What Should I Do About Having My Pregnancy Secret Announced?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
having a pregnancy secret disclosed by a manager.

Question:
I found out I was pregnant, and decided to disclose it to my general manager when I was about 9 weeks along. I told her in a pure honest effort to give her notice of the event.  Since I’ve been employed there I have miscarried three times. I told her the news in complete confidentiality and she was extremely aware that I did not want anyone to know until I felt it was necessary, or safe enough to do so.

I was told by fellow upper management that she had hinted in great ways of my condition. I kept my cool, and hoped she had done so out of excitement or accident. I recently learned that at a business staff meeting (with every manager and assistant manager from all 9 stores present) that the owner of the company decided to announce to everyone that I was pregnant. I was not even in attendance at this meeting.

When I learned of this, I was absolutely mortified. What went wrong here? My general manager obviously made it clear to the owner of the situation, but by no means do I find it necessary that they share the news with everyone in the company.  I am only 15 weeks now, and have barely told any family. What do I do with this? If I confront the company will they treat me badly? I dont understand why this had to happen, and I can only hope that this pregnancy remains healthy.

Answer:
Hello and thank you for contacting us about your workplace situation. I can certainly understand that you feel betrayed by having your personal news shared openly and without sensitivity for your feelings. I’m very sorry it happened this way, especially given what you have gone through in the past. However, I hope it will not keep you from feeling hopeful and happy about this pregnancy. I’ll be thinking of you and wishing you the best in the coming months.

It was wrong for your general manager to hint to anyone that you are pregnant, if you had told her not to do so. Informing the owner might have been a business necessity, but you should have been told she was going to do it and the owner should have kept it a secret until you made the announcement yourself. Since the information wasn’t obtained from your medical records, I don’t think there is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but there may be a violation of some internal policy or rule. However, since the violators are the General Manager and the owner, it doesn’t seem likely any significant action will be taken about it.

Even if the owner hadn’t been told to keep your information a secret, I think it was inappropriate for him to make the announcement when you were not present, without letting you know he was going to do it. Happy news should be announced by the person involved, so they can express it in their own way and so it can be part of their personal celebration of the happy situation. Sad news is often best handled by having it announced by someone else, so the employee doesn’t have to talk or write about it.

However, in spite of how the situation should have been handled, I also know, from hearing about similar situations repeatedly, that news about pregnancy, illness, divorce and other personal matters is rarely kept confidential. Even if a person asks/ begs/ demands that it be kept confidential, the one having the information can nearly always justify telling just a few people, on the basis of company necessity—and there goes the secret.

I was involved in a similar situation where an assistant manager told people about an employee’s pregnancy news, even though she had asked both of us to keep it quiet until she could make a fun announcement herself in a couple of weeks. She wanted to make sure everything was going well before she got her hopes up and before she made an announcement that would result in a lot of comments and congratulations.

I was so angry with him for telling people, after the employee had asked us to keep it a secret, that I would have fired him or transferred him if I would have been allowed to do it!

Also, to show you the poor judgment the assistant manager had: When he realized how upset I was, he called the people he had told and said he was mistaken, so not to say anything to the employee. Which meant they had to call the people they had told and tell them it was a mistake. Some of those people had already been talking about an office baby shower, so they were on the phone to each other about it all afternoon. It was a big mess!

Inevitably, the employee was told about the assistant manager’s “mistake”, so the employee came to my office, very upset and unhappy. I had the assistant manager come in to apologize and while he was trying to explain that he only told people because he was happy about the news, he got emotional and could barely talk. They hugged and the employee said she forgave him for what he did.

I was glad she was able to feel that way and I told her so, but I reinforced that the assistant manager was wrong to have divulged her secret after she asked us not to do it, and I asked if there was anything we could do to make it better. There wasn’t, because once it had been done it couldn’t be undone. The conversation was very uncomfortable and embarrassing for the assistant manager, as it should have been. Unfortunately, it added stress to the life of the employee as well.

At the time, I was sorry she made it so easy on the assistant manager by letting him off the hook with her quick forgiveness. Looking back on it, I realize she felt she might as well say she forgave him, since refusing to forgive him would not have made things better and would have been even more stressful. As it was, she kept quiet about her pregnancy (and so did the assistant manager) for several weeks more, until she felt better about making an announcement. She had a successful pregnancy and her son is a teenager now—but, I never trusted the assistant manager after that incident.

Your question involves what to do at this point. You have at least four options:

1. Make a formal complaint to HR about the manager who disclosed confidential information and the way in which the owner handled it.

2. Talk directly to the manager or write to her, to tell her you are disappointed and upset over what happened. Make it clear that you feel she violated your trust. You might say that you will limit your future communications about your condition.

3. Talk or write to the manager and express disappointment, but keep the tone such that you can maintain cordial relationships in the future.

4. Not say anything to the GM about her actions. Act as though everything is OK and continue to keep management updated as needed.

My suggestion is #3, unless you find out something was said that indicates a much worse situation than you know about at this point.

Here is my reasoning: If you report this to HR, probably the most that would happen would be the HR manager would warn the General Manager and owner that they could put themselves in a liability situation by disclosing information that might upset you to the point it would affect your health during this crucial time. The GM and the owner might become defensive and say you shouldn’t have told them if you wanted it to be completely secret for a while. Or, each would blame the other. Or, they would come to you and apologize and create discomfort for you. The bottom line is that even if punishment were to happen, nothing would help the situation.

If you talk or write to the General Manager and are accusatory and angry sounding, you will almost certainly get a bad reaction, because even if she already feels guilty, she won’t want an employee seeming to reprimand her.

If you don’t say anything, there will be constraint between you and the General Manager anyway. She may feel badly about her hints and comments—and especially about the owner making a big announcement—and think you are angry if you don’t talk to her about it. She may actually want you to talk to her about it now. (And you two may have had a conversation by this time.)

By talking to the General Manager you can let her know you were hurt and disappointed and that her actions had a negative effect on you emotionally. At the same time you can do it in a way that gives her a chance to explain (even though you may not agree with her explanation) and allows her to save some face about her role as a General Manager. Doing it that way will get better results for you in the future.

You could approach it this way, if you haven’t talked to her about it already:

“Carol, I found out that Mr. Anderson told everyone at the manager’s meeting about my pregnancy and I never wanted that to happen at this stage. I don’t know how this pregnancy will work out since I’ve had miscarriages before and it just adds to my stress to have people contacting me about it. I’m so very disappointed! What happened?”

Then, stop and don’t say anything else. Force her to talk to you about it, rather than you continuing to talk.

If you have already talked to her, you may feel there is nothing more to be said. I hope the conversation was productive. You may still find it useful to let your friends work on your behalf. Tell them you do not want to have coworkers talking about you pregnancy at this point and you will make a fun announcement when the time is right—but it’s not right yet. Ask them to let others know that it was not your intention for the information to be out and about. You don’t need to criticize anyone—especially not the owner—but the message can still be clear that you didn’t intend to have your pregnancy announced this early.

Try this as a way to decide how you want to handle it: Write down what you want your work relationships to be like until your maternity leave starts, then think about what can best accomplish that goal.

*How do you want to feel emotionally and physically?

*How do you want your work interactions to be?

*How supportive do you want the General Manager, owner and other managers to be of you during this time?

*When you see your General Manager, how comfortable do you want the two of you to be about your conversations?

*Given how this worked out, how do you want the GM to respond if you have something else confidential to tell her?

*How do you want others to feel about their interactions with you? Do you want them to feel they can talk to you about it or would you prefer no one discuss the situation?

Those are all things you will have to decide on your own and I do not know your exact situation to be able to help about it. However, I will remind you that during your pregnancy you may have many times when events, comments or interactions cause you to feel more upset than you might have felt previously. You may have trouble being completely pragmatic, when you can’t help but feel emotional and justifiably very protective of your personal life and your baby.

Keep your focus on your health and the happiness you can feel that you have a tiny life in your care already. Whatever the future holds you can know you fulfilled your role well.

Best wishes to you and if you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors