Mice and Pregnancy

Question: to Ask the Workplace Doctors about pests in the work area: I would also like to know my rights as a pregnant employee on paid leave until this is sorted out!

I am 22 weeks pregnant and there have recently been an infestation of mice at work. There were over twenty traps put down and each of them were touched every week since September. Yesterday the exterminator came in to check the traps and none of them had been touched so therefore we were advised there were no longer any mice. A few hours after this there was a rat spotted near the kitchen of our office by four members of staff so obviously now we have a rat problem. Is it safe for me to be working in that environment while being pregnant? We have been advised by management to wipe our desks down daily with disinfectant wipes. I personally still don’t feel this is an efficient enough measure to protect us from their droppings etc.. I would also like to know my rights as a pregnant employee on paid leave until this is sorted out!

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

We are not a medical site so we cannot advise about the medical issues that concern you. Nor are we a legal site with information about your specific rights.

However we ARE a site that advises about effective workplace communications, so we can provide some thoughts that might be helpful.

1. While you are doing some research and finding out more about this, you may want to do what you can do personally to deal with your concerns. For example, if you are concerned about breathing rodent dropping and urine dust, ask your doctor helpful to wear a medical mask that would provide a barrier to the harmful particles you might breathe. (Similar to the ones many people wear to prevent influenza.)2. Do some research to present to your employer as you discuss with HR or others whether you should take your leave early. It may be (although I have no expertise in this area) that a large factor would be the kind of work you do and the chances of breathing toxic amounts of rodent droppings. Probably many office buildings, both urban and rural, have mice and/or rats. So,there should be some studies or medical opinions about the situation.

2. Contact the department of Occupational Safety and Health in your state (usually in the Department of Labor), to find out if there are any requirements about dealing with such issues, specifically about risks for pregnancy.Talk to your doctor about the risks, telling him the exact situations in which you might be involved and to what degree. Contact an exterminator, perhaps the one who visits your office, and ask if the company has information about risks. If anyone does, you would think they would have it, since it could be a good reason for doing business with them! Contact the city health department, since you can bet there are many businesses who have similar situations in your area. They may have statistics or even anecdotal information.

3. Communicate with your supervisor, manager or HR representative about your concerns, if you haven’t already done so. Perhaps extra janitorial work can be done, especially around your work area. Vacuuming several times a day and always in the morning, might be a minimal requirement. Or, perhaps your work could be adjusted to keep you from the environments where extra dust or rodent droppings might be present.It seems your employer has been making a sincere effort to solve the problem. If getting rid of mice and rats was easy there wouldn’t be so many items out there to do it! Their advice to wipe down surfaces is also sound, and is a good idea anyway. (I once read that the average desktop has more germs than most public toilets, since the desktop is rarely cleaned and the public toilet is cleaned at least daily!)

4. Consider what you can do to protect yourself further. A few common sense things you could ask your doctor about might be these:In addition to wearing the medical mask mentioned above, avoid touching your face after you have touched surfaces that might have mice or rat residue on them.Ask someone else to access areas that may present problems (lower file drawers and cabinets, storage areas, basements and attics, janitorial rooms, unusually dusty areas, etc.)It doesn’t sound as though there are large amounts of obvious rodent residue in every area of your work space. So, perhaps you can limit your time in the problem areas.Make sure there is nothing around for the rodents to eat, in the areas where you spend the most time. (Lunch rooms, bathrooms, near your desk.) Ask if the janitorial staff or other employees can clean behind refrigerators and stoves, if there are any. Remove stacks of paper books that can attract them as well.

5. You’ll notice that these suggestions are aimed at helping you keep working until your planned maternity leave, whenever that is. They also are aimed at keeping the focus on you as a productive member of the team.You will be returning at some point and it will be well for you to have worked with your managers and supervisors to respond to genuine concerns, based on medical and scientific facts.5. Combine your research with your company’s employee manual and your health insurance and FMLA information from HR, to decide when you can leave and for how long you can be gone, if it appears this situation changes things. It may be that you will not have clear information stating you are threatened by the current situation–or you might be. Even if you are not, you may decide you would rather take an unpaid leave for part of the time, rather than feel at risk.Those decisions should all be made with close consultation with your physician. Best wishes for a happy and healthy pregnancy and a wonderful experience as a mother! At the same time, best wishes for building and maintaining your reputation as a cooperative, work-focused problem-solver.

Tina Lewis Rowe