Boss, I’m pregnant

You’ve seen the pale morning face and wondered if you would soon hear these three words. But as happy as you are that she’s fulfilling her dream of becoming a parent, it’s not always easy to know what role to play in her pregnancy as an employer.
Many women fear for their jobs when they discover they are pregnant. They’re terrified of being fired, replaced or sidelined as a result of ‘letting you down’. Although the law is on their side when it comes to protecting their employment, what they also need during this vulnerable time is your reassurance and support.
Having a good relationship with your boss engenders loyalty and high performance, and as an employer it’s up to you to set the bar. Your first line of action when you’re informed about her pregnancy should be to sit down together. Discuss how best to handle the big issues of maternity leave, and how to accommodate the inevitable changes to her --  and your -- lives.
Her doctor is about to become her new best friend so make sure you’re also kept in the loop when it comes to how she’s doing medically. Safety is a huge workplace issue during pregnancy. If your employee feels that there are certain aspects of her job that are dangerous for her baby you need to address her concerns.

Never mess with a pregnant chick

Working during pregnancy can be pretty tough with an ever-changing body, supercharged emotions and hormones that have gone bonkers. It’s important to identify her limitations and accommodate her new status as mom-to-be in a way that ensures a win-win situation for you both. Do try to be open if she asks to negotiate a new arrangement that suits you both whether it’s working part time, job sharing or working from home.

Jules Newton, MD and founder of Avocado Vision, a skills training company, offers this crash course in Pregnancy 101:
  • Rule # 1: never mess with a pregnant chick! Rule # 2: ditto!
  • Share her delight – the worst part of being pregnant is telling the boss, so she needs a hug and a smile on disclosure, desperately!
  • Think of creative ways to keep her engaged and how to help her re-integrate when she comes back.
  • Manage the dismissive testosterone-talk of non-pregnant people.
  • Don’t forget that pregnant women need compassion and support when they’re not feeling so great. Show it.
  • Women respond to pregnancy differently – don’t make assumptions, engage with her.
  • She’ll need to attend doctors’ appointments and manage her own guilt around feeling sick, forgetting stuff, being tired and taking off time for medical attention. Sympathise. 
  • Expect her priorities and perspectives to change. Listen to her stories about what the baby did today (kicked, sucked its thumb etc).
  • Bear in mind that looking after her now will build years of loyalty and delivery later. It’s worth investing.

The legal mumbo-jumbo
Labour law expert and public speaker John Botha runs through the legal stuff to put every employer in the know:
  • no woman may be dismissed because of her pregnancy;
  • she’s entitled to a minimum of 4 months’ maternity leave, generally starting not later than 4 weeks before the expected date of birth;
  • she has the right to resume work in the same position she had prior to maternity leave;
  • she needs to advise you at least 4 weeks before her date of return of the expected date of return;
  • you may request her to work back a period of time if you pay her during maternity leave, but this must be a pre-agreed term of employment or a mutual agreement.

What do you wish your employer knew about pregnant employees? Comment below.

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