugs me in these kinds of situations is where women know darn well that they have no intention of returning to work, but take maternity leave and other benefits anyway. I know someone who'd doing that right now -- she stopped working in November, took paid maternity and is now on disability. She does not now and never has had any intention of returning to work. She claims the company "owes" her these benefits. I think she's a thief.

Posted by: newsahm | February 15, 2008 8:50 AM

newsahm

"I know someone who'd doing that right now -- she stopped working in November, took paid maternity and is now on disability. She does not now and never has had any intention of returning to work. She claims the company "owes" her these benefits. I think she's a thief."

WOW!

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 15, 2008 8:57 AM

I have to contradict my original post in a way because I do agree with newsahm. It drives me crazy, too, when women quit after taking maternity leave without giving their manager(s) or coworker(s) any kind of a (reasonable) heads-up.

I feel that fosters distrust for women; if a manager had that happen to him or her previously, I have to believe the next woman who tells him/her she's pregnant is automatically suspect, regardless of her staying or leaving intentions.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | February 15, 2008 8:58 AM

I was about 8 weeks pregnant when I started my job, but I didn't tell my boss until I was about 14 weeks along. I'd had a late first trimester loss with my first pregnancy, and I didn't want to make an announcement only to have another loss. I was TERRIFIED to tell her. She was wonderful. Basically she said: you're young, married, and have no kids, so it's no big surprise. Congratulations. I definitely intended to come back. It's a dream job, and I don't have the financial option to stay home. Another woman here had pretty much the exact same story a few months later. She's now back full time.

My husband and I were just talking last night how everything worked out so perfectly with him when our daughter was born. He went part time and took on some weekend clients. It was nice to keep her out of full time daycare as long as possible, plus he had some serious bonding time with her.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 9:04 AM

To newsahm:

I don't disagree with you about the thief aspect. But I do think the system often is set up to screw people out of benefits. Many places won't pay you any accrued sick leave when you quit. So say you've worked some place a long time, been responsible, only used sick leave when you felt like you were about to die, and accrued 6 weeks of sick leave. Meanwhile other employees have called in sick at the drop of a hat, the hint of a sniffle, mental health days, etc. You get pregnant. If you're going to return to work, you can use that 6 weeks for paid maternity. If you don't go back, you don't get squat. Although it technically isn't right to take the paid leave if you're not going back, it is not entirely unreasonable to feel that the company "owes" you. You earned the time. It's just that the company stacked the deck against you.

Posted by: rockvillemom | February 15, 2008 9:06 AM

Chitty, if that was a Haxian, "wow", I'm with you.

There's nothing worse for the rest of us in the workplace then a woman who games the system, says she's coming back, and has no intention of doing so. It's unprofessional and it takes advantage of policies that are in place for our protection. Corvette is spot-on about the impact on ALL the woman hired into a department or division after ONE woman acts in this manner.

Posted by: mn.188 | February 15, 2008 9:07 AM

I am currently in this situation (due late April) and told my boss that after my 6 weeks of leave I have NO IDEA how it's going to be. I will be coming back, but I don't know if it will be full time or part time, and honestly can't say, how it's going to be. What if the baby is sick and I need to be home longer? What if there are no problems, but the day care center doesn't have the openings that they thought they would have and I have no child care? I think that with more women in the workplace companies need to be understanding (esp. with a first child) that there are just going to be a lot of unknowns.

Now, as far as knowing that you aren't going to be coming back, but milking the company anyway, that is stealing. More importantly, they're holding a position open that may need to be filled as soon as possible. As a manager, there is nothing more difficult that working understaffed and that puts undue stress on the other people on your team. If you aren't coming back, let the search process to fill your space start as early as possible.

Posted by: superdydy | February 15, 2008 9:11 AM

I put it off as long as possible. I also had a miscarriage - in the second trimester - so I wasn't terribly confident. But also I just put it off.

Based on my experience, I wouldn't ever express doubts. If a woman takes a paid maternity leave, I would expect her (as her boss) to come back and try working at her old job before she just takes off with our check. I understand ALL TOO WELL how hard it is, and how difficult it is to have any idea what you feel for a good 6 months after having a baby. At least do me the honor of giving it the old college try. If you can't handle being away from the baby, I understand that completely.

And before anybody tells me I'm an ogre, I do understand that some women know from the moment that they look at their child that they can't put them in day care EVER. If that is the case, then you had better call me then and give notice. Just be honest with me as much as possible - that is all I ask. Be honest with me, and I will go to the mat for you when you need help later.

It is just the same rule one uses for everything else: family comes first, of course, but do not burn any bridges. Just my two cents from both sides of this question.

Posted by: badmommy | February 15, 2008 9:14 AM

It took me a while to tell boss. I don't know why, I just didn't know how. No one has any offices where I used to work, so I had to pull him off the floor, take an office, and tell him. He didn't much seem to care, anyway. Then a few weeks later, I got a new boss...Then he left a month or so later for a new job. I never really told anyone my plans, I'm not sure what they were anyway, but it didn't much matter as I rarely knew who I reported to.

All this, though, while we knew that layoffs were coming in a couple of months (I told when I was probably 4 months along). Then - lo and behold - I was laid off with about 10 weeks left of pregnancy. So, then i went into the hospital four weeks later.

Originally, my DH was going to take four weeks off, no one gave him grief. We worked at the same place. When he ended up taking more than that, since I was in the hospital for 10 days and he didn't much work while I was there, then he took another month off, after the birth - no one much gave him so much as a look. Considering I was unable to sign away my rights until much after the birth of the kid, due to my condition - they wanted to make darn sure we weren't suing them for anything at all.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 15, 2008 9:18 AM

First of all, it's the system that games women -- not the other way around -- by being so draconian about women who have kids and still want to or have to work.

Fred, think you SHOULD go tell your boss you are pg. Please report back with details about how it felt and what he or she said.

But serious, did you take FMLA to help Frieda out? Was it hard to tell the boss that?

Posted by: leslie4 | February 15, 2008 9:26 AM

What about the whole aspect of people suspecting you're pregnant long before you make the formal announcement? I was one of those people who didn't weather early pregnancy well -- I looked and felt terrible and had a lot of morning sickness. Also, where I worked there were a lot of work-related cocktail parties and people tend to notice if you suddenly switch from wine to orange juice. Ditto if you suddenly start attending the morning staff meeting without your usual jumbo grande cappucino. And with second babies (or more), you tend to start showing a lot earlier. Were you all really able to drift along with no one suspecting anything until the formal announcement at week twelve or whatever? I'm afraid my deathly gray pallor and general aversion to food and lunches out with colleagues where food would be eaten gave it away long before twelve weeks.

Posted by: justlurking | February 15, 2008 9:31 AM

OK, I will update you on my preggers status weekly! :)

FMLA was passed after we had our last child. At that time I had plenty of vacation saved and a boss (male) who was flexible about it.

Unlike when the first child was born but my sainted mother was there to help us with first son.

Not directly related to being pg but as I have noted with our current medical situation, my boss (female) has already made accommodations so I can take Frieda to any medical procedure necessary. In fact, I left early yesterday so we could see the radiological oncologist.

Posted by: fred | February 15, 2008 9:43 AM

justlurking- Sure they suspect, but I don't even ask my FRIENDS who've made the switch to OJ and look ill if they are pregnant. They'll tell me when they're ready. Plus, they may not be pregnant.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 9:48 AM

Interesting question, justlurking.

If our office did happy hours, oh yeah, that would have been a dead giveaway (as the wine queen orders nothing but water...). I was never a huge coffee drinker, so I would have been safe on that front.

I didn't have any physical or real 'outward appearance' signals during the first trimester, but I was cranky, cranky, cranky and super-tired. I did my best to hole up in my office and speak very little (to save myself from yelling at someone).

When I finally made the annoucement, those who know me well said they knew something was up, but they just couldn't put their finger on it. However, they assumed something was going on personal-wise; they didn't assume it was becuase I was pregnant.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | February 15, 2008 9:51 AM

I never had a problem, because I have the best boss in the world. I came back to the firm while 5 mos. pregnant; he was very concerned about me being bored with a part-time telecommuting position, until I told him I was pregnant -- then he was happy. I also tried to reassure him that I was going to want to continue working after I had the baby, but he specifically told me NOT to make up my mind until after the baby came, because you can never tell how you're going to feel.

Second I had to tell a lot earlier, because I get sick as a dog and balloon up like a puffer fish the minute the embryo appears, so since I was back in the office, it was going to be really obvious. I didn't really want to (multiple miscarriages), but I felt I owed them an explanation as to why I was missing work, coming in late, etc. So I just told my boss at about 8 weeks, then everyone else after the first trimester (although I'm sure they guessed before). Again, his response was "let me know what you want to do" -- how much time off, at what level I wanted to come back to work, etc.

I second the notion above that men have it much tougher. My husband works in a big, old-line company; when our due date approached with no. 2, my husband's boss thought he was being generous by offering 3 days' leave. And the scary thing is, by company standards, he WAS being generous!

Posted by: laura33 | February 15, 2008 10:27 AM

chitty, mn et alia: I agree that it does impact all women when one woman games the system as you've described; that is, she knows she's not coming back, but says she is to get all the benefits and then quits, leaving boss and team short handed.

But how do you think that compares to what happened here this morning: a guy got married last fall; took as much leave as he could, etc. He came in this morning with his "farewell donuts" for the office and announced that this is his last day. His wife got into grad school at Stanford so he's accepted the job he looked for while out on his honeymoon.

Is that the same, or different? And will his actions reflect on any other young employee (male or female) who gets married?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 15, 2008 10:27 AM

ArmyBrat- He took vacation leave that he earned. He's entitled to use it anyway he wants. I assume they would have paid it out to him as he left. People leave jobs all the time for many reasons. Maternity leave is different, especially if your company pays for it as an addition to the sick and vacation leave you accrue.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 10:41 AM

i'm currently 12 weeks pregnant.

I haven't told anyone yet because I miscarried at nine weeks last year, so I don't really trust this one yet. My ultrasound is Tuesday, so then I should be able to tell!!!

Thank goodness I work in an office where they let me work from home when needed, so on my really bad morning sickness days, I've gotten to stay home without taking leave. And I usually work 9:30 to 6 anyway, so I get up at 7, take things SLOW and easy, eat breakfast, etc, then head to work on time. So far I think my boss is the only one who suspects--he's the only one who knew about my MC, so obviously he knows I want kids, and he works more closely with me than anyone, so I think he's noticed the breast-and-belly bulges.

My plan is to tell him on Wednesday, after the ultrasound. I'll present him with a typed-out plan of what I want to do, then we'll negotiate from there. (I plan things for our whole department at least six months ahead at a time, so naturally I personally feel the need to spell everything out.)

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 15, 2008 10:45 AM

I completely understand why some women would take paid maternity leave, then give their notice. A friend of mine did this once: she held off saying anything until she couldn't hide it anymore, her boss created a hostile work environment, and HR backed him up, so what did she owe them? Her position might have remained for her, but with such a radically altered job description (and environment) it wouldn't have been the same job at all. It was very much "eff you" all the way around, but sometimes life is like that.

Posted by: northgs | February 15, 2008 10:54 AM

Oh, wow.

I grew up abroad and now live in Germany, so this level of job insecurity is scary and unfamiliar.

The laws that applied here when I was pregnant with our two kids were
- paid maternity leave 6 weeks before the due date and 8 weeks after the birth,
- from the day you announce the pregnancy you cannot be fired.
- 3 years maximum parenting leave (can be shared between the parents) during which your position is held for you (generally temps). As it turned out, we moved and I didn't take parenting leave.

The only loophole is that while mothers cannot be fired from announcement to the end of parenting leave, fathers can be fired (generally six weeks notice) until they take parenting leave - so while it is in a mother's best interest to let the company know early what her plans are, fathers are (currently) legally advised to wait until they cannot be fired before their parental leave begins.

So my first reaction is to side with the mom who says the company owes her. I had to get my head around why that wouldn't be right. It bothers me when the rules prevent people from being above-board.

Posted by: enkafiles | February 15, 2008 10:57 AM

yes, i teach an ESL class with students from all over the world, and they're always shocked and appalled by our (lack of) maternity leave in the U.S.

rather than weeks, many other countries offer YEARS of paid parental leave. wow.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 15, 2008 11:07 AM

At my last company, I told my boss I was pg at about 14-15 weeks, when it was becoming totally unavoidable. He was great about it (he just had a baby 2 months prior). I never had any intention of not coming back to work; in addition, that company formally informs each person who takes short-term disability that if they choose not to come back to work (and not for a medically related reason), then they will have to pay back the company the benefits and salary they were paid on leave. So I have cancer and take STD, and then after that ends my doctor says I'm still too sick to come back to work, I don't have to pay it back. But I have cancer and take STD, and choose not to come back for non-medically-related reasons, I have to pay back some portion of what I cost during that time (not the medical benefits, but salary maybe?). At any rate, it was passed through the pregnant grapevine that if you worked 10 weeks post-partum, they didn't come after you. There were a lot of women in my company who used mat leave to find other jobs, came back and worked 10 weeks, and then quit. My senior management was pretty hostile to my pregnancy with my first. I was denied a promotion that I had been promised in my review "for budgetary reasons". I was pulled off business trips and disinvited from meetings. On the bright side, they give 6 weeks paid leave (from STD) and then an additional 12 weeks unpaid leave for new parents.

Second baby - totally different story. New company, much more woman- and parent- friendly. Am currently due in early April and was promoted in January. When I told senior management here about the pregnancy I got nothing but "that's great!" said sincerely. They assume I'll still travel, head up projects, etc. - until I say no. I am currently the size of a beached whale, so my boss is concerned that I'll pop on a business trip, but understands that it's my call (and my doctor's) to decide whether I travel or not. It's nice.

At both companies, the formal policies say "as soon as you tell us you're not coming back, we cut off your benefits." So if you tell people at 30 weeks pg that you're not coming back, they will cut off your benefits on the last day you work - no medical benefits, no short-term disability, etc. And they won't hold your job for you. I know a lot of women who were convinced they'd never come back to work who did not enjoy being at home and vice versa; why lock yourself in before your sure?

Posted by: anny | February 15, 2008 11:08 AM

newslinks- Yay! Congratulations! Why on earth did they make you wait so long to get an ultrasound? I was a disaster with my second pregnancy, so they gave me weekly ultrasounds in the beginning. I spotted the whole first trimester, though, so they were watching things, not that they could do anything about it It was a horrible 13 weeks. The scariest part is almost over.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 11:08 AM

This is one reason I'm glad my head office is in Canada. 1 year mat leave (gov't funded), with job legally protected.

That said, after having had early miscarriages I delayed telling my boss until I was over 20 weeks with my first (she carried lengthwise so although I could not breathe, I didn't look too pregnant). He was very supportive, but also skeptical that I would return.

I insisted that I would, and I was glad because after I lost her we had to do a lot of creative shuffling to keep my replacement. (Legally, I could bump her, but we had planned for her to move into a different role on my return, so we just made the shuffle early. But there were budget issues, so I worked part time, which actually sort of suited me as I was processing a lot of stuff.)

With my son I told my company earlier just because everyone had been so supportive. But while I was on mat leave, the company reorganized. I came in for every ops meeting so that I stayed visible, and kept up on trends and made sure to stay in touch via email.

I was very glad because in the end the new bosses did try to jettison me and I was able to show that I had clearly expected to return. We negotiated a compromise exit package. A month later they realized their mistake and hired me back... freelance... part time... at a premium.

It was the kiss of death in our professional relationship though and when an opportunity for the competition came up I took it and we are beating the pants off them this quarter.

Moral of that lengthy story: it's not just about telling your boss or taking your leave, it's about how you want to manage your career.

Yes our priorities might change but you always want to maintain as good relationships as possible, and if you do decide not to return, work with your company to minimize the damage - offer to be available for training or to bridge a hiring gap, if you possibly can.

I also think the American system of tying health insurance to employment pretty much puts women in the position of having to lie in order to be covered in case they or their child have some catastrophic event during labour. You can't blame people for not openly quitting if the result could be hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 15, 2008 11:12 AM

atb2 - I guess that's what I don't really understand. Okay, if the company policies say that they specifically offer paid maternity leave as a benefit to women who have babies and are coming back to work, then I'd agree that a woman who collects that benefit knowing she's not coming back is cheating the company and it's possible she could be sued for the pay.

But if it's not a separate kind of leave per policies, then I really don't see any difference. When DW and I were feds, there was no "maternity leave" per se; there was annual leave and sick leave, and you could take whatever when needed with the baby. Current employer also doesn't offer a special "maternity leave" either; it comes under the "short term disability" plan.

So I think I'm agreeing with Leslie that I don't see any real difference here. In both cases, you have a team-member who wasn't very nice to fellow employees, leaving us in the lurch without notification; but in both cases the person was using a benefit to which he/she was entitled - "gaming the system", but that's a far cry from being a "thief".

(The exception being the case noted above, where the woman is violating policies by abusing a specific type of leave, in which case the company is perfectly within its rights to try to recover the money paid out.)

I'm not trying to be a smart aleck here; I'm just curious that people would regard these two circumstances so differently.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 15, 2008 11:13 AM

atb2 -- your attitude is what's wrong with our country! it's fine for a man to use the vacation he "earned" to look for another job. but a woman can't use her gov't or company sanctioned mat leave in the same way? because -- why? women (and men) often don't know how they are going to feel about returning to work until they have the baby. and what if the child has unforeseen special needs? i don't believe you are intentionally being sexist. but your attitude is completely unfair. if you were my boss, i'd wait until i had the baby to tell you i was pregnant. (you'd probably just think i was getting fat!)

Posted by: leslie4 | February 15, 2008 11:15 AM

atb2: thanks! i actually had one ultrasound at 7.5 weeks, and we got to see the heart beating, which was absolutely amazing. i've had no spotting or signs or any trouble whatsoever, so there's no reason to think there will be anything but good news.

however, my first was a missed miscarriage--again no signs of trouble whatsoever, and when we went in for the first ultrasound at 9 weeks, there was no heartbeat, which was devastating and completely unexpected. so i'm a bit neurotic about this one!

my practice is pretty straightforward--if you're meant to miscarry, you're going to, and there's nothing they can do, so try to relax and think positive. i don't disagree with the approach, i've just found the waiting difficult.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 15, 2008 11:18 AM

I was pregnant with my first child, told my female boss (no kids, divorced) at 12 weeks, and the first thing she said to me was "Did you mean for that to happen?" I'M NOT KIDDING. Needless to say, she was not the best boss to have when pregnant. I left that job as soon as my maternity leave ran out.

I would say, even if you think that you would like to stay home and would feel guilty if you didn't say anything, you never know how you will feel after the baby is born and you are around it 24/7. Likewise for mom's who automatically thinks that she'll go back to work. And that's ok. It's your choice. The job will get along with or without you.

Posted by: hill2003 | February 15, 2008 11:29 AM

"Maternity leave is different, especially if your company pays for it as an addition to the sick and vacation leave you accrue. "

I have personally never known anyone who worked somewhere with "real" maternity benefits. The best anyone seems to get is the option to use their own sickleave/vacation plus FMLA. And the place I worked before my daughter was born actually put limits on how much sickleave you could use (I think it was only 2 weeks)!

Incidentally, I kept my pregnancy under wraps for a long time just because the office receptionist was such a huge busybody (and a real jerk besides). I just didn't want to discuss it with her, so I didn't tell anyone until about 5 months along (it was winter, so lots of heavy sweaters). So instead of the comments about my pregnancy, I got to hear every day from this woman about how fat I was getting. It was actually fairly amusing.

Posted by: floof | February 15, 2008 11:35 AM

Kudos to Leslie for picking up on a topic that's been raised by one of the chatters!

Posted by: mehitabel | February 15, 2008 11:49 AM

ArmyBrat- That he didn't give notice is a problem. That he looked for a job on his personal leave isn't.

Leslie- Here's the problem as I see it. Let's say you actually have a job with maternity benefits: 3 months paid in addition to sick and vacation time. You have your baby and take all your sick, then vacation, then maternity, and never come back to work. You think being pregnant "earns" you 3 months pay, even if you're aren't coming back to work? Do you think that's fair to people who don't have kids? Why aren't they entitled to their sick pay and 3 months extra pay as they leave? Maternity benefits are meant to attract and keep good employees. I have no respect for someone who takes advantage of the system. But, I believe, most places have a system in place where you have to come back for some amount of time or you have to pay them back. That seems fair. I don't think it's at all sexist to demand people pay back maternity benefits if they don't come back to work. It's not an entitlement program.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 11:54 AM

"But, I believe, most places have a system in place where you have to come back for some amount of time or you have to pay them back."

Sure, I would think something like that would be akin to a tuition reimbursement program. If the company is paying for your tuition (or any part of it), then you should be expected to 'held' to staying with them for some set amount of time. If you break that agreement, you have to pay them back.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | February 15, 2008 12:01 PM

"...then you should be expected to 'held' to.."

I meant "OR 'held'"

Posted by: Corvette1975 | February 15, 2008 12:02 PM

Not to mention is stupid to leave your previous employer in a lurch, whether your the guy who gave 8 hours notice or a mother who just never returned to work after taking maternity leave. You won't be getting any letters of rec from those people.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 12:09 PM

"it's" and "you're"

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 12:10 PM

Most places I've worked and that I know of lump maternity in with short-term disability. So if they only mandate payback for maternity benefits, then that is sexist - unless you don't return after back surgery or cancer treatment (again for non-medical reasons) and the company comes after you for the $$.

Shandra is right - the system of employer-based healthcare encourages people to game the system because they have to in order to keep their benefits or their options open. If the employer-health care insurance provider relationship were decoupled, we may have fewer conflicts of this type.

And some companies exert subtle pressure on employees to quit once they have kids, and then use that as justification for being annoyed about pregnant women in the office. At my old company, I got a lot of "are you sure your coming back?" and "my wife and I decided that the most important place for a mom to be was with her kids" when I was pregnant. People were stunned that I came back to work (not so much women, but men in senior management positions, all of whom at stay at home wives). If that's their expectation of what women should do, then I'm "bad" because I defy their expectation, and women who conform to their expectation are "bad" because senior management always had a feeling about them. Sometimes you can't win.

Posted by: anny | February 15, 2008 12:12 PM

sigh. 'you're'. Evidently the grammar part of my brain has taken a mental health day.

Posted by: anny | February 15, 2008 12:14 PM

I agree that there are a lot of forces that encourage gaming the system - from subtle or not-so-subtle workplace dynamics to the problem of benefits. But it still sucks and perpetuates the cycle, in my opinion.

I also think whether it is "gaming" or abusive depends on the type of leave. In most places I have worked, vacation and sick leave are treated differently. Vacation is accrued at a particular rate as you work - it is something you earn as part of your compensation, that can be rolled over from year to year (at least to some extent), and you are entitled to be paid for unused days when you leave. Sick leave is more like a grant from the employer, you don't earn it and you're not entitled to it in the same way - you can't roll it over and you don't get paid for it when you leave. One place I worked lumped them together and it was just accrued annual leave.

I think if maternity leave is like sick leave, something that is given by the employer for both practical and goodwill reasons, but to which there is no entitlement, it's abusive to use it if you know you are not coming back. If we ever get to the point where parental leave is as common as vacation, and is something that is accrued in the same way, then I think it's the employee's to take.

Not giving notice is just crappy, regardless of the leave situation. I know sometimes there may be circumstances that justify it, but in general I think it's just plain unprofessional and rude.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 12:35 PM

There are also some large companies who misrepresent their commitment to work-life balance. They put flex policies in place that will attract employees and win the company a place in the Top 10 Places to Work lists.

When it comes time to work out flexibility with employees, these policies are not enforced but are subject to the personal biases of individual managers/chains of command. I hope that HR departments and upper management have become more proactive in recent years as they've gained experience with implementing formal policies.

The recruiting PR can tout all the wonderful policies they want to promote work-life balance, but if they don't follow through in wide-spread meaningful ways, it shouldn't be any surprise that employees don't feel a sense of loyalty when it comes to returning.

I've seen fine managers with good intentions have their hands tied in negotiating a return to work that would fit into company guidelines because of what a director or partner felt about flexible options.

Posted by: marian3 | February 15, 2008 12:39 PM

justlurking- Sure they suspect, but I don't even ask my FRIENDS who've made the switch to OJ and look ill if they are pregnant. They'll tell me when they're ready. Plus, they may not be pregnant.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 09:48 AM

Dave Barry addresses this. Don't EVER ask a woman if she's pregnant, not until she's giving birth right in front of you!

Hmm, I remember being pretty quiet about it the first time through, until vomiting started at month 2 and being able to smell food about to go bad. Then I mentioned it. Bosses were thrilled for us. But they knew I was looking for another job. I landed that job when 7 months pregnant.

The new boss was terrific about that sort of thing. A good father of 3. I came back after 6 weeks (didn't want to burn all of my banked leave), just as I'd planned. No problem with childcare, family in the area who were all ready, willing and anxious to dandle another grandchild. I paid, of course, but not nearly what they deserved. (Thanks Dad!)

Second (successful) time around I waited until I was 4 or 5 months along. Everyone was thrilled, started the baby pool (I won!). I came back after 8 weeks, just as I had planned (had more leave to use that time).

I think the guy who hired me, pregnant with my first child took the biggest gamble. After all, I could've changed my mind in a huge way. By the second time around, I was more established as likely to return as planned.

I got lucky, really.

Posted by: maryland_mother | February 15, 2008 12:46 PM

The thing is, though, that you can't change your benefits UNTIL the child is born - so if you're under your benefits, you need a life change to go to your spouse's benefits. At that point, perhaps, YOUR company is not paying your medical costs, and that might be a better way to handle things. BUT then you would not be entitled to ANY STD - and I'm not sure that's completely fair either.

Yes, I think the system that your benefits are tied to your employer isn't the best - but our country prefers, in most cases, to hang its collective head in the sand rather than actually deal with stuff that makes sense. Let's just keep building more bridges to nowhere!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 15, 2008 12:46 PM

"Don't EVER ask a woman if she's pregnant, not until she's giving birth right in front of you!"

LOL, spot on! I was pregnant in law school, and I was one of those who looked sort-of but not definitely pregnant for quite a while. It cracked me up to see two people, who I knew but didn't see too often anymore, looking at me closely and conferring with each other, suspicious but knowing they couldn't just ask.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 12:54 PM

This is my second try at posting this so my apologies if I end up making the same point in two different ways.

I'm never really sure how to take the view that maternity leave is a gift from the employer.

I guess it is in some cases? The employer just pays the salary even though the work is not being done? Is that true?

When mat leave is under a benefits package though (like STD), doesn't the employee pay part of the premium, or aren't the premium costs shared throughout the company and a part of total, marketplace compensation costs?

In that case someone who's paid premiums/been at a particular salary level over 12 years and then takes the mat leave and then doesn't return may have shared/offset/paid more of the cost than someone who works for one year, takes mat leave, and then leaves for another company after 2 more years.

I guess I think employers may have given employees the idea that these are "gifts" when really it's sort of coming out of everyone's compensation.

But then I come at it from an insurance perspective: in Canada I pay into the federal EI fund, every single paycheque. I have since I was 16 at my first little PT job. That fund then pays unemployment benefits, maternity leave, and (new) caregiving leave.

I ran really rough math on it out of curiosity and at the age of 34, I had definitely paid in more than I've gotten out (I've been lucky not to have any period of unemployment where I needed benefits). I'm still glad though 'cause my 16 yr old self would not have put that $5 aside!!

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 15, 2008 12:58 PM

ha ha! I saw a woman last night who is 15 weeks with triplets. She definitely looks PREGNANT. I just looked fat at that stage...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 15, 2008 12:59 PM

LizaBean

"Sick leave is more like a grant from the employer, you don't earn it and you're not entitled to it in the same way - you can't roll it over and you don't get paid for it when you leave. "

In my workplace, I DO earn sick leave, I can roll it over, and I will get paid (up to a maximum amount) when I leave.

"Not giving notice is just crappy, regardless of the leave situation. I know sometimes there may be circumstances that justify it, but in general I think it's just plain unprofessional and rude."

I don't give a rat's a$s what is "unprofessional and rude". I have seen co-workers escorted to the door by security with NO notice. NO ONE is indispensible; no one in my field is rewarding for being polite!!!!

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 15, 2008 1:04 PM

No wonder you always sound so happy, Chitty, LOL.

Shandra, my understanding is that maternity leave and short-term disability are different things. There are companies that offer paid maternity leave (here's a link to a study, with a very definite advocacy angle, but it gives examples of companies that do http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/parentalleaveA131.pdf), and I thought that's what somebody was talking about taking and not coming back. In that case, I really think it depends on how it's defined and earned.

My understanding of short-term disability insurance is that it's an insurance plan that pays a part of your salary for certain disabilities, and that it depends on the plan as to who pays into it and how much. I don't really have an opinion on that one, as it seems so variable as to what the employer and the employee each put into it.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 1:14 PM

Think of it this way:

An employee, who has worked for you for at least one year, is in a car accident, or gets breast cancer. The employee needs to go on disability for six weeks to recover. The question: do you pay the person while he/she is gone? Or fire them?

There is always a possibility that the illness -- or the change in the employee's perspective on life and work -- might mean said employee does not return.

Same for pregnancy, planned or unplanned. Paid shorterm leave is the fair and right thing to do. That is why it is the law in our country.

And I have to point out: six weeks is a very short period of time in return for an employee's loyalty. Other "civilized" countries offer far more generous, humane benefits.

If you disagree, spend the weekend reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Report back on Monday.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 15, 2008 1:15 PM

leslie4

"If you disagree, spend the weekend reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Report back on Monday."

Add Dreiser's Sister Carrie to the reading list.

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 15, 2008 1:28 PM

and madame bovary and the house of mirth!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 15, 2008 2:08 PM

As long as we're revisiting Theodore Dreiser, let's not overlook "McTeague".

By the way, "The Gangs of New York" is a hell of an eye-opening read too. The movie was pretty, by comparison to what was being reported.

Posted by: maryland_mother | February 15, 2008 2:10 PM

Speaking of Dreiser and pregnancies, don't forget his "An American Tragedy" (later turned into the film "A Place in the Sun"), based on the real-life death of an unmarried young woman at the hands of her supervisor at work, who got her pregnant.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 15, 2008 2:15 PM

Same for pregnancy, planned or unplanned. Paid shorterm leave is the fair and right thing to do. That is why it is the law in our country.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 15, 2008 01:15 PM


No it's not. FMLA only proivdes unpaid leave.

Posted by: dennis5 | February 15, 2008 2:15 PM

" Paid shorterm leave is the fair and right thing to do. That is why it is the law in our country."

Dumb question here, but there's a federal law that requires paid short term leave?

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 2:15 PM

Dennis5, glad I'm not the only one who thought that was wrong - seems like if paid short term leave were the law we wouldn't be having this debate...

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 2:21 PM

there certainly IS NO LAW requiring paid short-term leave.

FMLA is UNpaid, and it only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. so the huge numbers of us in small companies don't even get THAT protection.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 15, 2008 2:22 PM

mehitabel

"Speaking of Dreiser and pregnancies, don't forget his "An American Tragedy" (later turned into the film "A Place in the Sun"), based on the real-life death of an unmarried young woman at the hands of her supervisor at work, who got her pregnant.

Good point. "An American Tragedy" also includes a DWI hit and run. That Dreiser was some kinda writer. Or, does nothing really change in this country?

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 15, 2008 2:25 PM

Mais oui, Chitty! Plus ça change, plus la même.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 15, 2008 2:29 PM

LizaBean, not all companies offer maternity leave as separate from short-term disability. My company, for example, covers maternity leave as a medical condition under the short-term disability plan.

Our short-term disability plan covers medical absences longer than one week, up to one year. You just get your equivalent salary while you're out (we self-insure; there are no premiums to pay). The length of time you're out is approved by the company based on medical inputs, whether the reason you're out is childbirth or chemotherapy.

(Longer than one year, you go on long-term disability. That's insurance that's paid by the employee, so benefits are tax-free, etc.)

Policy says that if you don't come back from short-term disability, the company CAN choose to make you pay back the benefits you received. The company will decide whether to do so on a case-by-case basis. (I've never heard of the company actually trying to get money back in any instance, but they have the right to try if you're egregious about it.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 15, 2008 2:32 PM

Off-topic alert:

"Sarkozy Defends Holocaust Education Plan":
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hLkos7ZuOpEkAwRlQV16j3LWpbMAD8UQT0J80
By CHRISTINE OLLIVIER

PERIGUEUX, France (AP) -- President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday defended a plan to require 10-year-olds to honor child victims of the Holocaust, saying adults should not hide terrible truths from children.

The idea, floated by the president earlier this week, rankled psychologists worried about traumatizing youth and has teachers reviving debates about how France remembers World War II. But Sarkozy on Friday stood firmly by the plan in meetings with teachers over proposed reforms of France's school system.

"We must tell a child the truth," he said. "We do not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of the country."

The president wants each child in the last year of French primary school, at about 10 years old, to "adopt" the memory of one of the 11,000 Jewish children in France killed in the Holocaust, learning about the selected child's background and fate.

"If you do not talk to them of this tragedy, then you should not be surprised if it repeats itself," Sarkozy said. "It is ignorance that prompts the repetition of abominable situations, not knowledge. Make our children into children with open eyes."

Sarkozy outlined no details of the plan, which does not have to be submitted to a vote in parliament. Education Minister Xavier Darcos that the practice may not be obligatory, but that the goal was to have children start adopting Holocaust victims in the next school year.

Supporters of the plan include renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld. Much of the existing information about France's Holocaust victims came out of research led by Klarsfeld.

Psychiatrist Serge Hefez was among those who voiced reservations about Sarkozy's idea, saying on LCI television that adults should not "impose ghosts" on children.

Teachers unions complained that they were not consulted ahead of time.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 15, 2008 2:57 PM

"An employee, who has worked for you for at least one year, is in a car accident, or gets breast cancer. The employee needs to go on disability for six weeks to recover. The question: do you pay the person while he/she is gone? Or fire them?"

As an employer, would I give them special paid leave, above sick and vacation? No. If you have disability insurance, use it. If you have the option of donated leave, use it. Otherwise, you're entitled to 12 weeks unpaid, and maybe some LWOP. Uncivilized? Maybe, but it's coming out of the bottom line. It's a business, not a charity. The government's not pitching in.

"There is always a possibility that the illness -- or the change in the employee's perspective on life and work -- might mean said employee does not return."

If you can come back to work and choose not to, then you might owe that money back.

"Same for pregnancy, planned or unplanned. Paid shorterm leave is the fair and right thing to do. That is why it is the law in our country."

Since when is paid maternity leave the law?

"And I have to point out: six weeks is a very short period of time in return for an employee's loyalty. Other "civilized" countries offer far more generous, humane benefits.

If you disagree, spend the weekend reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Report back on Monday."

We hardly live in The Jungle. Would I like 6 months paid leave after birth? You betcha, but who's going to pay for it? Not the government. And I'm not sure I'm comfortable forcing it on the private sector. And frankly, in 99% of the circumstances, extended maternal leave (greater than, say 10 weeks) is more of a luxury than a necessity. As it stands, 3 months paid leave is so unusual that it merits some loyalty. It's the best you're going to get in the USA, and it's probably offered only by very family-friendly companies that others would be very happy to work for.

Maybe I should demand more, but it's easy to take the 40,000 foot view and much, much harder to make it a fiscal priority and reality. You can't just come out and demand the government pay mothers for 6 months. Just to have the government finance 6 weeks for every birth would be an enormous fiscal burden. So, let's start there, with 6 weeks paid (one amount? a percentage of your salary up to a cap?) for all new mothers (births? adoptions?). I just have a problem with all the rhetoric. Start small and DO something. FMLA is the first step in the right direction.

Posted by: atb2 | February 15, 2008 3:01 PM

My advice: Don't tell your boss you're pregnant until you have to (you're starting to show). Even the most progressive boss will start treating you differently -- giving you less challenging assignments because you're a short-timer; holding back a promotion or a project.

And same goes for family leave. You should let an employer know in a reasonable amount of time -- two months is fine. But if you're unsure if you want to come back, don't say a word until you are sure.

When I was on leave, I was sure I was coming back and told my employers so over and over. But they still assumed I wasn't until I was in the door.

There's still lots of mommy tracking that goes on when you return from leave. Lots of women lose a position or get moved to something else. It's not a fair at all.

Posted by: gchen | February 15, 2008 4:34 PM

to mehitabel: thanks for posting this.

Posted by: tsm | February 15, 2008 4:41 PM

"LizaBean, not all companies offer maternity leave as separate from short-term disability"

Yes, it's actually quite rare, I think.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 4:54 PM

Whoops, just came back and saw half my post got cut off.

What I wanted to say is that if you look at that survey, it's rare and it looks like it's offered primarily by larger corporations that are either well-known to be family friendly or maybe trying to improve their rep or retention rates(Johnson&Johnson and Goldman Sachs are two mentioned, for example). The fact that it is a rare benefit is why I think it's worth thinking about how it gets used. It is different from short term disability and it is a generous benefit. And if it's not something that is considered to accrue on an earned basis I'm not sure it's ethical to take it if you know you're not coming back.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 15, 2008 5:22 PM

Hello supporters of a mother's wisdom,

I started a new website that showcases a mother's wit and wisdom for the ages.

The address is: http://wisdomfrommother.blogspot.com

Please forward this website to organizations in your area of influence. Thank you for your support.

Posted by: MothersWisdom | February 15, 2008 7:29 PM

To tsm and others: There's a longer, much more nuanced article in Saturday's New York Times, which is far too long to reproduce here, but if you're interested, I encourage you to read it at:
"By Making Holocaust Personal to Pupils, Sarkozy Stirs Anger":
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/16/world/europe/16france.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

Posted by: mehitabel | February 16, 2008 11:26 AM

Hmmm, dead in the water today. What's a lurker to do....

Posted by: nobodyknowhow | February 18, 2008 2:44 PM

In response to atb2: You think being pregnant "earns" you 3 months pay, even if you're aren't coming back to work? Do you think that's fair to people who don't have kids? I don't think it's at all sexist to demand people pay back maternity benefits if they don't come back to work. It's not an entitlement program.

Our government has gotten away with not giving families any help in raising our children. It falls completely upon a family to pay for childcare or have a parent cut down/stop working to care for children. Our country has put the burden of caring for its most valuable resource in the hands of its people with no help. For this reason, companies have had to "help out" mothers who have children. And MOST companies do NOT pay for 3 months of leave, you get 6 weeks of pay, ONE of these weeks is VACATION or PTO TIME, so the COMPANY TYPICALLY ONLY PAYS FOR 5 WEEKS, and this is covered under a benefit called "STD" (Short Term Disability) so the mother can recover from childbirth (same as if someone had major surgery and needed time off work).

Everyone in this country needs to step up and start working together to raise our families and stop pointing the finger at "who is taking advantage of the system". We all need to work together to lobby for more benefits and money for families to thrive. The U.S. has one of the worst maternity programs/family benefits in the world.

Posted by: sarah.cleveland | February 26, 2008 9:26 PM

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