You're pregnant! You probably feel like shouting it to the world, and nobody can blame you. But when it comes to telling your boss, experts advise that you strategize a bit before sharing the good news. A little preparation and forethought, they say, can guarantee that both your announcement and your maternity leave go smoothly.
"The thing that working pregnant women worry most about, after the health of their baby, is how to tell their boss they're pregnant," says Nancy Hall, author of Balancing Pregnancy and Work: How to Make the Most of the Next 9 Months on the Job."In most cases, it goes just fine, but there are some key things to prepare for."
Indeed, most bosses will be happy to hear your news and will work with you to design a maternity leave plan that works for you. Some bosses, however, may be less than pleased that you'll be taking so much time off. Some may not be familiar with your legal right to family leave, and, in the worst case scenario, a few bosses may even attempt to fire you or deny you an upcoming promotion. Pregnancy discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in fact, rose 40 percent between 1997 and 2007.
Step One: Do your homework
Of course, the chances of something like that happening to you are small. Still, knowing exactly what you're entitled to in the way of family leave, paid or unpaid, will give you confidence. The first step is to do your homework and find out what is offered under state and federal guidelines.
Your state may require additional leave or benefits beyond the federal law. California, for example, allows up to six weeks of paid leave to care for an ill family member, including a sick newborn. California also allows women to take up to 10 weeks of paid disability leave, usually up to four weeks before delivery and up to six weeks afterward. Your doctor can authorize more paid leave if you deliver by cesarean section.
Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), companies that employ 50 people or more are required to offer 12 weeks unpaid leave to employees who have been with the company for at least one year.
Don't panic if this doesn't apply to you. Many smaller companies voluntarily comply with the FMLA, and others may overlook the one-year requirement. Your employer may or may not offer more perks. You'll need to research that as well. If you work at a large company, take a look at the employee handbook that spells out the maternity leave policy in detail.
The bottom line is, you want to know what your rights are before you break the news to your boss. That way, if any disagreements arise, you'll know exactly where you stand under company policy and the law. Most bosses will be familiar with the regulations, but a few may need to be gently reminded of your rights. "A lot of bosses will say, 'That's great; so you're going to need a month off?'" says Hall, "and a woman has to be prepared to say, 'No, actually, I'm going to take the full 12 weeks I'm entitled to.' "
Step Two: Write up a plan
Once you know what your rights are, you'll want to decide exactly how much time you want to take off. Unfortunately, many women who are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave don't get to take them all because they can't afford to. If this applies to you, sit down and crunch the numbers. How much money can you save up between now and your due date? How much vacation time do you have coming? How many unused sick days? If you can afford to take more time off and if your employer is willing, do you want to take more than 12 weeks off?
Next, write up a plan spelling out how and when you'd like to take your time off. Do you want to work as far up until your due date as possible and then take a full 12 weeks? Do you want to take eight weeks off and then go back part-time for two months before returning to full-time work? Is there a possibility of working from home?
"It's best to go into the meeting with your boss with a clear plan of how you want to take your leave," says Hall. "But the meeting will go more smoothly if you go in with a cooperative tone and make your boss feel involved in the process." For example, you might say, "I plan to take six weeks off full-time and then come back three days a week until all of my days are used up, but I'm flexible about that and we can talk about what you think would work best as the date approaches."
"One of the most important things you want to do in the meeting with your boss is allay any fears and concerns she has about how your duties will get done while you're on leave," Hall says. "You don't want to go in there unprepared and have your boss say, 'I don't know how we're going to get along without you because you're the only one who knows the widget account and the client only likes to work with you." Go in with a plan of how you're going to do prep work before you leave, delegate responsibilities and train co-workers, you'll go a long way toward easing your boss' mind. "Sometimes your boss will come up with an even better plan and more benefits than you thought you could get," says Hall.
Step Three: Choose a date
You may not get to pick the exact date of your delivery, but you can decide precisely when to break the news to your boss. By law, you're required to inform your employer at least 30 days before you take your leave. But of course, you won't be fooling anyone if you wait until you're eight months pregnant to break the news! Most women wait until the end of their first trimester, but if you work in a job that could be hazardous to your baby's health or too physically demanding for you, you may need to act sooner so that you can be reassigned to tasks that won't endanger your health. Also, if you have symptoms like frequent morning sickness or start showing early, you may have to break the news earlier than you had originally planned.
Chances are, you'll want to tell your close friends at work about your pregnancy before you tell your boss. That's fine; just ask them not to spread the news prematurely. Your boss may be upset if she finds out from someone else that you're pregnant, and you want to be the one to initiate the conversation with her.
"The last thing you want is for your boss to call you into her office and say, 'Gosh, Susie, I heard at the water cooler that you are pregnant,' " Hall says.
Hall also recommends that you seek out one or two women in your office who have already had to tell the boss about their pregnancy and ask them how it went. "Find someone who has already been there, done that, and ask them for pointers," Hall says. One woman Hall interviewed asked around the office and found out that her boss had been trying to conceive a child of her own for many years. When another employee told her about her pregnancy, the boss burst into tears. As a result, this employee went into her boss' office with a less "rah-rah" attitude and was more sensitive about her boss' reaction.
The timing of your announcement is important. If there is a big trade show coming up that you usually run, you may cause your boss less anxiety if you can wait until after the show. If you have a performance evaluation soon and you're worried that your announcement could affect it, you might wait until afterward if you can.
Step Four: Make an appointment with the boss
You've done all your legwork, and you're ready to meet. Once you've decided it's time to share your happy news with your supervisor, don't blow it by doing it on the fly in the cafeteria line, warns Hall. Make an appointment. Be professional, but don't forget to be happy as well.
"I talked to some women who were so business-like when they broke the news, that their bosses were sort-of at a loss as to whether to say 'Congratulations' or not," says Hall. "It's okay to start off the meeting with, 'I have fantastic news!"
And finally, never apologize. "It's tempting for women to apologize to their bosses because they'll be missing work," says Hall. "But don't say you're sorry. You haven't done anything wrong; you're just having a baby!"
Step Five: Get it in writing
After your meeting, type up a short letter to your boss confirming what was talked about. You'll want to have a copy for your files just in case. It can be brief and cordial and should not set any dates in stone since you cannot predict things like the baby coming early or the doctoring ordering you to take bed rest. For example, you might write, "I'm so glad we could talk last week about my upcoming family leave in March. If all goes according to plan, my last day will be around March 15 and I expect to return to work in mid-June."
Choosing not to return to work
A common quandary of pregnant women is whether they should tell their boss if they're considering not returning to work after their leave is over. Obviously, this is a decision only you can make, but you'll hardly be alone if you decide not to go back. About four out of 10 women who take family leave choose not to return to their jobs right after their leave is up.
For her part, Hall never advises anyone to say, "I'm having a baby and I quit," even if they feel like it. "Don't burn any bridges, because you just never know what will happen," she says. You may decide you don't like being a stay-at-home mom, or you may discover you need to go back to work for economic reasons. "You shouldn't make a decision like that until you have all the information, and you won't have all the information until you have your baby and your bills."
U.S. Department of Labor
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 1-866-4-USA-DOL
National Partnership for Women and Families1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 650 Washington, DC 20009 Phone: 202-986-2600
Hall, Nancy W, Balancing Pregnancy and Work: How to Make the Most of the Next 9 Months on the Job, Stonesong Press.
Murkoff, Heidi, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway, B.S.N., What to Expect When You're Expecting, 3rd Edition, Workman Publishing, New York.
Sears, William, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N., The Pregnancy Book: A Month-By-Month Guide, Little, Brown and Company, New York.
Employment Development Department. FAQ. Paid Family Leave. http://www.edd.ca.gov/direp/pflfaqgen.asp
Employment Development Department. FAQ. Disability Insurance. http://www.edd.ca.gov/direp/difaq1.htm#Pregnancy