When Emily H. Griebel was pregnant with her first child, she was nervous about sharing the news with her boss.
"I knew he would be happy for me but I also knew it would be tough on him if I were gone for 12 weeks," says Griebel, who today runs her own marketing firm, EHG Consulting. "With my first pregnancy, I told my boss about it just minutes after a big client presentation, as we were walking back to our hotel in Manhattan. I remember stopping for a red light and practically yelling to tell him that I was having a baby."
Griebel's boss was happy to hear the news, and it led to the company experiencing a first, too: creating a maternity leave policy.
"My company had to create a maternity policy for me because no woman had ever had a baby there before me," Griebel says.
Figuring out when and how to announce a pregnancy at work can be stressful, but experts say preparation is key to making it a positive experience. Here's how to prepare to reveal your big news:
--Do your research.
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to give employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave, but these rules only apply to companies with more than 50 employees, and only for employees who have worked at the company for 12 months or more.
Even if you and your company qualify for the FMLA, other state and local laws, as well as the company's own particular policies, can apply.
"Research your company's policy on pregnancy leave as soon as you can," says Liz O'Donnell, author of "Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman" (Bibliomotion, $24.95). "Cross-check the information in your company policy with your health insurance company -- sometimes the information conflicts."
If you're not ready to announce your pregnancy and don't want to arouse suspicion by asking questions about maternity leave, just ask your company's HR department for a copy of the employee handbook -- it should contain details about maternity leave policy.
--Figure out timing.
When is the best time to reveal your big news? Many expectant moms and dads wait until after the12-week mark, statistically when risks for miscarriage are lower, to reveal their news at large.
You may want to wait later than that to announce your pregnancy at work, or you may want to share the news even earlier. Whatever timing you're comfortable with, experts agree it's best to give your boss and coworkers as much advance notice as possible.
"As a practical matter, most employers would appreciate several months' notice so they can find a temporary replacement and make other arrangements," says Cynthia Thomas Calvert, an employment lawyer and president of Workforce 21C, a firm that consults employers about family responsibilities discrimination. "Practicality may dictate an earlier disclosure for a different reason, however. If a woman is having a difficult pregnancy, she may need to take time off for doctor's visits or because she is too ill to work, and she may need accommodations so she can continue to work."
No matter when you choose to make your announcement, make sure your boss learns about your pregnancy directly from you, and not from the office grapevine.
"The worst mistake you can make is waiting too long to share your news with your boss. If he or she finds out about your pregnancy around the office water cooler or, even worse, through your social media blasts -- we've seen it happen -- the resulting conversation will not be positive," says Katherine Wintsch, founder and CEO of The Mom Complex, a consulting firm that helps companies connect with mom employees and customers. "Your boss deserves to learn your news in person and firsthand."
--Make a plan.
Before Chris Peterson, a client trainer for a software company, told her bosses about her pregnancy, she constructed a thorough plan to present to her managers. The plan included details about projects she was currently working on, projects she works on continuously throughout the year, and suggestions on how to cover for the work she does, like automating some tasks and training coworkers on how to perform others.
"When I was ready to discuss, I scheduled a meeting with my manager, printed the plan and reviewed it with him," Peterson said. "[The managers] said it was very well thought-out and constructed. They celebrated it by throwing me a baby shower."
Peterson's plan also included details about timing, including her due date and how much time she would like off of work. Although it's best to present your boss with a specific timeline, experts suggest giving yourself plenty of flexibility with your time off requests.
"Ask for the maximum time off. Even if you think you will return early, keep that to yourself. You may change your mind once the baby arrives and it's easier to ask to return to work sooner than it is to ask for more time off," O'Donnell says.
Also be open to the possibility that you could change your mind about returning to work.
"You cannot predict how you will feel about motherhood and work one day, one month or three months postpartum," O'Donnell says. "Don't speculate with your boss. Plan to return and, if, during your leave, you have a change of heart, deal with it then."
Unfortunately, some managers and coworkers may have an unconscious bias toward moms-to-be.
"Employers and co-workers may assume that pregnant women and mothers will be less committed to their work, less competent and less dependable and will quit their jobs, even if the women have performed and are performing at a high level," Calvert says.
Use your pregnancy announcement as an opportunity to reinforce your boss's confidence in you. Emphasize that while you are excited to start a family, you also remain excited about your job and career. Offer to help make the transition to your maternity leave, and your return to work, as smooth as possible. Keep the tone positive -- showing you are in control and excited about the future helps allay any worries your boss and coworkers might have.
"A statement like that affirms the employee's commitment, competence, dependability and intent to return to work, which should reassure the supervisor's hidden concerns," Calvert says.
Understanding your options for maternity leave
Your maternity leave options can depend on many factors, including the size of your company, how long you have worked there and your company's own specific policies.
And, while there are federal laws that govern maternity leave and pregnancy discrimination -- the Family Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act -- many individual states have their own laws, too, that could also affect your maternity leave.
Here's a guide to understanding what your options could be, according to Cynthia Thomas Calvert, an employment lawyer and president of Workforce 21C, a firm that consults employers about family responsibilities discrimination
--If your company has 50 or more employees, it's covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth and bonding. Employees are eligible if they have worked for at least 12 months at the same company. If you have worked for your company for less time than that, check with HR -- some companies not only offer more generous benefits than what the FMLA requires, but they might also offer maternity leave benefits to employees who don't meet the FMLA time requirement.
--If your company has fewer than 15 employees, it's too small to be covered by either the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or the FMLA, but there could be a state law in place that requires some maternity leave. Your company could also have a maternity or unpaid personal leave policy in place. Check your employee handbook, or ask HR, because it could be an unwritten policy. A last resort could be to take whatever sick leave or vacation time you have available, and ask your employer for additional weeks of unpaid leave. Calvert suggests getting the details in writing before taking your leave. Even a simple "Thanks for X weeks off, I look forward to coming back on X date" e-mail will do.
--If your company has 15 to 49 employees, it's covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but not by the FMLA. This means the employer has to treat a pregnant employee in the same way it would treat any other employee who is similarly unable to work. For example, if a male employee is allowed time off to recover from a heart attack and the company holds his job open for him, the company must do the same for a pregnant woman needing time off to give birth and recover. Again, check state's laws, your company's employee handbook, and have whatever plan is offered to you in writing.
--Some companies provide short-term disability insurance as a benefit, which provides a way to get paid while you are out of work -- in this case, childbirth and recovery count as a short-term disability. However, says Calvert, this doesn't guarantee your job would be held open for you when you get back..
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