You and your husband may be overjoyed after finding out that you are expecting. Your boss? Slighlty less so. Sharing news of your pregnancy can open the floodgates of workplace discrimination from management and co-workers. From hostile looks and unfair treatment to a simple lack of support, employers often penalise female workers for their pregnancy. If you are lucky, your boss will be empathetic to your situation, offering you flexibility as long as you’re able to perform your duties adequately.
At the other end of the spectrum are supervisors who will become increasingly rigid as your pregnancy progresses, leaving you with just two options: an unpaid leave of absence or forced resignation. At work, you may have to hear how your productivity has dropped or that you need to become more efficient. In some instances, women are told that the entire department is suffering because of them!
Do work and pregnancy go together?
Dr Aisha Jabeen of Medicell strongly feels that women should continue working throughout the pregnancy. “Being active is good for the health of both the mother and the baby in her womb. After the first trimester is over, women become more comfortable with the physical changes they are undergoing and morning sickness, mental fuzziness and lethargy also subside.”
While employers certainly need to understand that the first trimester is the hardest period of the pregnancy, particularly for first-time mothers, you should also ensure that your condition does not prevent you from carrying out key responsibilities. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done: morning sickness may make you late for work every morning and fatigue may put a serious dent in your workplace productivity. The physical and hormonal changes of pregnancy are often accompanied by emotional instability. At such a time, the last thing you want to hear is a goodbye from your boss. While some women can afford the luxury of resigning, for most a joint income is necessary and being forced to resign only adds to the pressure, often causing severe depression and stress.
What should you do?
Do your homework
Refer to your employee handbook or HR department to inquire about maternity leave policies. Ask other women in the company who have taken similar leave packages.
If your company offers maternity leave, make sure you understand whether the leave is paid, unpaid or partially paid and what other benefits the policy offers. Look into your medical insurance policy, and find out what is covered for your pregnancy and when you are on extended leave.
Speak to your boss
It’s important that you tell your employer before you tell anyone else at the workplace. Prepare yourself to discuss your pregnancy, job requirements and maternity leave with the senior management. Remember, the company’s position and operations are top priority to them and so, they will need to know how you plan on fulfilling your responsibilities.
Explore your options
First decide if and how you want to work throughout your pregnancy and after delivery. Ask yourself whether you think you will be able to work through most of it? Do you want to start your maternity leave early? Are you interested in working part-time or from home? If you are certain that you can work while you are pregnant, then stay focused and tell your boss.
Work with flexibility
Your management is concerned about their company’s output and how your working capabilities will affect it. Realise that you will be physically impossible for you to work at the same level as before you conceived. Your manager has the right to know if you are unable to fulfill your current job requirements. If you find your present job is too strenuous, request for a temporary transfer to a less stressful job or ask for a part-time position. Try working from home or request flexible hours, especially in the first trimester.
Choose your leave package
While you decide the duration of your time off, your management will also determine how much time they can afford to be without you and what your value to the firm is. Be realistic about your leave, and remember even though companies generally want to be known as ‘family-friendly’ in their maternity leave policies, not every pregnant employee is granted what she needs.
If you feel you are being treated unfairly, speak to a colleague you can trust as discussing feelings openly can help clear many misunderstandings and give you a change of perspective. If the colleague agrees, then refer to your contract and speak to your firm’s HR personnel. There are different ways of handling work issues, such as filing a discrimination complaint. However you proceed, make sure you maintain a record of everything, from the ill-treatment and what you did in retaliation to possible solutions to the problem. Keep the management informed at all times so have evidence of what you went through and most importantly, don’t be afraid to stand your ground and speak your mind. Remember it is the HR personnels job to care for the employees and that includes you!
Dr Ghulfam Khan was in her first year of residency when she got pregnant. “I had severe morning sickness and felt tired all the time,” she says. “My supervisor told me to resign and come back after my delivery.”
Dr Khan is hardly the first working woman to face such discrimination; Laila Durrani suffered professional setbacks during each of her three pregnancies. After the first pregnancy, her job position was eliminated, after the second it was given to another manager and after the third pregnancy, Laila was stripped of basic employee rights like switching one’s schedule around — all aimed at forcing her to leave. Laila continued working under these unfavorable circumstances until a better job came around.
Stay productive at work
Cut back on other physical activities.
Keep healthy snacks like nuts and granola bars with you at work.
Control your nausea and vomiting by avoiding fatty, sugary foods.
Take short breaks frequently to recharge.
Hire help for house chores.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, September 1st, 2013.