Taking a New Job While Pregnant

pregnant new jobShould you look for a new job while trying to get pregnant?  If you’re already pregnant, should you take a new job without telling your new employer what’s what? Reader S has a great question about this very subject.

I have a dilemma. A while ago I applied for a great government job that is only 2 years with the possibility of extension. I was prepared to take that risk. Had the interview and didn’t hear anything and assumed that I did not get the job. However, I got a call yesterday and surprise! I got the job. Here is the problem, I am now 12 weeks pregnant. The job starts in August 2011 and ends August 2013. If I take this position, I will be gone from December 2011 to December 2012 (here in Canada we get 1 year mat leave). Do I take it? It is exactly where I want to be in my career.

For my $.02, I really, really think that you must talk to the prospective employer about this development — taking an entire year for a maternity leave during a two-year job seems like a decision made in bad faith. Two other thoughts: If the government always offers this job for two years, perhaps they already have a maternity policy in place for it — that might be the way to start the discussion and test the waters without disclosing your situation. The second thought: I’m not familiar with Canadian law, but are you sure that a mandated law like that would apply to a worker who is less than a full employee? There are a lot of exceptions to US laws (for example if your office is smaller than 15 people) and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find that temporary/contract workers are outside the scope of the law.  (Pictured above: Button Front Bi-stretch Suiting Maternity Jacket, available at a pea in the pod for $59.99 (was $119).)

But this brings us to an interesting question: if you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, should you even be looking for new jobs? I ask that with no disrespect to reader S, and I’m honestly curious to hear the readers’ thoughts on this because I think it comes up a lot here in comments. The tricky thing with pregnancy, of course, is that you have no idea when you’ll actually get pregnant. Most of my friends got pregnant either a) the first month they were off the pill, or b) 6 months+ after that. (I was shocked but very happy when I got pregnant after two months of trying.)  I am far from an expert on maternity leave laws, but I do believe many employers require you to have worked there for at least 3 months before you’re eligible for the maternity leave policy (whether paid or unpaid).  Working Mother had a great article on the legal side of things a few months ago, including which new bills are worth watching.

This is a really tricky subject, and I’m curious to hear what the readers say.  When considering your answers, ask yourself:  Does the woman’s age matter?  If you’ve been trying for a certain amount of time (2 months+? 6 months+?) does it matter?  If you already know you’re pregnant should you curtail the job search, stay put, take maternity leave, and then renew the job search?  Or should you just roll with the punches, get pregnant when you get pregnant, and see how the cards fall with regard to your career and whoever is your current employer when you need to take maternity leave?

I suppose for my own $.02 I would say that it would depend to me on age — as a 34-year-old I would feel a lot more pressure to keep trying for kids regardless of the job situation (mothers who are 35 and over when they give birth are considered “high risk pregnancies,” and I’ve heard that for most women fertility problems start around age 37), but my answer would be different for women younger than that.  On the flip side, from an employer’s standpoint, it would stink to hire someone and then find out that my new employee was pregnant, which would mean that basically her first year with me (assuming she stayed) would be marred by pregnancy fatigue, that she’d have a rich source of distraction (trust me: there are a million things to research once you’re pregnant — it’s been more time consuming than planning my wedding) and then a worker who might be easily distracted/have different priorities if and when she did come back to work.  If I were the employer, knowing that an employee purposely put me in that situation with no regard to my opinion would not leave a very good taste in my mouth, and it would get the whole relationship off to a bad start.

Ladies, please weigh in — if you know you’re trying to get pregnant, should you be looking for a new job?

Comments

  1. Fashion Faux Pas :

    I may get a lot of flak for this, but I started my job search when I got pregnant (I love my job, but my husband and I spend a total of six hours a day commuting, which is hard enough without a baby). I interviewed for a job at 5 months pregnant, did not mention the pregnancy in the interview, and got an offer. I met with the potential employer post-offer, when I was six months pregnant, and discussed the pregnancy at that point. I expressed my enthusiasm for the position, but stated that I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot or inconvenience him (since I would be the only associate in the practice group in the office) and explained that I planned to take a six week leave. He was shocked as he had apparently not noticed I was pregnant (bafflingly to me), and said that he appreciated me disclosing, but did not think the pregnancy would present a problem.

    Still trying to decide whether to take the job as my offer expires today.

    • I think that that’s the appropriate way to handle it (I assume that when you say post-offer, you mean that you discussed it during the negotiations phase, not after you had accepted) . Good luck! (particularly with getting out from under that commute- ugh!)

      • Fashion Faux Pas :

        Thanks, Lyssa. Sadly, I think I’ve decided to decline this job for professional reasons (fit and pay issues, mostly), although for personal reasons I wish I could convince myself to accept the offer. Hopefully I’m making the right choice.

    • anonx1000 :

      this approach is the one a friend of mine took – she was laid off at 6 weeks, interviewed, and when she got the offer, she informed the employer of her pregnancy, her plan for leave, and her commitment and enthusiasm for the new job.

    • Withdrawing a job offer due to pregnancy can open the employer up to a lawsuit for discrimination.

  2. No one seems to have keyed into the fact that hers is a GOVERNMENT position. So this is not a huge financial burden on the employer. They will surely do things by the book and are used to granting their standard 52 weeks maternity leave all the time.

    I still agree with most posters that it is a good idea to let them know (after you get the formal offer) and discuss how things will work out best.

    • Government agencies actually have to adhere to budgets, and hopefully act as good stewards of our tax dollars. So I disagree that this would not be a financial burden, just because it is a government job. If it’s a financial burden on a private employer, it’s a financial burden on a public employer. You do understand that the money government agencies spend does not grow on trees, right?

      • Sure, but governments are big, with big budgets. They also budget for these types of things because they can — because they’re so large they can take it into consideration rather than it being a one-off situation. Therefore, it is likely .0001% of their budget. Not 1% or 10% of their budget.

        If she was considering joining a firm of 3 lawyers, it would be a huge chunk of their budget. Even a firm of 15 lawyers or 50 lawyers. But this is probably one salary in a very large pool.

        • Money aside, it’s also not a given that your position can be easily “covered” if you work in gov’t. For instance, someone who is a clerk or a court attorney often works with an individual judge, and may be the only person in that position. Judges are very particular about who they hire as that person will be drafting opinions, conferencing their cases, etc., and having clerked, I can assure you that, at least for the judge I worked with, the clerks were not fungible.

      • Runnin' for it :

        Very snarky. The point is that her employer would not be nearly as severely impacted as, for instance, a small firm that probably would have to bring someone else on on a temporary basis. Given that a 1 year maternity leave is apparently the norm in OP’s city, I am sure the government agency is accustomed to dealing with this and it would not be as difficult logistically for them.

        • I work in a government job, and someone is currently out on maternity leave. While no one is remotely annoyed at her, it absolutely is causing logistical problems, someone did have to be borrowed from another group to cover her which then leaves that group short-staffed. We also can’t hire people for short term fill-in positions as far as I know. Not sure where you get the idea government budgets are so huge they won’t even notice compared to a firm – we practically have our post-its rationed while the large law firm my friend worked at had a pool room.

          None of that should be at all taken to mean you shouldn’t take all of your maternity leave.

        • How do you know that? I work for a government agency where everyone’s job is very specialized. We have a person leaving on a 1-2-year military leave and had to hire someone to replace him because there’s no one else in the agency with the knowledge/skill set he has. We’ve also hired supplemental/temporary employees for the women who have taken maternity leave.

    • North Shore :

      My agency is considering hiring someone for a 2-yr term because we have a big case with lots of discovery, and we need short-term help for this crisis period. If she’s a “crisis hire,” it’s different than something like a clerkship or a regularly offered short-term position.

  3. I graduated law school and took the bar while 7 months pregnant (this was before the big crash and there were plently of jobs to be had.) My original plan was to wait until a few months after the baby was born to really start looking for a job. I wanted to work in government and here at least our state government will not really consider you until you are licenced. So I figured I would wait to pass the bar and be sworn in. Well, when I was about 3 months pregnant I received a job advertisment from career services. It sounded like a job I really wanted. So I contacted the person listed and was upfront that I was pregnant and would not be able to start until about 5 months after their preferred start date, and asked whether this would this work. She said to go ahead and apply. I interviewed while 6 months pregnant (in the middle of bar prep) and got the job. I started a few months after my baby was born.

    So I don’t think it is a problem to job hunt while pregnant, but I think you should tell your prospective employer.

  4. Mountain Girl :

    Interesting topic…
    I’m not sure I know how I feel about this but I do know that I feel much differently about it now that my kids are in their teens vs. pre-children. In my earlier years I think I would have had a very passionate belief that career was important and children could wait until the timing was right. Now that my kids have been with us for the last 13 years I can’t imagine that I waited to have kids. Despite my success in the professional arena I count my children and marriage to be the most important and rewarding undertakings of my entire life. The other day in the checkout line at the grocery store I had both of my boys (in their early teens) with me. The gentleman behind me commented on how polite and respectful they were and as I walked away he made the comment “keep up the good work, Mom. You are obviously doing some good things.” I get accolades at work but I will tell you that comment probably meant more to me than my last promotion at work.

    I think it would be interesting to know if there are others of you who have had a similar change of heart and if the recommendations rec’d seem to have any relationship to our own position in life.

    • This made me teary-eyed, in a really good way. I had DS when I was 28. I do not wish I’d had him sooner, but I’m really glad I didn’t wait any longer, if that makes any sense. I enjoy being a mother, more than I ever could have imagined. I am very proud of my professional accomplishments and get a great deal of personal satisfaction from working, but career accolades do not trump how I feel about marriage and parenting. That is my bedrock.

      • Ditto to teary-eyed! I’m a 50-something feminist who has only taken three months off (for my sole maternity leave) in my entire working career. But though I’ve always worked, I’ve also become much less ambitious over the years, because nothing was ever as important as my daughter.

        This also means that I’ve made choices — including turning down career-enhancing promotions or relocations — that I never thought I would make, because they were not right for my family. I’ve still achieved a respectable amount professionally, but I’m not where I thought I would be when I graduated from law school 20+ years ago … and I have no regrets.

        • Ditto here. It would not be an exaggeration to say that having children destroyed my legal career. But I cannot imagine life without any single one of them.

  5. I much agree with other comments that it’s hard to plan a pregnancy perfectly, so to some degree you do just have to let the chips fall and work with the timing you end up with. That said, I think it’s really not ideal to start a new job while pregnant. Better to have established positive relationships with co-workers who may cut you a little slack if you need it during pregnancy based on your history together. I know mine did this for me from time to time, and I really appreciated it!

  6. Tiffany In Houston :

    Suscribing for the comments as I am 38 on this coming Saturday, a newlywed and recently became a FTE after working for a year for my client company as a Senior Accountant on a large ERP implementation. I’m in a role now that is potentially career defining because of the exposure I am getting to senior management, and we want to get preggo because I am older. Looking forward to the comments.

    • I have no idea what those acronyms mean, but I *think* congratulations are due. Congratulations!

    • Anonymous :

      Get started ttc (trying to conceive) Tiffany; As someone who had fertility issues beginning at age 32, I say don’t wait if children are important to you. Good luck!

  7. Has anybody had experience taking a longer-than-normal maternity leave in the U.S.? With DS (who is 18 months old), I took 12 weeks off and was absolutely heartbroken when I had to go back to work. I love my job, but I absolutely was not ready to leave my boy at that point and ended up with some serious depression and anxiety issues for about six months afterward.

    I really (really) want another baby, but I dread the thought of dealing with those issues again. DH & I have a healthy savings account and could get by on one income for awhile, provided my employer would allow it. But how does one go about asking for a six-month maternity leave without coming across as a huge slacker, even though I’m very committed to my workplace for the long run? I can envision spending most of my career here. Six months is a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things, but it would undoubtedly put my coworkers in a bind. It’s a small office, so not much backup.

    Life for working mothers would be a hell of a lot easier if we could take a year off without severe judgment about our loyalty or commitment. I don’t want to stay at home forever, but I’d sure love it while my babies are, well, babies.

    • I had the big-law-standard 12 weeks with my 3 kids. But I can tell you that it was MUCH easier to go back to work with numbers 2 and 3.

      What I’m wondering now is if I’ll get any paid maternity leave if I have a #4 because I’m a partner with a draw, not an associate/employee with a salary. I’ve asked (I’m the only woman partner and the first) & been told they will figure something out and that it likely won’t be 100% paid but likely won’t be nothing, either. I was also told to wait until my youngest (now 15 months) was out of diapers. (Not kidding.) In fairness, I’m at a smallish firm, and I’ve taken combined 3/4 of a year in maternity leaves in the past 4 years.

      • I agree it was much easier to go back after the 2nd and 3rd kids. I think part of it was knowing what to expect. With my first, I honestly felt like I would never see him again and like I was putting him up for adoption or something (very irrational, possibly a little ppd brain!) But I went back, and realized it was ok. I still saw him plenty. With the next two, it was still a little hard, but I knew we were all going to be ok. I also forced myself to have a much better attitude about it and that really helped me.

        Not to mention, staying home full time with a newborn and a toddler is completly exhausting. I joked that I needed to go back to work so I could rest!

        • I found going back after #2 much harder — had 2 kids who needed my attention, not just one. 2nd kid = 3x the work, IMHO.

    • If your employer falls under FMLA, you’re entitled to a minimum of 4 months leave within one calendar year, unpaid (or paid if your employer wants to pay all or part of it).

    • My experience is outside the US but I’ll share anyway:

      - had my son towards end of assignment, then decided I needed to spend more time with him
      - went back after mat-leave ended (in Dec) and discussed with HR, boss etc
      - boss had already lined up replacement who would have taken over anyway by April
      - I worked for 3 months (handover etc) and was out by end March
      - Took 8 mths (unpaid), came back to new role after that

      What helped me decide?
      - children (for me) are 1-2 max, not like I did this with every jon
      - I took many tough roles (incl a year away from hubs) for the sake of my career, this was kinda payback
      - company supportive + financial ability to do this
      - people who’d tag me as “mommy” would do it anyway (with /without the extra leave), the rest would treat me normally

  8. academicsocialite :

    The Canadian mat leave policy is one reason I regret moving to the U.S.

    But, correct me if I’m wrong, I thought the – let me emphasize PAID – leave was contingent on one year of service before it applies in full? At one point I was doing reserach, and seem to remember that being the case. I would definitely make sure you are up on the “fine print” of what is goverment mandated vs. in accordance with the policy for government employees before making your decision, for your own protection.

    • Not Canadian, but married to one: as far as I can tell, you have to have worked 600 hours in the prior 52 weeks, but it doesn’t seem to matter to whom. (Though it may matter for employer top-up plans.) Assuming that the OP is currently working, changing jobs doesn’t seem to matter. (Since the leave is coming from the government, not employer. Just like health care. What a civilized country!)

      • Anon Canadian :

        For mat leave you’ve had to work for the employer for 13 weeks before your due date. The “600 hours in the prior 52 weeks” that you’re referring to is for standard Employment Insurance and how many hours actually depends on the unemployment rate where you live and whether or not you’ve been on EI before.

        My partner just went on EI for the first time this month, and we just went through the whole complicated application process so most of the info is pretty fresh in my mind.

  9. I’m curious as to what kind of maternity leave policies other firms have. I’ve been asked to write a policy for our firm (small firm – 20 lawyers, no written policy, and no one has been pregnant since I’ve been here, but we now have 2 clerical staff, both hired less than 6 months ago, both announced they were pregnant within the last month). Our managing partner wants something like a 6 week paid leave, but only 2 weeks guaranteed, than 2 weeks paid if you return at the end of the 6 weeks, and the last 2 weeks paid if you stay for 1 month after returning from leave. What do other firms do?

    • We’re a similar size. Associates get 12 weeks paid. Paralegals get 6 weeks paid and actually have vacation time and overtime, so could use some of that for additional time home (or take up to 12 weeks with part unpaid). I assume staff is the same as paralegals, but I’m not positive.

      I haven’t heard of the holdback idea, but it’s an interesting concept.

    • Does the firm have disability insurance? Most Short Term Disability policies pay 6 weeks of benefits (benefits are usually about 2/3 of regular salary) (that 6 weeks is post-delivery, so it’s in addition to any time that the woman might have to take off during the pregnancy, which is also considered disability, of course)- you might want to take that coverage into consideration if you have a policy, and, if you don’t, use that, or something like it, as a guide.

      • OP, here, no we don’t have disability, dental, vision, 401(k), just basic health insurance. Staff gets 2 weeks paid leave annually. I’m getting depressed reading about the generous benefits offered by other firms.

    • Resources :

      Check with the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the San Francisco Bar Association Glass Ceiling Initiative. I believe they both have samples/best practices.

    • The holdback plan would likely be considered discriminatory if men who experience short-term disability are not subject to it as well.

  10. Anyone have any tips on how to have the conversation about being pregnant with a new employer? Do you bring it up after you get the offer or before? What exactly do you say?

    • I’m curious as well – talking about pregnancy just seems so personal to me to discuss at a job interview with a total stranger!

    • Fashion Faux Pas :

      I brought it up post-offer, but before I had decided whether to accept or not. My approach was to say: Employer, when I applied for this job, I did not realize I was replacing the only associate rather than expanding the group. Now that I know that, I am concerned that accepting the offer may present a problem for you because I am expecting and anticipate taking a six week maternity leave beginning in late September. I remain very excited about the position, but I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot and I don’t want to inconvenience you. Therefore, while I’m considering the offer, we should discuss the impact of my maternity leave.

  11. In general, I agree with the idea that pregnancy is a necessary part of society and that as long as you are as considerate about the situation, employers–whether you are about to leave them or are just starting a position–need to suck it up and deal.

    That being said, anything that requires you to miss a full half of a temporary position is a BIG inconvenience. They may be totally okay with it (I have some friends working in government departments that, from the sounds of it, could have half their workers go out on mat leave at the same time and it would just result in everyone else having enough to do to actually fill their work day), but they also may not (particularly if you’re a lawyer, a lot of government positions in Canada are very leanly staffed, especially after the hiring freezes of the past few years).

    I would figure out what accommodations (if any) you are willing to make: Would you be okay with taking 4 months instead of a year? Would you be willing to take the same position two years down the road instead of now? Then have a conversation with whoever hired you. Get their reaction to the situation, and if they think it will be a problem then you have alternatives you can offer.

    And if you haven’t already, I echo the advice to look into the laws on this before speaking with the new employer. I know you only need to have been hired about 3 months before giving birth to qualify for leave, but I don’t know what the rules are for contract/temporary positions.

    • I started a new job when I was 7 months pregnant just last year. I accepted the job at 4 months and I disclosed it to everyone that I interviewed with. They were a very large corporation and a client of mine so no one had a problem with me being off for 3 months shortly after I started. When I told the senior vp that I was expecting a baby in June, he just laughed and said “just one?” Apparently his wife just had their 8th child a few months earlier.

      We are planning to try again this fall and I don’t think anyone will have any problems. I am a planner by all accounts so hopefully baby #2 will cooperate like to first one so we can plan around mommy’s busy work months.

      I agree with the high risk comments above – I just turned 34 this summer and have already discussed baby #2 with my dr and she said 35 is the magic high risk number. She did say that it is better if you can have one child before 35 that way they have something to compare it to.

  12. Formerly Preggo Angie :

    Try starting a new job with a 3 month old, while still breastfeeding 100%. I share a (thin) wall with my boss so he gets to hear my hospital-grade pump going 3x a day. Luckily he is totally cool, and everyone else in my small office are women.

  13. Let me first state that I am not/have never been pregnant. But I do live in Canada and have dealt with the Mat Leave policy. Employment Insurance grants paid leave of 35 weeks at a % of your pay. Companies will “Top Up” the amount so you actually get your full pay, as well as pay for the remaining weeks so you reach your full year. The Company is also required to hold your position or an equitable position for your return.

    As for Vacation Time: it varies on length of service and the company. Currently with 5 years of service at my current company I get 15 days vacation, 2 personal days and 5 “floaters” which occur during the summer long weekends and Christmas.

  14. Be Upfront, then Take the Job :

    I totally agree with bee, above. People are approaching responses here with a U.S., and private employer perspective: neither of which apply here. If any employer should be motivated to advance the goals of a fair system for women and a sustainable outcome for families, the government is it!

    This may be advertised as a two-year position, but if Canada is anything like the way things work in Australia, that is the very common for Government positions. The contract will likely be renewed after the two-year period, so the worry about being out for the year becomes much less significant.

    Just be upfront with them. They won’t rescind the offer, you’ll get 6 months of good experience in before you go out on leave (if you have a healthy pregnancy, then there is no reason why you can’t be productive until very near your due date), and then have the perfect job to come back to once your baby is more independent. It sounds absolutely ideal. Good luck.

  15. scientist :

    This reminds me of a recent post on the Female Science Professor* blog – http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2011/06/by-way.html – that discussed the same issues in academia.

    *for the record, I am not the author of Female Science Professor (though I wouldn’t mind being a tenured professor as she is!)

  16. Ok, some clarifications on the Canadian mat leave policy:
    First, it is paid by the government’s EI system, not the employer. The employer may have additional top-up benefits which may depend on term of service with them.
    Second, my understanding is that it doesn’t matter where you work to satisfy the pre-employment requirement to qualify for the EI leave benefits. So long as you transition your employment seamlessly, there shouldn’t be issues in getting your benefits.

    Now on a second issue that is a personal thorn for me: human rights legislation says you cannot discriminate on the basis of pregnancy in any employment situation. As a result, if you were to accept the job and show up on day one announcing that you are pregnant, there is little they can do about it. Yes, your employer may not be happy with you. But if you want the position that badly, and particularly if you are prepared to be flexible respecting your leave, I would take the job. Your only obligation to tell your employer about the pregnancy is to make accommodation easier and plan to deal with it. You always have options with respect to your leave such as splitting it with the father of your child or coming back early on a part time basis that would take some burden off your co-workers, but still give you time with your child.

    I don’t think you should have to sacrifice opportunities because you are going to have a baby. It may not be an easy conversation or arrangement to make it work, but the law protects you for a reason. Only you can know the nature of this job and whether there are long-term expectations for staying. I would say the more likely it is that you would be expected to stay on after your two years, the easier this arrangement will be.

  17. I don’t think there is an ethical issue here. However, from the perspective of a mom, you really are best off having a baby when your employer already knows you and has faith in you. Pregnancy and having a baby could affect your performance and you want them to know that you’re capable of stellar work. You may be quite sick or end up on bed rest. Your baby may have colic or reflux. Your maternity benefits (in the US) may not kick in – a lot of employers don’t start maternity benefits until you’ve been at a job for a year. I have seen many women basically tank their careers at an employer because they started a job with a newborn or got pregnant right after starting. From a practical standpoint, it’s just not the smartest thing to do.

  18. I do not think any woman should put off job searching while trying to get pregnant. Take it from me, someone who tried for years and finally gave up – you don’t know when it will happen and you shouldn’t put your professional life on hold for a possible future event.

    I personally would not search for a new job if I was already pregnant. To me that would be unfair to potential employers and my conscience would not allow it.

  19. Just food for thought – is not looking while pregnant, or not trying to get pregnant when new at a job sort of like negotiating against yourself? You’re decided that you can’t do both things before even finding out whether or not your new employer minds.

  20. Having worked in government, I think it is unfair to take a 2-year grant funded position when you know that you will take maternity leave. Usually grants have specific targets and goals that need to met during the funding time frame. By planning to be off for a significant amount of the time, you can jeopardize any potential funds to continue the work. That being said, maybe you can discuss with the potential employer the possibility of working from home or continuing the work while you are out on leave?

    I was in a job search when I found out I was pregnant. I halted it at month 5. In the US, you cannot get FMLA unless you have been at your place of employment for 1 year and I did not want to limit my time off, in case I wanted to take the full 12 weeks. While the past few months at my current job have not been the most stimulating, I am excited for my 12 week FMLA/maternity leave and plan to resume the job search post-delivery.

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