Today, women represent nearly half of all workers in the U.S. Building a family is a goal for so many, and more than a million millennials are becoming new parents every year—yet pregnant people often face discrimination in the workplace. They might experience stigmas and stereotypes at work and can be viewed as less capable, competent, and rational than their peers. Expectant parents are also often denied advancement opportunities, and miss out on promotions. Despite federal laws protecting pregnant women in the workforce, some are even forced to take leave or are fired.
Women often know about these risks, but the stigmas, experiences, and discrimination during pregnancy can make them more likely to leave their roles after their baby is born. Starting a family shouldn’t come at the expense of a career—and employers can step up to provide pregnant employees with the support they need to thrive in their career and family life.
Pregnancy benefits are good for workers and business
In an increasingly competitive labor market, expectant mothers aren't the only ones interested in maternity leave and pregnancy benefits at work. New hires looking to start a family with confidence often consider a maternity leave policy and pregnancy benefits as a reason to join a company, as they’re often looking for stability for the future. Employers that choose to provide paid family leave beyond The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) certainly have an edge when it comes to hiring talent.
Maternity leave and pregnancy benefits can help your bottom line, too. Comprehensive benefits can reduce the high cost of turnover and boost labor force retention, productivity, and morale. Plus, employees who receive these benefits are more likely to return to work after taking leave. U.S. states with paid leave policies found a 20% reduction in the number of female employees exiting their jobs in the first year post-birth, and up to a 50% reduction after five years.
Pregnant employees need to know their rights and benefits
Pregnant employee rights under federal law
In the workplace, pregnancy accommodations are covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that:
- "The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment."
- "If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee."
- "It is unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth."
Helping employees communicate about their pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of intense emotional and physical changes. It's crucial you approach it with empathy, sincerity, and sensitivity.
Announcing the pregnancy to coworkers
When supporting a pregnant employee at work, let them decide when and how to tell their coworkers and direct reports. Most expecting parents wait to share the news until the second trimester due to the risk of miscarriage during that time. If they have weekly team meetings or other regularly scheduled times with their team, announcing the pregnancy could be the perfect opportunity.
You can encourage them to be straightforward and say something to the effect of, "I have some personal news to share with you all. I'm pregnant and due at the beginning of June. In the coming weeks, I'll have more information to share about my maternity leave and the coverage plan, but for now, I just wanted to relay the news." Let them know they don't have to have all the answers regarding the transition when announcing the pregnancy.
Planning maternity leave
Maternity leave can start before or after the baby is born, depending on the employee's wishes and potential pregnancy complications. For expecting mothers who work for a company with 15 or more employees, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act offers some job protection in the case of complications. Pregnant employees should be treated like any other employee with a temporary disability.
Encourage managers and employees to work together to set a specific date the pregnant employee expects to take leave and a tentative date that they'll return to work. A few weeks before they take maternity leave, start hammering out some details regarding which team members will provide coverage and any work issues that may arise while the employee is away. Figuring out a plan beforehand will take the stress off and discourage coworkers from needing to contact the new mother with questions—after all, the first few weeks should be dedicated to recovery and enjoying their new baby.
Creating an inclusive environment for pregnant employees
The physical and emotional symptoms that accompany pregnancy can make functioning at work incredibly difficult. It's important to be aware of how a pregnant employee feels and allow for honest and open dialogue in your organization. Ask them how they would like to be treated at work—for example, during pregnancy, do they want to stick with their regular tasks, or are they open to new opportunities or responsibilities? Do they need to delegate some projects to other team members? Any answer is acceptable. It's best not to assume what a pregnant employee can or can't take on at work. Continue having these conversations throughout the pregnancy in case preferences or circumstances change.
Supporting employees as they cope with pregnancy symptoms
Pregnant people can experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, so it’s important to be mindful of how your pregnant employees may be feeling day-to-day.
The most common problem in the first trimester of pregnancy is nausea, also known as "morning sickness"—although queasiness can hit at any time. You can support employees experiencing nausea at work by keeping the air circulating throughout the office to cut down on any triggering smells. You can also keep the break room stocked with bland foods and drinks for snacking, such as crackers, ginger ale, and ginger tea.
Let pregnant employees know that it's perfectly fine to take frequent breaks to combat fatigue. Be mindful of not scheduling too many meetings back-to-back so they can fit in a few minutes of movement or a nap if necessary. If employees are working in an office with available space, consider blocking off a quiet room for pregnant employees to rest and relax.
Back pain and sciatica are common in the later months of pregnancy. If working in an office, consider upgrading office furniture to high-quality, ergonomic desks and chairs. Additionally, give pregnant employees the option to telecommute from home so they can set up a more comfortable environment for working.
Maven supports health and safety at work for pregnant employees
Pregnant employees face several challenges when balancing the demands of their jobs and the many requirements of pregnancy, like symptoms, doctor's appointments, and bed rest. Plus, they want to maintain their professionalism during pregnancy, often avoiding signaling that they need support. Employers hold a unique position to provide this type of support while also improving attraction and retention rates of working parents and female talent. Maven can work with employers to help expecting parents take care of themselves and their families to return to work and successfully be their most productive selves.
To find out how Maven can help you support pregnant employees as they prepare for a happy and healthy path to parenthood, request a demo today.
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