How to Handle Pregnancy Questions at Work When You Feel it Might Affect Your Career

Dear Office Mom,

I’m a female in my late twenties, recently married and have been employed with the same company since I graduated 4 years ago. I’ve had an amazing experience at my company and have a wonderful relationship with my team. Upon returning from my honeymoon the partner I work under called me into his office to offer his congratulations (again- he was at the wedding) and to hear all about our trip. At the end of what had been a lovely conversation he brought up my plans for starting a family. Making sure I was aware of my work commitments and major projects that could potentially be headed my way. I was caught off guard, and reassured him that my Husband and I are not even thinking about Kids for another 5 years (or at least that’s the plan). I felt like my upward mobility might be at risk. This happened two weeks ago, but it’s still bugging me. Should I bring it up? Or let it go?
— Angie
As a working woman it is important to know your rights protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Image: AJ Costin Photography

As a working woman it is important to know your rights protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Image: AJ Costin Photography

Dear Angie,

 Congratulations on your marriage! It’s disheartening to hear that your manager asked these questions and burst your blissful bubble. I understand your concerns and how you feel a future pregnancy might jeopardize your career progression with the company. Fortunately for you and the millions of women who are or will become pregnant there is a Pregnancy Discrimination Act that offers protection.

According to the AAUW, “The PDA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and other employment benefits. It prohibits policies that limit or prevent women from doing jobs simply because they are fertile or pregnant but also forbids policies that disparately impact women because they are pregnant or able to become pregnant.” It also prohibits discrimination regarding medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

So, back to your specific question. My advice is that no, you should not approach your manager again. Your boss voiced his concerns (clearly, albeit inappropriately but not illegally), and you gave a response even though it was none of his damn business. To look on the bright side,he sent you a powerful signal by revealing how he feels and thinks about pregnancy and working women. Now you know.

I’m not an attorney, and I don’t work for the EEOC, but this is what Your Office Mom suggests:

  1. Read about the PDA and know your rights. In addition to the links in this post, search for articles online and broaden your understanding of the law’s scope.

  2. Check the company’s discrimination policy in the employee handbook (or compliance training) so you know the internal process for reporting issues like this.

  3. Document the conversation with you manager as clearly as you can recollect and note the date and time. Going forward, keep a record of ALL additional comments, questions or snide remarks about your vagina and your reproductive plans, regardless of who makes them. Be sure to note who, when, where and what was said.

  4. Keep an eye on project reassignment, or any changes in how you are treated at work. Document those situations as well.

  5. If it becomes an issue that makes you uncomfortable, or it’s troubling, you may want to talk to HR (as per company policy) so they can put a stop to it. But, keep in mind that won’t necessarily prevent discrimination, only that people won’t talk about it anymore.

The bottom line: if you do become pregnant and believe your employer has discriminated against you because of your pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition you have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And, you have documentation.

Best wishes! Keep me posted!