I’m Expecting-Will I Be Fired?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about pregnancy and job:

Hi, I work at a very small nonprofit arts organization. I just learned I’m four weeks pregnant and I told my coworkers and my boss. My boss seemed happy for me, as she knew I was trying to get pregnant. I asked her if I could cut my work hours down from four days to three, as I did not know how I would be feeling, and she didn’t seem to have a problem with it. I asked her if there have been any other pregnant employees in the past and she told me I was the second one in 35 years. She said the previous employee left after she became pregnant. I also asked my boss if there was any policy in place pertaining to pregnancy and she said no, it’s just a matter of seeing how things go.

Also, I work at an organization where I have no benefits of any sort, just a weekly paycheck. My boss said she needed sometime to talk to her husband (who happens to be my boss as well) about how they’re going to structure my job, as well as the jobs of other part-time workers in my office. About a week later, my boss told me I can work three days a week and that she’ll give it two to three months to see how it goes and to make sure it works for her. So I said thank you and that was it. Then it hit me, I may be fired in a couple of months. The organization I work at is very informal and casual. I’ve always had the impression that my bosses make the “rules” as they go along and that they can do or say whatever they want. Should I be concerned? Thank you

Signed, Should I Be Expecting Work Problems?

Dear Should I Be Expecting Work Problems?:

1. First, some non-work thoughts! Congratulations on your pregnancy! I’m sure nothing will be allowed to get in the way of your happiness about that. But, I like to remind women who are pregnant to cherish every second of the experience; truly cherish it. I always suggest that mothers-to-be keep a journal, not just by themselves but with their husbands, to write down thoughts about how they both want to provide role-models, guidance and love for their child. Here’s what I suggest for the start of that plan: In your mind, be your child at age 35; when he or she will likely be well established and perhaps have a family of his or her own. Write a letter from your child at that age, to you, thanking you for the kind of parent you have been. Be detailed about what you hope your child will be able to say to you then. You can start yours with, “Dear Mom.” Your husband will write a “Dear Dad” message. Save those forever, and use them as a way to keep on track with your goals and hopes. Give it to your child when he’s the age you thought about him being. And, be lofty in your expectations. Dream a bit of being not only a fun parent, but an idealistic and admirable parent. And not just being a pal, but being the hero and heroine of your child’s life.So, my first thought for you is to make time every day for planning how you and your husband will live your lives, with your child watching.

2. Now, to the work issue! You describe a very small organization, so likely laws relating to leave and pregnancy will not be applicable. You should check with your state’s labor department about that. ((Labor, as in work!) I would doubt that your employer would fire you, but she might ask you to take your leave earlier than you had planned, then replace you. You can see how your request to reduce your work time affected your boss. She and her husband likely thought, “Uh oh! Now it begins! We’re going to be short a person at least one day a week and who knows how much worse it will be down the line”

You may find if you feel well, you will want to tell your boss that you’re happy to say you’re doing fine and can return to a four day schedule. If you simply don’t want to work that many days, that’s one thing. But, if you truly were only making the change, “just in case”, you may want to change back if you find the extra time off isn’t needed.Actually, you’re more likely to need to work four, six hour days, instead of three eight hour days. The full day off may not be as beneficial as a shortened work day on the days you are there.

3. You didn’t say your long-term plans. If you plan on quitting and not returning, you may find you simply will have to be prepared to leave sooner than expected; but try to make it so you can stay as long as possible. If you hope to return, you need to find a way to solidify your work situation, if you can do it. The following thoughts will work either way. But, if you want to come back after the baby is born, you’ll certainly need to talk to your boss about that, and see if you can get a commitment. If yours is a small organization and not required to provide a medical leave, you may find they will replace you and not hold your job. You can understand their situation; they need someone all the time and don’t have the financial infrastructure to wait several months, or to pay you if you’re not working.

4. While you are at work, ensure that your focus is on work as much as possible. I was talking to a group of managers last year who said they thought maternity leave should be from the second the woman finds out she’s pregnant, unless it’s her third or fourth child, in which case it doesn’t matter. I asked why, and one said first and second time mothers are so obsessed with their pregnancies and every aspect of it, they treat work as low priority, except to collect the paycheck. She said, essentially they’re gone anyway! And, while they are there, they take up other people’s time talking about their condition.Since I had that conversation I’ve talked to several managers, including several who had children themselves while working. Here are the five concerns they’ve mentioned repeatedly, that cause them to have a sinking feeling when they hear an employee is expecting: *Excessive references to the pregnancy. Not just occasional remarks, but working it into every conversation. The subject is obviously on the mom-to-be’s mind because her body, mind and life are involved! One manager said, “Two minutes after a expectant mom finds out, there’s usually a magazine or book about pregnancy or babies on the desk all the time, and the internet is being accessed constantly.”
* Hyper-sensitivity to anyone else mentioning their condition, unless it is clearly very positive. People DO mention it though, because it is a rather obvious thing and usually the source of fun comments! Or, they don’t know if they can mention it, so they are uncomfortable about what to say or do. Some women resent any comment about the impending birth, others resent not having it acknowledged!
* Excessive phone calls and long phone conversations, with mothers, mother-in-laws, sisters, friends, etc. This is especially true since much of the conversation is repeated, so co-workers hear the same symptoms and reports over and over.
* Excessive absences or an excessive number of times when the pregnancy is used as an excuse for absence, being late or leaving early. Most managers understand that the pregnancy may have an affect on some issues, but the goal is to have a full-time employee who is dependable. And, non-expectant employees can easily become frustrated when they are expected to fill in for someone else. One manager told me that in her experience expectant mothers tended to feel that their conditions excused almost anything, from poor attendance, to lateness, to discourtesy.
* Lack of ability by management to plan. It IS true that mothers-to-be may feel ill. They can’t help that and it may affect work attendance. Doctor’s appointments are sometimes required unexpectedly. Babies arrive early. Even though the manager is very happy for the employee, the whole process can be disruptive and frustrating.

5. So, my advice is: Defy the stereotype! This is the time to show that you not only will continue to do the job if you are physically able, but should be allowed to keep it as long as possible. It is true that you will be experiencing physical and emotional changes; maybe less than other women, maybe more. But, likely none of those will keep you from doing your work, if your work doesn’t involve heavy physical activity. You may find, as time goes on, that you take more bathroom breaks, feel more uncomfortable after eating, feel awkward or as though you walk differently. Those are not unpleasant side-effects, they are part of your baby’s development and it’s affect on you; so that’s a good thing!I’m not telling you to ignore your pregnancy. I hope you’re glowingly happy about it! But, because you are happy, you may be tempted to want to refer to your condition every time you feel a different symptom, go to the doctor, or feel as though you are waddling across the room. Others may ask you about it or smile and express sympathy or empathy. It’s certainly going to be on your mind! But, try to avoid making it your primary conversation.Once again, keep work as your focus while you’re at work. That way your boss will see you as a continuing contributor, not as a short-timer who they will soon have to replace.

6. Consider talking to your boss about your plans. Be honest about it, and don’t try to be subtle. Just say, “Jan, I want you to know that I’d like to work as long as possible; hopefully up until September. (Or whenever.) I know I can be a full participant in work and keep my focus on work, up until then. If you see that changing with me, let me know, because I want to do as good a job as always, right up to the time I have to take off work.” That way your boss knows what’s on your mind and might tell you what her thoughts are about it.

7. Find work to do that goes past your normal work, if possible. If there’s been a project that needed to be done, and you have the time and energy to do it, do it. Be invaluable. Be in the middle of something important all the time. Never get to the point where you have coasted to a halt. That’s when your employer will tell you to go home!I’m not advocating that you exhaust yourself. But if you are like most of us, we have some reserve energy and time at work that could be spent finding work to do, rather than looking at the internet, talking on the phone or taking extended breaks. Whatever you have had as habits in the past, now is the time to be a model employee.I hope these thoughts will be helpful to you. Congratulations once again. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how you are in the future. Best wishes!

Follow-Up: Dr. Workplace Doctors, Thank you very much for all of your words of wisdom. I really appreciate everything you said and there were some things I have not considered yet, but I will. I don’t think I do want to return after the baby is born. I think I will look for a better job with benefits and one that is family-friendly. Many, many thanks for your help!

Tina Lewis Rowe