Pregnancy is a joyous time. Telling your family and loved ones is exciting. But what about telling your colleagues? Telling your boss? Telling your team that counts on you for a lot? This can be a bit trickier. It isn’t always streamers and cake, and there is actually a lot to know about telling your co-workers and boss that you are expecting. We talked to some experts to get the low down.
With more first-time mothers working late into their pregnancies and then returning to the office soon after the baby arrives, according to the Census Bureau, this is something women have to deal with every day.
But first and foremost you need to know that you are not lying if you don’t tell your boss and co-workers immediately. There is no law that says you must do this, but you do have to inform them at least 30 days beforehand, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or your employer’s policy. This holds true especially if you want to take maternity leave; that is why it is good to let people know ahead of time. At bigger companies, employers tend to request that you notify HR if you are planning on taking maternity leave.
That is why there are a lot of things that need to be considered when telling your team and employer that you will be taking maternity leave. You can’t just send an office memo. According to Liz O’Donnell, founder of the career site for women HelloLadies.com and author of the forthcoming book Mogul, Mom & Maid: the Balancing Act of the Modern Woman (and someone who has taken two maternity leaves), there is a lot to keep in mind. She says you shouldn’t do anything until you’ve done your homework:
“Figuring out how much and what kind of leave you’re entitled to isn’t always simple. Because the U.S. offers no federal maternity policy, you will need to determine if you are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA eligibility is affected by how many employees your company employs and how long you have worked at the company. Next you will want to contact your health insurance provider to understand their benefits, and finally you will want to cross check that with your company’s stated policy. Document all of the information you receive. When I was planning [my] maternity leave, I received different information from HR than I did from the insurance company.
“Doing your own research is important because, often, managers and HR directors don’t fully understand the policies. Also, when you do share the news, you’ll want to communicate your plan for how much time you’ll be out of work and how you’ll prepare your co-workers to cover for you.
“Make sure you ask for the maximum time-off. Resist the urge to tell your company you will return early. Even if you think you will be ready to go back within days or weeks, you may change your mind after the baby arrives. It is easier to ask to return to work sooner than it is to ask for an extended leave.
“Do not promise to work while you are on leave. Maternity leave is not a vacation. You will be busy most of the time. And when you are not, you will be tired. Remember the adage: under promise, over deliver. If you decide to check in while you’re on leave, no one will mind.”
But what do you need to think about in terms of what this means for your whole team? O’Donnell says, “They will want to know when you expect to leave, how long you’ll be gone, and your plans for transitioning [your] work. If you’ve thought through those things to the best of your ability, sharing the news should be a positive experience.”
At the same time though, every woman’s experience with telling her employer is going to be different depending on where you are in your career and who you are working for. Emily Hotz, who founded the site Emphasis Added!, had an interesting experience when it came to telling her employer about being pregnant with her second child. She told Levo:
“I found out I was pregnant with baby number two just three months after returning from my first maternity leave. I instantly worried that the well-wishes from my co-workers would be replaced by snarky comments about taking more time off or, even worse, there would be the perception that I was not committed to my career. While I did notice a slight uptick in comments about how “lucky” I was to get another extended leave (mostly from folks without children, who seemed to think maternity leave was basically an extended vacation… which, obviously, it is not)… the majority of responses remained genuinely positive. Turns out, people celebrate this whole miracle of life thing!
“During my second pregnancy, I was working for a manager who I adored. We had a close relationship both in and out of the office. When she confided in me that she was expecting a baby of her own, I was not quite six weeks along. Conventional wisdom says to wait until at least 13 weeks before telling your employer, but for me it was more important to respect the dynamic of our relationship than to follow suggested timelines. At that point, it would have been weird to NOT tell her that I was also expecting. My advice to other pregnant professionals: Use suggested timelines as a guide, but use your head and heart when deciding an approach that works for you. Just like every baby will be different… every pregnancy is different, and there are infinite reasons why you may need to go a little rogue.”
Hotz also brought up the really good point that in this day and age of no privacy, and with co-worker and friend lines being quite blurry, you may reveal you are expecting sooner than you would like.