update from the reader who found out she was pregnant right after starting a new job

It’s our first in what will be a month-long series of our reader updates. Remember the reader who found out she was pregnant right after starting a new job (#5 at the link)? She was unsure when and how to tell her new manager. Here’s her update.

Your advice was right on target, and I really needed to hear that (more than once). It was identical advice to what I received from a dear friend who also happens to be a hiring manager – although he didn’t hide his shock very well, which had the added benefit of preparing me for the conversation with my manager (since I had no idea how she would react).

I am really thankful your readers left such great comments, as I hadn’t considered either the disability pay or FMLA benefits, which is obviously a pretty big deal in my situation.

So, the update. I got lucky! Really lucky, in my opinion. I had a very honest conversation with my manager shortly after that post. She has been very supportive through this time, and so have the managers two steps over me, which was not expected but is a fabulous feeling. That was all lucky.

The really lucky part made me realize I made the right choice in accepting this position and relocating. Ready for the really lucky part? Even though I don’t qualify for job protection under FMLA, my manager confirmed they have been really happy with my performance and have no intentions of of letting me go or filling my position while I am out (never even mentioned how my contract is written, which would allow them to do so… seems they don’t care – they are keeping me). HR confirmed I was also approved for full salary during my 6-week leave, which they also don’t have to give me, but makes a huge difference in my stress level at this point, and gives me a good idea of the culture and values of this company and my group. LUCKY ME!

You are right – times like these give employers the opportunity to prove the company culture to their employees. I hope my behavior was a positive message to my employer as well, because I realize how I handled this was more important than the pregnancy itself.

{ 56 comments… read them below }

    1. fposte*

      Some go back the next week; some take six months. Depends on the job and the person. To get six weeks paid leave from an employer within the first year is excellent.

      1. Rose*

        THIS! 6 weeks leave? I have had two children and there is no way I could have gone back to work so soon after having a baby (emotionally speaking). So thankful that I live in Canada and get a year maternity leave with 93% of my salary (gov’t employee), most others get 55-65% of their salary for a year!
        Either way, this is fantastic for you and such a a huge burden off your shoulders. Good luck with the new baby :)

    2. Loose Seal*

      I knew a woman who went back to work three days after giving birth because she couldn’t afford to take the time off. She worked ten to twelve hour days as an asst. manager of a convenience store.

      1. Windchime*

        I know someone who attended a meeting at OldJob when her new baby was just a couple of days old. It wasn’t really optional for her. Needless to say, she no longer works there.

    3. Anonymous*

      I had a c-section and was expressly forbidden by my doctors to drive or to lift anything weighing more than 10 lbs until the six-week mark. It varies from woman to woman depending how birth goes.

      (I had 10 weeks off work when my daughter was born, and we got lucky. She started sleeping through the night at 8 weeks and at the 10-week mark I was just about ready to pull myself together and start getting out of the house again.)

    4. Elaine*

      US Soldiers must return to duty after six weeks. Some have to then deploy. I wish it were 3 months, minimum…but we have a long way to go in the USA.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        That’s what I was thinking. The organizations I’ve worked for have all been humane, generous employers. And not one would have given 6 paid weeks of maternity leave – they were all 60% or something like that.

    1. Sarahnova*

      It makes me very sad that the US is in a state around mat. leave where this is amazing, but I’m glad the OP is getting treated well.

  1. Andrew*

    FMLA only requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which she wouldn’t even qualify for since she hasn’t been with the company long enough. I think six weeks of paid leave is generous. Also, she didn’t say whether she asked for six weeks of leave or that was what the company was willing to offer.

      1. J*

        Let’s be clear, it’s really good relative to the current legal standards of the U.S. It’s not really good relative to pretty much all other developed countries!

        1. belle*

          Right! I think they get 1 year in Canada. So jealous!
          I am ready for a second baby, but I just started a new job, and have to make sure I’ve been here at least 3 months before getting pregnant.

        2. Anonymous*

          Oh, I know. I used to want to live in the US until I started reading this blog, now I’m glad I stayed in Canada.

        3. AB Normal*

          Just to add to what J said, it’s not really good compared to emerging countries either. Many Latin countries have much larger maternity leave; Brazil, for example, has a minimum of 4 months and a maximum of 6 month, with full pay. Add to that the fact that all employees get 1 month of vacation per year, and most mothers stay between 5 and 7 months with their babies. I think fathers get a week , which is not too bad – many combine with their vacation too to make it into 5 weeks.

          (Still, congratulations to the OP — it’s clear she joined a good company and is a valued contributor. However, like others I wanted to emphasize the fact that the U.S. is far from an example of generous policies in this area.)

  2. belle*

    I thought 6 weeks paid maternity leave was standard? I can’t remember if I was paid fully or not though.

    I got pregnant my first week at a new job, and I was so lucky that I was able to take of a total of 3.5 months even though I didn’t qualify for fmla. I had 6 weeks maternity leave, then around 3 weeks of PTO. In addition my boss allowed me to take an unpaid leave of a month.

    1. Aisling178*

      Heck no. 6 weeks leave is common in the U.S., but if you want it paid, you have to use your own stored vacation and/or sick leave. You can take longer if job approves it, but FMLA is the only guarantee they won’t fill your position. Short-term disability is awesome if your company provides it, but even then it sometimes only offers half- salary, not full.

      1. belle*

        I live in california, so maybe the law is different with regards to leave. I also had SDI (state disability insurance) through my job so the state paid me about 60% or so. I opted for my company to not touch my PTO (to pay the balance) and instead used that once my 6 weeks were over.

        1. fposte*

          The law is hugely different in California–you get two different kinds of relevant leave that I believe doubles the amount of time you’re allowed.

          Though at least one of them and maybe both still require the employee to have worked for the employer for a set time before she’s eligible, so being in California might not have helped the OP.

      2. Judy*

        I think the law says that pregnancy is the same as any other temporary disability. If the company pays x for disability for a hernia operation, then it has to pay x for pregnancy. (And in my experience, the disability time for pregnancy is 6 weeks after delivery.) Disability might be full pay or percent of pay.

        I’m somewhat surprised some people take less than that, or specifically that companies allow that. Any time someone is out on disability at each company I’ve worked for, they couldn’t go back to work until the doctor cleared them. I wasn’t cleared to drive for 3 weeks or when I stopped pain meds, whichever was later, after each birth.

        Our manager got in trouble with HR because it came out that he asked one of us to log in and work for 4 hours about 2 weeks after the employee had surgery on his neck.

        1. Laura*

          It may heavily depend on the pregnancy, and also on the job.

          With my first, where there were issues that complicated recovery, I wasn’t cleared to return to work until seven or eight weeks, I forget which. (It wasn’t greatly important: I was and am covered by FMLA and took the full twelve weeks.)

          With my second, I was more functional three days after the birth than I was at the 4-week mark with my first. I wasn’t cleared to return to work until 6 weeks only because I didn’t arrange an earlier appointment with my OB to get that clearance.

          I work a desk job with a computer, though. There’s no heavy lifting component at all.

          And I’ve never been restricted from driving after a birth due to the birth – though in the case of the first I was restricted for weeks due to the pain pills.

          Absolutely my workplace would not let me go back until I was cleared, though.

          1. Carmella*

            I am going to try to go back at 4 or 5 weeks. I work a government job. It’s a desk job. I hope that I can do it! I will not be getting paid, only for holidays. But I hired on at 3 months pregnant. I think that when you do that you know you aren’t going to get a lot of time off.

    2. Nikki J.*

      Ohhhh no no no. It’s not even close to the standard but more an exception to the norm. MOST employers don’t pay a penny and will also force you to use ALL your earned leave within your 12 weeks. It’s pretty sad all around.

      1. Piper*

        Yep. I’m due in June and because of all of that (forced to use accrued leave, etc), I won’t be able to go home for Christmas next year, so the baby’s first Christmas will be spent away from family. Go USA and your awesome maternity leave practices. It’s really disgusting.

  3. Jenn*

    Six weeks is usually the average time for maternity leave. I had to use my vacation and sick days all up before I got 60% of my pay through short-term disability so getting full pay is amazing!

    1. fposte*

      You have to have worked for an employer for a year to get it, so you can’t get it twice in twelve months by switching employers.

    1. tcookson*

      HR, I love how you change your name suffix occasionally. It’s like an NPR “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” puzzle to figure out which reference from a which recent column you’ve appended to your name.

  4. Nikki J.*

    Sigh…who are these employers?! In any job I’ve had (or have look at as an option) I have never found any to go beyond what they are required to do with unpaid FMLA . Nothing paid and always force you to use every drop of leave time so you come back with NOTHING to bank on. It’s crap.

    1. bearing*

      There are some out there. My husband worked for a major food processing corporation that in 2000 when our first son was born gave 4 weeks paid paternity leave (the same as for maternity leave) and encouraged him to take additional unpaid FMLA leave if he needed to.

      Later his company was acquired by one that wasn’t quite so generous for new fathers, but they still give him 2 weeks paid and still encourage him to take the FMLA.

      1. Toast*

        bearing, did your husband take the FMLA he was encouraged to take and if he did, does he feel that taking it hindered his career within the company? I’m curious about the career ramifications for employees that take the full leave, even if encouraged by the company.

        1. bearing*

          After each of our children’s births with the new company, he took the 2 weeks paid paternity leave plus 1 to 2 weeks total FMLA. He arranged with his supervisors informally to take the FMLA leave days non-consecutively — I gather that technically it is supposed to be in one chunk, but it was a win-win situation for him to work partial weeks instead of being completely out of the office and then back cold turkey.

          No, he does not feel that it hindered him at all, although he observed that few dads take all the leave — even all the free leave!

    2. MJ of the West*

      My (US-based) company provides 5 months of paid maternity leave and 1.5 months of paid paternity leave.

  5. UK Anon*

    Wow. Jaw dropping. Over in the UK things are very, very different…

    I don’t know all the details inside out because I’ve never needed it, but from all the recent changes I gather that: a woman has to work for a company for a certain time, but after that she’s eligible for maternity leave. Over here, it’s a maximum of 52 weeks, and though the pay rules are complicated, I think that you get paid a percentage of salary (up to 90%) the entire time. I also know new changes are coming in which will mean that where the mother is eligible for the new fangled “parental leave” the father will now also be able to take some of it. It used to be two weeks paternal leave but now it’s changing so that the mother and father (as far as I can gather) basically get a pot of leave to share between them as they will.

    On the other hand, because it’s so generous, broadly speaking women tend to be held back more career wise because they’ve taken a year out and it’s incredibly hard for young women to get jobs (so the media tells me) because employers don’t want someone who might end up pregnant (i.e. I know of nothing that proves this but we all sort of think it’s true really)

    I guess you might at least avoid those disadvantages! But really… wow…

    1. bearing*

      It’s nice to see somebody acknowledge some of the real disadvantages inherent in the mandatory leave system, which a lot of people over here in the U S lament we don’t have.

      1. J*

        Except that in the US, we *still* have the disadvantages (women being held back because they might take/took maternity leave) and we don’t even get the extra weeks as an option.

      2. LondonI*

        According Wikipedia (with all the caveats on accuracy that this statement entails) the four countries in the world that don’t have national laws regarding mandatory paid maternity leave are as follows: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the US.

    2. LondonI*

      But on the other hand, I think maternity leave cover is a good opportunity for employers to ‘try out’ someone in a role if they think someone has potential but they would be a little bit hesitant to hire that person on a permanent basis. If the covering employee isn’t brilliant – well, it’s only about 9 months and there’s no real harm done. They go back to their old role once the original employee returns to work. If they are fabulous in the role then the employer has a chance to witness that and look at other ways to develop that employee when the original employee comes back. I’ve seen people win themselves promotions after performing wonderfully in a maternity-cover role.

      There are disadvantages with a generous maternity leave system. It does have an impact on smaller businesses (although SMEs can claim 90% of the costs back from the government at the end of the year) but I genuinely believe that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. In terms of employee retention and employee health alone, I’m convinced that this is a better situation.

      The other argument against long maternity leave is that employers might end up discriminating (illegally) women of child-bearing age by choosing not to hire them. I don’t know whether this happens in practice (in my experience it doesn’t, but then I tend to work for larger companies) but I am hoping that the new parental-leave laws to be introduced in the UK in 2015 will combat this anyway.

    3. Ann*

      I work for a US- based UK company so they have to comply with both US federal and local state laws but: I am 25 weeks along right now, and what I will be allowed to take is 3 months of FMLA with first 2 weeks fully paid, the rest 2.5 months unpaid. 2 weeks paid comes from the employer: being from the UK after all they are a bit more generous than US employers. Then the 6-week STD kicks in (I fund a part of it and the rest is sponsored by me employer): only after doctors’ orders and only for max 60% of my standard pay. Then if I want an extra money, they urge me to use up my vacation and sick days, 24 total – which I hate to do as I don’t want to come back to work full time in August, unable to take a single day off, either if the baby gets sick or I want to stay home an extra day before or after Thanksgiving or between Christmas and New Years…

  6. joanne*

    I am so impressed! That is a happy ending. And with how taxing pregnancy itself can be, it is wonderful that you have such supportive managers! I know my productivity fell during my first trimester (just from feeling so gross all the time), and having understanding managers was key for me. Good luck!

  7. Taylor*

    I have now started TWO jobs while pregnant.

    With my first pregnancy, I started a big job at a University 20 weeks along. It was an incredible opportunity. I did not disclose I was pregnant until my first day. I told my boss right away and she didn’t even bat an eyelash. She said regardless of my pregnancy, I was the right fit for the position. She said it in no way changed the fact that out of hundreds of applicants, I was the best. I was so grateful for her support, because the situation could have gone south FAST.

    That job was my big break, and from my vantage point, I didn’t think it was fair to not go after it just because I was going to have a baby.

    They gave me 12 weeks of maternity leave, 6 of them paid. They held my job for me and even host a baby shower in my honor. It was best case scenario.

    My family eventually had to relocate and I cried when I submitted my resignation.

    I just recently settled into another new role and two weeks after I started, I had a positive pregnancy test. I panicked. I’m no longer in a University environment, but a smaller PR firm. Because we’re so small, we don’t qualify for FMLA and there was no real maternity leave policy in place. I wanted to just curl up in a ball and not deal with it.

    Surprisingly, the partners at my agency were really understanding. I can take as much time as I need (likely 12 weeks again) and they went ahead and drafted an official maternity policy. They have even started work on a lactation room!

    I share these stories so that other readers know, there are so, so many understanding employers out there. I stumbled upon two by chance and I am so happy this reader had such a positive experience. The way the US “supports” pregnant women and new mothers is sad, but it’s always heartwarming to hear stories like this!

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