I overheard my manager complaining about me, my coworker is a frequent surrogate mother, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I overheard my manager complaining about me

The higher-ups in our company regularly have private meetings, which are usually very hush-hush behind closed doors. During a recent meeting of theirs, the door was left open and we (the rest of the team) could hear bits and pieces of their conversation–not purposely, of course, and not that it was worth listening to, but we would have had to leave our cubicles to avoid it. I wasn’t paying much attention until I overheard my name and my boss questioning my productivity due to a few deadlines that had been pushed back by my supervisor who, unfortunately, did not relay the information. So the deadlines seemed missed as a result of my seeming lack of productivity, and, despite my supervisor’s explanation, I couldn’t help but notice my boss’ irritation and disappointment, which is where my real concern lies.

I never thought of myself as someone with productivity issues (we’re a tech startup, so there really is no room or time for slacking off) and have only received positive feedback for my work ethic. Since that meeting, though, my boss has increasingly taken interest in managing my schedule and work, which he’s never done before. I’m absolutely open to constructive criticism and would like to improve in every way I can, but nothing has been brought up to me directly and this is starting to affect my morale. I’d like to approach my supervisor and/or boss, but given that I “eavesdropped” on a private meeting (which I know I shouldn’t have, but what’s done is done, regrettably), I’m not exactly sure how to address the issue. Any advice? Is this an issue even worth bringing up?

Eavesdropping is going out of your way to listen in on something you’re not supposed to hear; it’s not just doing your work at your desk and happening to overhear something. So first, you weren’t eavesdropping. Second, since your boss is apparently misjudging your performance based on inaccurate information, yes, correct the record. I’d say something like, “I couldn’t help but overhear part of your conversation with Jane the other day when I was at my desk. I want to make sure you know that Apollo pushed back the deadlines on X and Y — I don’t want you to think that I missed deadlines when they’d actually been moved. I take deadlines really seriously and am actually fairly neurotic about meeting them.”

2. My coworker is a frequent surrogate and keeps taking off four months to do it

There is a woman in my department who has been a surrogate several times, and is planning to do it again. We are already short-staffed and our department is very busy. And it always seems like there is someone out on maternity leave. Anyhow, this particular coworker, even though she is the surrogate and does not take the baby home after birth, will still take the maximum paid maternity leave because “she can.”

To the rest of us, we feel like she is taking advantage. She is in a position that is specialized so we can’t have a temp fill in for her, and the rest of the staff ends up having to take on her huge work load. It would be tolerable one time, but it sound like this is becoming a regular thing. She is basically taking off three months in a row, plus her regular vacation time (so another month) and this has already happened twice on a span of about three years. It’s like this special in-between scenario where no one can tell her no because pregnancy is protected. But at the same time, she is being paid to be a surrogate, so wouldn’t it be like taking paid time off to work a second job for three months? It just doesn’t feel right. I don’t even know how to feel about it. Do we just have to stand back and keep our mouths shut? Is there anything anyone could say that would encourage her to not take the full three months so we aren’t left in a bind …. again?

Nope. If she’s really taking off four months just for the hell of it, then yes, that’s annoying. But you really don’t know if that’s the case; it’s possible that she needs that time to physically recover. Regardless, it doesn’t matter — the law lets her do it, and you don’t have any standing to ask her not to. You can, however, point out to your manager that it’s not sustainable for you and your coworkers to continue taking on her workload for four months (one-third of the year!) so frequently, and ask the company to figure out another way to handle it.

3. Withdrawing from consideration for an internal move

I recently applied for an internal job in a different department, let’s say Dept. N. I have been working with Dept. N extensively for a few months now, including the Manager of Dept. N, Ms. B. It is well known in the company that Ms. B is very difficult to get along with, but I have always been able to work with her and tolerate what others cannot.

I let Ms. B know that I would be applying for the job and she even helped me with my cover letter and resume. She knows that I was very interested in the job. I did have an interview with her and someone who works for her, Ms. M.

They have not made an offer yet. However, during the past week, I have seen a side of Ms. B that I had not seen in full force before. Things that I have been able to tolerate have gotten much worse, to the point where there is no way I could work for her. I checked with Ms. M, and she said that this has been going on for about a month and a half. Ms. M is at her limit also.

I am planning on turning down the job if it is offered to me. I am guessing that it would be best for me to withdraw rather than wait for a job offer. However, how do I do this in a diplomatic fashion? I am planning on saying that it is due to health concerns (which is not a lie; my blood pressure has jumped up over the past couple of days). I do feel bad about withdrawing, especially since it is an internal job and I have worked with (but not for) Ms. B for almost a year now and she helped me with my resume and knew that I was very interested in the job. However, there is no way that I can work for Ms. B. Any advice on how to politely withdraw from the job?

If you really want to attribute it to health concerns, you could say: “I’ve recently had some health concerns come up that I need to focus on. I’ll be fine, but I’ve realized I shouldn’t be changing jobs right now, so I need to withdraw my application.” (That said, I’m not sure that your blood pressure jumping for a few days really makes this an honest statement — although it’s certainly a useful one in this context, and it’s not crazy to think that working for a nightmarish boss can indeed affect your health.)

4. How can I keep myself in the forefront of my interviewers’ minds?

I’ve completed a great monthlong interview process, and my 3 reference checks were completed last week. I followed up to thank them and let them know to contact me if their timeline changed or they needed other info. They replied they had pushed back their decision process to late next week due to scheduling challenges as they reference checked a “select few finalists.” Given that others were behind me in the process, I’m concerned their interviews and reference checks will be more top-of-mind than mine. Is there anything I can do during the wait to keep my name, memory, strengths, and fit in the decision-making mix? I don’t want to be inbox clutter, but I also don’t want to be the candidate in more distant memory!

If you’re a finalist, they’re not going to forget about you. And if you’re the strongest candidate, you don’t need to do anything to keep yourself in the forefront of your minds; you’re already there. You’ve already followed up once, so they know you’re interested. At this point, all you should do is be patient and wait for their decision. (Or even better, put it out of your mind entirely and move on mentally so that you don’t agonize about it.)

5. Mentioning a 20% raise in a cover letter

I understand the principle of cover letter: it should be a convincing and highly personalized letter showing (not telling) the potential employer why I am a good fit for the role I’m applying while showing a little bit of personality, and it shouldn’t regurgitate the resume.

I have received a promotion 4 months after I joined my previous company, and received a 20% raise 6 months after that. I think these are good objective “evidence” showing the kind of worker that I am and how much my previous employer valued my contributions. These 2 pieces of information will only be mentioned briefly in the cover letter, merely reinforcing everything else I presented in the letter. I wonder if I should avoid mentioning the “20% raise” part on the cover letter as it might be perceived as tacky?

Yeah, I’d stay away from that. But there must be a reason why you received the raise, right? Because you were so great at X or took such initiative with Y? That’s what I’d talk about instead.

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    #2: I could see why that would be aggravating and frustrating. I would feel the same way. That being said though, your body does need time to recover after giving birth, especially if you have a C-section – although I wouldn’t imagine a frequent surrogate would not be delivering that way. Even though she’s not bringing the baby home, giving birth is hard on your body…it’s not like she could have the baby on Friday and then be back at work on Monday (although I don’t think that’s how the OP thinks it should be handled).

    It does seem like she’s taking advantage though. If it were me, I’d definitely take a few weeks off to let my body recover and get my hormonal balance back to normal, but then be back at work.

    Then again, being a surrogate must be a very emotional thing that might take time to recover from as well. Even though she knows from the start that she won’t be keeping the child, carrying a child for 9 months and then hand it over to someone else must be poignant and sad, to say the least. It’s a very selfless thing to do, and something you’re well compensated to do, but I can’t imagine that it’s an easy thing to do. Maybe she needs time to process that part of it as well.

    1. Chinook*

      I don’t know about other countries, but the Canadian law may help give you some perspective. Women who give birth are given 1 month maternity leave and the other 11 months are considered parental leave (i.e. If you adopt, you are eligible for 11 months). This one month is considered necessary to cover uncertainty of when you give birth (ex. You can take it off at your due date even if you haven’t given birth yet) as well as to recover – if you need longer, I think you are on long tern disability as this is a medical issue.

      I do understand the OP’s frustration. It seems like coworker is gaming the system but, would you feel the same if she was creating a large family and not giving the babies up or if she suffered from numerous miscarriages?

      1. De (Germany)*

        And in Germany maternity leave is 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after the birth, so that’s almost 4 months. Parental leave comes after that.

      2. esra*

        I read recently that the United States is one of only eight of 188 with known policies that doesn’t have paid leave.

      3. the gold digger*

        not giving the babies up

        But isn’t part of maternity leave to allow for caring for a newborn? If you are a surrogate, you still have to recover from labor, but you don’t have a tiny baby to take care of. Based on what OP wrote, it does sound like the co-worker is taking advantage.

        1. JobSeekersWife*

          In theory, yes. In reality, US maternity leave (for those who are even in a position to use it) is rather paltry. A large chunk of the time is needed for physical recovery. It seems to me that countries like Germany have it right.

          1. Harley*

            I have never heard of any woman needing 4 months to recover from childbirth. I had 3 c – sections, and a few weeks later I was pretty much back to normal- certainly by 1 month postpartum I could have gone back to work (I was a sahm at the time). I think most of maternity leave is meant to take care of a new baby- she’s not doing that, and I think she’s gaming the system.

            1. De (Germany)*

              We don’t even know whether all of that 4 months leave is after delivery. There’s good reasons why my country, for example, offers 6 weeks of leave before the expected delivery date.

            2. Joey*

              Although companies don’t use their own diagnosis as a barometer. The law and what the doctor says is necessary are the only factors.

            3. pizzagrl*

              Your c-section experience likely isn’t the same for everyone. Someone else might find it much more difficult. For comparison, I don’t mind getting a brazilian wax at all, but there are plenty of women who find it unbearable. Just a thought.

              1. Christine*

                This. I went back to work 5 weeks after my c-section and it was too early, I really should have taken another week or two.

        2. switt*

          I’ve always heard the term “bonding time” as related to the 3 month FMLA window. The medical necessity period for childbirth is typically 6 weeks; in my experience processing short term disability claims. So if she’s not “bonding” with her child, then I wonder if she would legally be entitled to more than 6-8 weeks as deemed necessary by her healthcare provider. It would be worth asking an employment lawyer, IMO.

    2. Artemesia*

      I don’t get why she is entitled to maternity leave when she is in business as a surrogate. It is as if she has a second job and is forcing the first one to support time off for the second. I would think the framing would be ‘you can’t take time off repeatedly from this important function in order to conduct a second job.’

      I had a critical employee who timed pregnancies twice for our most demanding season which created a similar problem; a temp could not do the job and I as the boss basically had to take on her role as well as my own and work 70 hour weeks to get it done. I resented the hell out of it but recognized that her need was legitimate; I would have taken another job myself if I had an employee selling her child bearing capacity and expecting me to pick up that slack.

      She isn’t on maternity leave; she is moonlighting on the company dime.

        1. Mike B.*

          Yeah. Removing this loophole would effectively be tailoring the company’s maternity leave policy to affect one person, and I don’t think any employer would be eager to do that.

          If I were the OP I’d just leave. What the coworker is doing is frankly despicable, tantamount to stealing from the company and abusing her colleagues, but there’s no remedy to be found for it.

          1. Celeste*

            If she took a normal maternity leave I’d be fine with it, but it’s the added extra time that is the insult. Apparently it is sanctioned for whatever reason. I too would leave.

      1. Colette*

        Do you people should be able to take medical leave when they have surgery or an illness?

        What if she were voluntarily donating bone marrow/a kidney to someone else?

        There are lots of aspects to giving birth, but one of them is medical.

        1. fposte*

          I was stunned to find out, as a result of a question here, that FMLA does not cover donating organ or tissue. Some states do, but federal doesn’t.

          1. Colette*

            Interesting! (That seems bizarre to me – if someone has surgery of any sort, they need recovery time, and that kind of thing is hardly frivolous.)

            I think that people have complex reasons for doing something like surrogacy, so boiling it down to “it’s a second job and she’s gaming the system” is a harsh reaction that lacks compassion or empathy.

            1. Betsy Bobbins*

              I think what people are responding to here is the fact that she is being compensated for the surrogacy, so it feels a bit like she is in the business of renting out her womb. If she was doing this and not making money I think you would find responses to be a lot different.

              Of course she is entitled to time off to recover from the ordeal of birth, but addtional time that is usually intended to bond with a child, one that in this case is not hers, seems excessive.

                1. Betsy Bobbins*

                  The LW does say she is paid to be a surrogate, so we can only assume that this a known fact and comment based on that.

                2. Simonthegrey*

                  My thought; is she surrogate for a family member? Or is she a rent-a-gestation station?

          2. Joey*

            Absolutely. Same for most elective surgeries like anything cosmetic. Serious health condition isn’t meant to cover all health procedures.

          3. Joey*

            Absolutely. If it were for all medical procedures (a opposed to a serious health condition) things like boob jobs and chin implants would be covered.

        2. Celeste*

          My employer covers organ and tissue donation leave at 100% (state agency). That said, it only takes 6 weeks to recover from a kidney donation and only 1-2 for marrow donation depending on the method. While these are voluntary, they are still medical procedures. In our case it’s nice that the leave isn’t the typical medical leave that is only covered at 70%.

        3. Suz*

          I work in the bone marrow transplant field. Typically the donor can return to work and regular activities within a week after donating.

      2. A*

        She timed her pregnancies just to get at your company? Do you expect your staff to abort if the due date doesn’t work for you? What about preemies? Would that still upset you?

        1. MJH*

          Seriously. I doubt she was thinking “I’ll get knocked up July, so I am purposely out in April! Just in time to screw with everyone!” (Cue evil laugh.)

          For a lucky few, timing pregnancies is that easy, but for most of us it takes a few months of trying and not knowing when it’s going to happy.

          1. Artemesia*

            well yes she was. She told several co-workers that. And she successfully delivered just at the start of our busiest 3 mos of the year twice. Since I timed my second pregnancy to coincide with the start of our least busy period, I know it can be done. Yes — lots of times it just is what it is. Pregnancies cannot necessarily be planned this exquisitely. But for some they can. And in the example I gave, she did — or said she did.

            And yes we honored the leaves without comment. (and with a shower) But it was tough on the office.

        2. Piper*

          Seriously. Sometimes people plan their lives outside of work because, you know, family is more important and they don’t live to work, they work to live.

        3. Callie*

          I once had a principal (I was an elementary teacher) who told the all-female staff after three teachers in a year went on maternity leave that from now on we ought to time our pregnancies to give birth in the summer because she was tired of hiring substitutes.

      3. JoAnna*

        “Timing” conception isn’t as easy as you make it sound. You have no guarantee that the first try will work, and it often doesn’t. Even a healthy couple with no known fertility problems only has a 20-30% chance of conceiving on any given cycle.

      4. Xay*

        What if you just have a difficult pregnancy, even if the baby isn’t due during a demanding time? A full term pregnancy is 40 weeks out of a 52 week year and not every day is great, even in an uncomplicated pregnancy.

      5. BOMA*

        She purposely timed her pregnancies so they would be more inconvenient for the company? I understand that it IS inconvenient, but I highly doubt it was a deliberate calculation on her end.

        I agree with Mike C. This leads down a really ugly ethical road, and I don’t think it’s in the OP’s or the company’s best interests to decide what type of pregnancy is more worthy of medical leave. I understand the OP’s frustration, but I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done besides appeal to the manager for additional coverage.

        1. Del*

          I don’t think it’s in the OP’s or the company’s best interests to decide what type of pregnancy is more worthy of medical leave.

          This is really the bottom line of the issue to me. That’s an excellent way of putting it.

      6. Episkey*

        I know people are probably going to have a harsh reaction to Artemesia’s comment, so I just wanted to chime in that I don’t necessarily agree with her on everything she said, but I do think some women are able and do purposefully time pregnancies.

        I have several friends that are either teachers or work in the school system on a teacher schedule (ie summers off) and they timed their pregnancies so they gave birth very near/shortly after the end of the school year so they had the entire summer with their newborn and didn’t have to take off during the school year.

        I know that not everyone can do this, but I don’t think it’s necessary to get all up in arms when someone mentions this (timing pregnancies). It IS possible, and it does happen.

          1. Episkey*

            Oh I don’t know — I just feel like I’ve seen other people make similar comments on this blog and they immediately get jumped on like timing a pregnancy is just Not Possible.

            I think it’s a little unfair, that’s all. Like I said, I know it isn’t the case of all women, but I do think it can be done and simply stating that shouldn’t lead to a full out attack.

            1. KellyK*

              I think there’s a difference between stating that it can be done and that you know people have and assuming it *has* been done in a particular case where the person hasn’t said so, especially when we’re getting it second-hand in a way that assumes malice (the “my jerk coworker specifically picks the busiest time of year to get pregnant”.)

              Only about 50% of people who are trying to conceive manage to do it within a 3-month window. So that’s not very good odds on picking to be out in a given month. Timing it with summer vacation is a better chance, because it’s a bigger window.

              1. H. Rawr*

                I’d agree- personally I have about a 3 month window of not-busy-season at my job and if I shot for that window every time and ended up either starting a month early and succeding or not being successful for a couple of months, it would put me smack in the middle of one of two huge events in my calendar year. That would probably also look pretty suspicious, but sorry, if we’re ready to have a baby, I’m not waiting another year to try again because the timing isn’t perfect for the business.

        1. fposte*

          It’s certainly possible to try to time your pregnancy and to get lucky that way; it looks more controlled than it is because outsiders don’t know about all the timed attempts at fertility that didn’t work.

      7. Kelly O*

        I have to disagree a bit. While I understand surrogates are paid, having a child is not like having a traditional side hustle..

        As others have mentioned, your body needs time to heal after having a baby. I didn’t get medical clearance to return to work until six weeks after my daughter was born (and because of the lousy maternity policies, she was in daycare at exactly six weeks, because I could not take time off unpaid any longer than medically necessary.)

        Surrogacy is not about “selling your childbearing capacity.” I will refrain from getting up farther on the soapbox, suffice to say it’s quite complicated sometimes.

      8. Joey*

        This is a pretty ridiculous response you know. Who cares if she’s a surrogate? If she was having her own kids would that make it more acceptable to you or would you be resentful that she’s using what she’s legally entitled to?

        Look, I get that its frustrating to have someone out consistently, but you should be focused on finding a solution not on complaining about the person who’s using a legal protection.

      9. AnnonMom*

        Artemesia – are we the same person? :)
        We also had an employee do the same to us twice during busy season. Needless to say there was no third time while employed by me.
        Before anyone asks, the maternity leaves had nothing to do with the seperation, BUT certainly didn’t help.

        1. L*

          I’m curious how you could say both “Needless to say there was no third time” and “the mat leave had nothing to do with the separation.” “Needless to say” right after mentioning her two mat leaves does imply that the maternity leave had something to do with it. Also saying “but certainly didn’t help” reinforces that same point as well. If it truly had nothing to do with the separation, why even mention her later separation at all?

          1. aebhel*

            Yeah, that sounded a lot to me like ‘there’s no way for this employee to prove that we fired her because of her pregnancies, but it was certainly a factor’. Which is pretty unethical, if you ask me.

        2. Mike C.*

          “Certainly didn’t help”? Are you kidding me? It’s not supposed to be a factor at all. Lets make the example a little more obvious by substituting some other common protected classes –

          Before anyone asks, being jewish had nothing to do with the seperation, BUT certainly didn’t help.

          Before anyone asks, needing a wheelchair had nothing to do with the seperation, BUT certainly didn’t help.

          Nope, it still feels terrible and unethical.

        3. Piper*

          Attitudes like this are the exact reason it makes it so stressful for women to try to have children and a career. Maybe it’s because I’m due in a few days, but this makes me ragey (and also incredibly thankful for a manager who is NOT like you).

          For what it’s worth, my pregnancy was totally unexpected (we weren’t planning to have kids). My due date coincides with the biggest product release in the company’s history (which I played an integral part in the design). I’d be so offended if someone at work accused me of “timing” my pregnancy for this. Trust me. There was no timing here. And no one else has no idea the emotional roller coaster I’ve been through (especially since we weren’t planning on having kids to begin with).

          1. Another Job Seeker*

            Congratulations! And I’m glad you don’t have a manager like the OP, also.

  2. HR Girl*

    #2 – I’d be curious as to what the maternity leave policy is truly for. When I’ve implemented any kind of paid leave beyond what is medically certified, it’s giving you additional time because you are going to be the parent to the child and need the time to bond. If her doctor is truly certifying that she needs to be out during this time to recover (keep in mind in the US a typical Short-term Disability policy would cover 6 or 8 weeks depending on the type of delivery) than she’s definitely entitled to this time.

    1. Artemesia*

      Good point. 3 mos maternity leave is appropriate for the parent of a newborn; I don’t see how more than 6 weeks is appropriate as medical leave for someone not keeping the child. (obviously unless there were serious complications. Of course if there were, she would not be repeatedly doing it.

    2. Celeste*

      I don’t believe that longer leaves are intended for the purpose of bonding with the baby. I think they are for the more practical needs of the employee to get through the time of frequent night feedings (and sleep deprivation) and to allow every opportunity for breastfeeding if desired, to flourish. It may also help with securing childcare, as daycare centers do not all take infants, and the ones which do require them to be at least six weeks old. There can be a bit of a waiting list while an older baby ages out to the toddler section.

      1. Artemesia*

        But someone producing a baby for pay for another couple is not experiencing any of those things. She is running a business and then taking an extra vacation at the cost of the company with generous maternity leaves.

        I would love to see MUCH more generous maternity leave in this country, but I think using these leaves for repeated surrogacy is a gross abuse of the policy no matter what it is.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          What if it’s her childless sister and she’s doing it out of the goodness of her heart? Or her gay brother and his husband? We don’t know that she’s running a business unless she says she is, and she didn’t write in.

          1. OP*

            I don’t work closely with her, but others who do have said she has boasted about how much money it pays and that she sees it as another job. I’m not sure if that’s true–I don’t know her well, but I do get tired of hearing everyone complain about it and roll their eyes when she talks about it.

            I don’t know if any if that makes a difference, but the extra PTO that our company pays is called “bonding time.” I agree that being a surrogate can be a noble and wonderful thing for someone to do, but I can also see how there Is potential for abuse of the system. It would feel different into me if she didn’t make a point to say that she in certain words that that was exactly what she was doing.

            1. Amanda*

              Or so you think she says. Based on second-hand gossip from coworkers of hers who apparently, like you, resent the crap out of her for making this choice.

              Yeah, that sounds reliable.

              In any cas, it simply does. Not. Matter. If what she chooses to do is within the bounds of the company policies, and management are ok with her doing this, your job is to deal with the workload issues involved professionally. Getting indignant about the perceived cause of those issues and the unfairness of it all is counterproductive.

  3. von bomb*

    Being pregnant sucks and you have no idea if she doing it purely for profit or if there are also more altruistic motivations for her. AAM’s suggestion of you mentioning the workload is a much better idea than you and your coworkers getting hot under the collar because she’s choosing to do something AGAIN that you don’t agree with. Perhaps if you find the scenario so personally annoying focus on thinking of the couple she is helping by being a surrogate who may have no other option for children and you may feel more compassion and less annoyance at how it’s impacting your life.

    1. Helen*

      Or those couples could adopt one of the 4000+ children currently in care. Or management could hire a temp during her 4 months off. Or she could show more compassion and respect for her co-workers and stop routinely getting pregnant for profit when she has a real job she should be focusing on.

      1. Onymouse*

        I think one of the things you said is reasonable. I hope most of us will agree on which one.

        1. Artemesia*

          I am stunned that people think this is a reasonable thing for her to be doing while she has a job. We aren’t talking about one surrogacy for her sister, but professional surrogacy.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m stunned that you think you’re entitled to comment on the choices someone is allowed to make their their own body and their own family planning decisions.

            I mean seriously, what do you want? Do you want the ability to tell women they aren’t allowed to have children, or that they have to space them out according to what’s convenient for the business?

            Come on, lay it all out here, how much control do you feel you deserve over another woman’s uterus?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              To be fair, Artemesia isn’t in any way attempting to control what another woman does with her body. She’s saying those choices may not be compatible with her current job — which is something we say all the time to people who, for example, have outside commitments that mean they can’t reliably be at work on a regular basis.

              Whether or not that principle applies is here something that reasonable people can debate, but we should do it without jumping on other commenters who take a different stance.

              1. J-nonymous*

                There’s a pretty darn easy line to be drawn between a company’s balancing its needs with an employee’s personal decisions and the unwarranted intrusion into a person’s private life.

                A company stepping in to make decisions about a woman’s reproductive rights crosses any sane line in this country (and in many others).

                1. J-nonymous*

                  Hm. The reply option to your comment is not available, so I won’t belabor this too much.

                  If a company told the woman in that scenario that they would no longer give her leave (because she was, as Artemesia put it, moonlighting on the company dime) it would effectively leave the woman with two options: cease being a surrogate or leave the company. The company may not be *directly* telling the woman “you cannot be a surrogate” but the effect would be just as chilling.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But that’s not making her decisions for her, just like we don’t say a company is making people’s reproductive choices for them when they require people to work hours that aren’t conducive with caring for little kids. The job requires X; your life requires Y; you decide what makes sense for you.

                3. fposte*

                  I think it’s more about leave than reproductive rights, though. If by “make decisions” you mean firing, it’s legal to fire somebody who needs leave and isn’t covered by FMLA, or who needs more leave than FMLA can provide, even if it’s because they’re pregnant. To me that’s not so much a reproductive rights issue as a workplace issue.

                4. Mike C.*

                  No one is saying “the employer is making the decisions for the employee” but rather “the employer is expressing an undue and dangerous influence over said decisions”.

                  I mean come on, we have commenter here saying that people were fired and the timing of their pregnancies was a factor!

              2. Mike C.*

                Complaining about critical employees who “time their pregnancies” seems to indicate otherwise, but I’m more than happy to hear any further clarification.

            2. BOMA*

              Thank you so much for saying this. I’m appalled that some commenters feel as if a business should control what a woman does with her own body.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Who is saying this? I must be interpreting comments totally different than you, because I’m not seeing this at all. What I’m seeing is people saying that her choices may not be compatible with this particular job — which is not at all the same as saying that an employer should control her body.

                1. MT*

                  The question is ” Can an employer say that the choice to get pregnant, makes her not compatible to work for the company?”

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Legally, it’s clear that they can’t. Ethically, sure, reasonable people could certainly say that, just like they could say that needing to leave at 3:00 every day or not being able to work any Monday might also be incompatible with a particular job.

                3. MT*

                  “What I’m seeing is people saying that her choices may not be compatible with this particular job” That’s what is great about the law. The law in this one call out scenario changes the employee/employer relationship. Normally it’s the employee who has to change to fit the needs of the employer, but in this case it’s the employer who has to change to fit the need of the employee. I feel some of tension of this scenario is that there are a lot of employees who get the short end of the stick, while other employees are benefiting from this specific scenario.

                4. aebhel*

                  I guess this is a matter of whether or not you think the legal requirement to not fire women for getting pregnant is predicated on an ethical responsibility. Personally, I think it is, and I’m pretty suspicious of the ethics of anyone who would say otherwise.

                  And I don’t think it’s the same thing as firing someone who can’t work on Mondays. Because if you take it to its logical conclusion, you’re saying that women–and only women–should be required to chose between holding certain jobs and having children. There are some jobs that don’t gel particularly well with being a caretaker of small children, but working out the logistics of that is the employee’s concern (and I don’t see anyone saying that men with children shouldn’t take certain jobs. There’s a reason for that.)

                5. fposte*

                  I can see what you’re saying on the pregnancy front, but the thing is, once the kids are actually there, people *do* have to choose. It comes up all the time. We just talked about it on the recent thread with the woman with five small kids who’d all been sick since January.

                  What’s unusual about this situation is that producing children is separated from raising children, so we get to talk about the aspects of reproduction that are legally protected without acknowledging the fact that those legal protections don’t continue, whether we think they should or not. But for most people the pregnancy protections aren’t what determines whether they can have kids and hold the job they want anyway.

                6. aebhel*

                  The thing is, there are ways around caring for children and having a demanding job. Some people pay live-in nannies, some people have relatives close by who are available at the drop of a hat, some people have roommates that they’ll front the rent to in exchange for last-minute babysitting, some people have a spouse who stays home. Et cetera. There are people who have very demanding jobs and also have children. It’s doable.

                  But there is no way around taking time off for childbirth, and that’s something that only women have to do.

                7. fposte*

                  I think you see that as a bigger difference than I do, but I get what you’re saying.

                  Unfortunately, the number of people who aren’t even eligible for FMLA in the first place means that a lot of people do have to make that decision even about childbirth.

          2. Xay*

            No one, including the OP, knows the terms and conditions of her surrogacy arrangements and there is no evidence to suggest that she is getting a huge payday.

            That said, what she does with her body is not the issue. No employer should have the right to tell you if and how often or when you can get pregnant. Her work performance is the issue and how management balances work needs with her frequent absenteeism.

          3. Colette*

            How do you know it’s not, for example, three surrogacies for her sister? Or one surrogacy for each of her three sisters?

            How do you know she’s getting paid for it at all?

          4. Bend & Snap*

            It’s 2014. Families are formed in all kinds of ways. Do you have any idea the toll that pregnancy takes on one’s body? And if it’s a surrogate, she’s gone through levels of testing and fertility treatments, which add a new layer of stress on the body before pregnancy even begins.

            The tone towards “professional surrogates” is pretty hateful in your comment. The woman gave birth and is legally entitled to time off. End of story.

              1. Koko*

                All those philosophers wasting centuries debating the many nuances and gray areas of ethics, put to shame by Samantha, infallible ethicist.

            1. Helen*

              End of story, except she it’s 4 months a year she is not at work. Out of choice, for pay.

              Can you imagine that as an employer? Or a colleague?

        2. Helen*

          Do you honestly think it’s ok to take on a second job which routinely interferes with a primary job?

          I’m not saying companies should get to control a person’s reproductive rights.

          I’m saying that her co-workers are routinely being put in a hideous position by

          a) poor management
          b) an extremely selfish moonlighting colleague.

      2. Rose Tyler*

        I think this is uncalled for. There are many reasons why people do or don’t choose adoption. It is an expensive, emotional, and often long process that not everyone can handle. It took my aunt and uncle two years and $60,000 to adopt my cousin out of the system. Not everyone has the time, money, or patience for it. Also, I’ve known several women who were surrogates out of the goodness of their hearts. All they asked the parents to do is cover the medical bills.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          Two years…lucky dawgs.

          It took us five years to adopt and there was a custody battle too. Although I could have gotten unpaid FMLA we had a new mouth to feed and bottom to diaper so I couldn’t take any unpaid time. Thank goodness our extended family was willing to adhere to a schedule we put together so people rotated in during the next few months to help us out. I eventually did take some vacation but that was when family help faded.

        2. Simonthegrey*

          I agree. Foster children/adopted children are NOT consolation prizes, handed out to the infertile. They should be a choice, not a fallback.

        3. Helen*

          I have clearly miscommunicated. Adoption should be easier and cheaper.

          I do think it’s a better option than surrogacy or IVF.

      3. The Other Katie*

        I don’t really think it’s our place to judge how someone chooses to start a family. As someone who is currently trying to adopt from foster care and has two foster babies right now, it’s incredibly difficult and heartbreaking. Nothing is ever a sure thing, and dealing with birth families can be a challenge, to say the least. I can completely understand why someone wouldn’t want to go through that and would rather go through the surrogacy process (which can also be heartbreaking and difficult). It wasn’t our choice, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. I really don’t think it is fair to act like anyone who doesn’t adopt from foster care is being selfish. I think Allison was spot on. She’s entitled to the leave and she is using it. If your company isn’t handling the frequent leave properly, focus on that. Would it be any different if she was keeping the child?

      4. KellyK*

        Yes, because her coworkers are completely entitled to decide what she does with her own body.

      5. Sandrine (France)*

        I actually don’t think Helen’s comment is that bad.

        It’s just about theories, I don’t think Helen is leaning one way or the other, but if we’re going to be all hypothetical about a letter all over again, why not explore all options, as far fetched as they may seem ?

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Because this is a workplace blog, not a lifestyle or reproduction blog, and the only relevant issues here are how it impacts the OP in the workplace and how she should deal with it.

          1. Mike C.*

            And if you’re going to take that route, then the only reasonable thing that can be said is “why isn’t the manager properly staffing the workplace”.

            1. Laura2*

              Yeah. The real problem here is that this has happened before and the manager hasn’t tried to come up with a solution beyond passing all that person’s work to others.

            2. Incognito*

              Personally, I do think that’s the only issue. How much time she needs to recover physically, whether she should be doing this, that she’s getting paid for it is irrelevant.

              Whether it’s this, cancer, care for a family member, or the person who takes vacation during Mardis Gras and stays home 4 months recovering the managers have to manage the work properly without putting undue long term burden on the remaining staff.

              Most people are happy to go the extra mile if someone is sick or recovering from surgery for a week or two – but months at a time (repeatedly) changes their jobs for too long and management needs to restructure or address it another way.

              Someone mentioned pulling in a temp to do the work that isn’t so specialized so the current employees have more time to cover the absence. I.e. if they usually do all their own admin type stuff bring one in so at least while they are covering for X they are being relieved of that.

              Whether FMLA should cover surrogacy, or insurance should cover the prenatal and birth of surrogates…those are work place issues but broader in scope than this question. Interesting – but those are deep rabbit holes.

              I don’t think the personal opinions factor in at all – whether people think she has no business using workplace time for this or that it’s a noble cause of which others should be understanding. It’s human nature to form opinions – but there are only two questions the workplace has to worry about:

              1. Are we legally held to FMLA in this situation?

              If no, do we want to allow the leave or not.

              If yes, we allow the leave exactly as outlined in the regulations

              2. How do we properly provide coverage?

              That’s it. If they feel strongly enough that the law is wrong that can work to get it changed, or they can bitch about it to their spouse at home about how life is unfair – but from a work perspective that’s none of anyone’s business.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                Thank you. I was going to offer the scenario of a man taking 4 months off for spring training for baseball instead of your 4 month recovery from Marti Gras, but you distilled the issue well. People are getting caught up in the non-work area discussion, and overlooking the only two issues of importance.

            3. AndersonDarling*

              Agree. But is the manager legally able to ask, “I am aware you have had x surrogate pregnancies. Are you planning on having more?”
              And if she says yes that she wants to have 3 more.. then what? Ideally she could be moved into a position that is less critical, but that would be discrimination.

              But yes, they should ideally be training a temp now so the department is ready for the absence. That would be the best solution.

        2. Brittany*

          Would you have the same response if say a person kept having to undergo repeated leave due to treatments for a cancer that kept returning? Just because one is a choice and unavoidable doesn’t mean a coworker has the right to scrutinize something like this. Where would you draw the line?

        3. Helen*

          Exactly and precisely. I also don’t see why it’s so bad to point out that this woman’s behaviour is seriously impacting her coworkers and perhaps shouldn’t.

      6. Brittany*

        I loathe responses like this. It’s someone’s choice. Don’t ever say to someone “well why don’t you just adopt”. You know nothing about their situation, it’s insulting, and shows a distinct lack of compassion for others.

        1. fposte*

          And, as an adoptee, I’d say it suggests a misunderstanding of some really important aspects of adoption.

        2. Bend & Snap*

          We finally had a baby after 7 years of treatment. So many people said things like “you should adopt; there are so many kids that need homes.” As if being infertile made us automatically responsible for giving homes to children who needed them.

          We would have loved to adopt but you know what? It was completely out of reach financially. IVF was covered by insurance and was incredibly cheap.

          All of this stuff is just so personal and people need to shut their traps about the decisions and circumstances of others.

          1. Loose Seal*

            Internet plusses to this.

            I could not begin to tell you how many people told us that we should adopt. I would generally put them on the spot by asking how we should go about doing that. Apparently, people are completely unaware of the cost of adoption, of having to keep your home and life spotless while waiting to be approved, of waiting for years to find a child, of waiting for the birth-parents’ right-of-recision to run out, etc.

            It’s great that they thought I’d be a wonderful mom but if they couldn’t hand me $30,000, then I didn’t need to be told that there are kids waiting to be adopted.

            We did not adopt or end up going through IVF. However, my sister offered to be a surrogate for us. We declined after considering her very kind and generous offer. How I would hate to know that, if we did go ahead with the surrogacy, that people in her office might get uptight because she got some leave for someone else’s baby.

            1. Helen*

              It’s not about that. It’s about this woman taking a 3rd of every year off and her coworkers having to do her work.

              Adoption is one option, one I mentioned as hypothetical. I honestly don’t understand why it’s such a controversial one.

      7. JobSeekersWife*

        By this same logic, every person who decides to birth their own child instead of adopting is selfish. Why do we hold infertile people to a different standard?

        1. AB*

          Thank you! There are few things more grating to a couple going through fertility issues than the patronizing, over simplifying, utterly tone-deaf and unfeeling “you should adopt” “why don’t you just adopt” “well… you can always adopt” “it’s selfish to go through {surrogacy, IVF, etc} when there are soo many needy kids to adopt” as if we can just run out to the nearest Babies R Us and pick up a kid like you can a shelter puppy.

        2. Helen*

          I don’t. Everyone should adopt. And it *should* be an easy, pain free process.

          The alternative is children living in homes, which seriously damages them.

    2. Leah*

      OP is doing two jobs for a third of the year every year for the past three. That’s more than “annoyance”. It means she has to change her plans because of what the coworker has taken on a second job. The company needs to find a better way to cover for this employee and/or OP needs to start looking for a new job.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think it’s fair for us who aren’t doing it to term it that; I think it’s fair for the surrogate to consider it so if she chooses, and it’s not unheard of to feel that way.

        2. CanadianWriter*

          Don’t surrogates only get paid for their expenses? Maybe it’s different in America, but up here it’s not a job at all.

          1. AB*

            It depends. In some states, it is illegal for surrogates to be paid for more than certain expenses (medical, etc), in other states there are no restrictions.

            1. AndersonDarling*

              I see ads on Craigslist all the time… “Be a surrogate, make $12,000!!”

          2. Sigrid*

            My understanding is that in many states in the US, it is illegal to pay surrogates for anything other than their expenses. So it may be completely off base to characterize her surrogacies as a “job”.

          3. BB*

            Depending on laws/where exactly you are, surrogates can be paid anywhere from 20-60,000 for their services. If you are carrying for someone especially wealthy, I could see it being even more

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Does it really matter if the coworker is doing it for money or not?

        Whether she’s running a Rent-a-Womb or joining the Quiverful movement – either way, she’s pregnant a lot. The reasons matter less to me than how the employer decides to handle it.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          I agree. But I can understand the resentment her coworkers would feel if she was making big $$ while they were doing all her work. (I know I would!) But those are personal workplace issues, the manager has to deal with the absence issue.

          1. Celeste*

            Leaving her surrogacy pay out of it…the other workers are upset that they have to do her work for 4 months each time while they get no extra pay. If she were doing the demanding job of caring for a newborn, I doubt they’d say a word. But…she’s not. She’s doing whatever she wants all day, paid. I can understand their resentment at having to carry her load on top of theirs.

      2. REsponding to colette*

        I keep rereading the post, and I think the timing/frequency is inaccurate. The employee has been a surrogate twice in three years – not every year. She’s planning on this again, but we don’t know when, or if it will pan out. I think it’s clear that there are some other issues going on.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Right. I can’t imagine she can physically do this more than a couple times, depending on the requirements of the surrogacy agency.

  4. Jen RO*

    #2 – I can’t imagine having to cover for someone for a third of the year, each year, and not be resentful. I am sure giving birth is taxing on the body, but taking 4 whole months every time sounds like a vacation, not like recovery time. I think this employee is abusing the maternity leave policy… if I were OP I’d definitely bring it up to management and, if no solution could be found, I’d start job searching, because working with such inconsiderate people (management and surrogate mother) would drive me up a wall. Unless I got a temp pay increase for handling all her tasks during that vacation.

    I have no idea about US law, but don’t you need an actual baby at home on order to take all that time off?!

    1. Nina*

      Maternity leave isn’t just for the baby’s sake, but the mother’s as well, especially if it was a complicated delivery. A surrogate is still entitled to the maternity leave if they need it to recover from the birth, or even the pregnancy itself.

      That said, I agree that this could be an issue. Yes, surrogacy is a great thing to do, and for all we know, this woman needs the whole maternity leave to recover. But that doesn’t change the fact that she still has a job to do, and she can’t get her work done if she’s constantly away on maternity leave. The work isn’t going anywhere, and it isn’t fair for the other employees to have an additional workload without getting paid, especially if this is happening often. The letter said she had done this several times; which seems like a lot, IMO.

      OP, is it possible for your manager hire a temp to cover for her? If she plans on doing another surrogacy, at least you have someone to pick up some of the slack. I’m also curious about your company’s maternity leave policy, since you said that someone is always using it.

      1. Adam*

        Advocating for a temp seems like the most reasonable course of action. I’m kinda surprised her company hasn’t done this already, particularly if being a surrogate mother is something this woman has done more than once.

        It is one of those sticky wickets of trying to be sympathetic to another person while not letting yourself get piled on as a result. Pregnancy can be extremely rough on the body as you are essentially donating your body to someone else for nine months plus recovery time. And that’s not even counting the emotional ups and downs.

        I think the OP and her coworkers can make a strong case that they need some additional help when the surrogate mother is gone for so long, but otherwise since everything she’s doing seems to be within legal parameters this may be one of those unfortunate “learn to live with it” cases.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP says a temp isn’t possible because of the nature of the work … although even if that’s the case (and there are many positions where that would be true), arguing for the company to find some solution makes sense.

        1. Nina*

          Reading is fundamental; I missed the part about the temp. :)

          I agree with Adam that this is a sticky situation indeed. And Allison is right as well, they need to have some solution for this. Maybe they could hire someone part time?

          A lot of companies are functioning with the bare minimum of employees, even after the recession ended. That’s what bugs me; people are already doing more work for less pay, or more work with no raise in salary.

          And altruism aside, chances are this woman is getting paid for being a surrogate, while her coworkers are saddled with her workload without extra pay. Plus, she’s using her vacation time in addition to her maternity leave, so she’s out of the office even longer. It doesn’t instill morale with her coworkers, and I wouldn’t be happy with it, either. If management says it’s out of their hands, I would consider employment elsewhere.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            Even if a temp cannot be hired to cover the absent employee, I wonder whether one could be engaged to take over some of the non-specialist tasks, which would free up the other members of staff?

            1. OhNo*

              That was my thought. Even if the surrogate’s work can’t be covered by a temp, perhaps some of the other coworkers’ work can? Anything to reduce the work load on the remaining employees, so at least you don’t have people trying to do a job and a half for four months straight.

          2. Jennifer*

            I personally love seeing how my organization fundraised a billion dollars, but it’s just so hard to actually replace any humans who leave, ever. “But that money is for X, Y, and Z, not staffing!” *hits head*

        2. Ethyl*

          I don’t know though. Four months seems like plenty of time to get a temp up to speed on at least SOME of the work. Many of us temps have, you know, actual education and experience and are temping because the job market is terrible — I think saying a temp isn’t a good solution is making a lot of kind of unpleasant assumptions. I mean, maybe I’m just taking this personally because I was working as a temp receptionist with a master’s degree from a very competitive and high-level university and that wasn’t exactly fun. People a lot of times treat temps like idiots who can’t do anything better.

          1. en pointe*

            I sympathise with you and the way temps are sometimes treated, but it is only a four month period and the job is specialised. If a temp can really only get up to speed on SOME of the work by the end of the four months, then I would question how good a solution that is. They would have to invest time and resources in training the temp, and then, by the time he/she got a handle on certain things, the four months would be up.

            That said, I agree with the people suggesting a temp could potentially be brought in to cover the work of the OP or other less specialised people (if they are less specialised), while those people cover the work of the woman on leave.

            1. Vancouver Reader*

              If this woman is going to continue going off on mat leave, can the company not hire a temp and request the same temp each time so that there’s less of a learning curve each time?

              OTOH, if there’s only 4 of them in the office, maybe the company can’t afford to pay for the surrogate’s leave AND a temp as well.

              1. en pointe*

                I don’t know much about temping, but that doesn’t sound like it would necessarily be practical. The temp, or multiple ones, could easily switch agencies, take a permanent job, go on maternity/paternity leave themselves, etc. It also might not be compatible with them committing to other temp jobs, or pursuing temp to perm opportunities.

                1. Ethyl*

                  I had a place I temped at regularly to fill in for the regular receptionist, so it can be done. It’s not necessarily a failsafe, but it’s not a bad idea. Lots of temps would love a once-yearly four-month full-time stint.

                2. Vancouver Reader*

                  You raise really good points, but if they do hire a temp to cover off someone’s duties there, they can try and ask for the same temp back again. There are no certainties in life, I agree, but if someone who’s temping enjoys that sort of work (temp vs. perm) it may work out for both parties.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I think they need to cross-train someone then, perhaps someone part-time. And though I absolutely agree that it’s no one’s business what reproductive decisions she makes, they ARE affecting the workload and that does need to be addressed.

      3. Angora*

        I thought FMLA is 12 weeks (3 months) versus 4 months or does the LW’s company offer a more generous policy?

        But most companies will bring in temp? If this is going be a reoccuring thing they should look into her training someone before she leave. The university setting has an emergency hire pool. But the LW says her job is specialized; it must not be that specialized if the others are covering during her absence.

        Everyone needs to get away from the morality of the issue; that is why FMLA is in place. It prevents our views from playing a role in the receiptant’s receiving short-term disability, etc. Most jobs will pay only a portion of the salary when someone is out on FMLA … they are not making as much money as the LW thinks.

        Address the workload and take away your opinion of the co-worker’s actions.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I’m a little confused about how the time off numbers are adding up, too.

          4 months sounds like 3 months FMLA & one month vacation. It’s not clear if the vacation is at the same time, or it’s just other time throughout the year.

          We only get paid for FMLA what is covered by our sick time and disability (6 weeks), and then any vacation/PTO on top of that. Otherwise, the FMLA is unpaid. I also don’t fully understand how she’s qualified for the full 12 weeks FMLA. I thought most people were medically released after 6 weeks. She’s not taking the “family” part, so it’s only the “medical leave” part. I don’t know the ins and outs of FMLA, but it doesn’t sound right to me.

          1. fposte*

            It sounds like the company policy provides for more generous maternity leave than FMLA offers.

            1. Sunflower*

              Yes I agree. Company’s don’t have to pay you at all if you take leave. Sounds like this company has some generous leave.

        2. AVP*

          I think the letter said that the co-worker is taking three months FMLA plus her one month vacation right away, so four months total.

          OP, I totally feel you that it sucks to be covering someone else’s workload repeatedly, and that there are some jobs that you can’t hire a temp to do, but there’s got to be a way for your manager to work this out if you take it to them rationally (not ever even mentioning the surrogacy question – Angora is right about that). It may be that they can cross-train someone else, or hire a temp to take on an easier role in your department to free up manpower, or find a vendor to take over small pieces of it…there have to be options besides this one person.

          Not a perfect situation, and expensive for the company, but if the only alternative is that you start losing good employees over this, it’s probably worth the outlay.

          1. Mike B.*

            The letter makes it clear that the 3 months are company-paid. If she were taking 3 months unpaid FMLA time, I don’t think there would be any question that she was behaving ethically.

        3. LCL*

          There is no pot of money attached to FMLA. All FMLA does is prevent you from getting fired if you must be absent from work for medical reasons.

          Whether your FMLA is paid or unpaid depends on you. If you have any leave time saved up, you cash it in when you take FMLA to fund your absence. If you have no leave for whatever reason, you still get all of the time off but it will be unpaid.

          I can see why this is irritating people. 4 months does seem like milking it, and there is no shortage of humans. What seem people view as altruistic, others view as self indulgent. But we don’t want to live in a world where somebody else gets to make fertility decisions for you.

    2. Sunflower*

      US Law is behind on quite a few things and I think this is one of them. Surrogacy is still such a new and rare thing- I think there are just way more health issues to tackle before they start thinking of adjusting this law for that.

      I do agree with you though- regardless of the medical condition, how can you not at least somewhat resent someone who takes this much time off and you’re not sure how serious their condition is? Medical issues are usually vague and no one really knows the extent of it- not that they should. The same with any other medical condition, of course people are going to start asking questions about the extent of your issue when you’re taking the max days possible.

      If I was the surrogate, I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same thing. But I think I would feel some guilt knowing my coworkers were stuck with work they couldn’t do. I would at least try to be part of the solution and help the company figure out how to handle it. Talk to management. This has been going on long enough for them to see that they are going to need to cross train or flat out hire another employee who can learn the same skill set.

      1. OhNo*

        Given that I would also feel some guilt if I were in the surrogate’s position, I wonder if she would be open to any kind of part-time/telecommuting during her leave?

        I realize that kind of defeats the purpose of leave, but even if she in only available ten or twenty hours a week to help out, it would take some stress off the remaining employees AND possibly make them less resentful of her taking all that time off. Perhaps the OP could suggest it to management and they can see if she is open to the idea?

        1. Sunflower*

          I’d also have to wonder what kind of an environment she is coming back into when she returns. When I return from a day off, I feel like I’m in a total disarray. So after 4 months, having people do my work that don’t really know how to do it- I would try to at least pop my head in every so often to check on things

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I was wondering about that. When my husband was on disability he could not even take work into the house to do in his better moments. Forget about going to work and putting your nose through the door. They assign people to do activity checks to see what you are doing when you think no one is watching. I don’t know how FMLA would compare to this.

  5. HarryV*

    #3 – Don’t cite health reasons. It screams “dishonest” all around. Just speak the truth and say that after some more thought, you do not think this is the right fit for you. If she asks why, then say, “you observed the work environment to not match you.” If she insists on you elaborating, I would lay it down to her in a professional manner.

      1. Angora*

        #3 – I was in the situation myself years ago. I was the emergency hire “Office Manager” for a position and it was terrible. I needed a job; had been unemployed for about a year. Was desperate. but the day I interviewed for the permanent position she had a screaming fit in my face .. one hour before the interview. I did the interview; turned around and formerly withdrew my application. Worked a couple of days than she had another screanming fit; one of her following me around the office screaming at the back of my head … I just up and quit. The place was toxic. I was the third office manager is six months. They asked her to step down a year later; but I wasn’t going last that long.

      2. OP on #3*

        Thank you for the comments. I have already withdrawn my application and I did cite health reasons. I regret that I could not wait for Allison’s response but I do thank her very much for it.

        The health reasons though they may seem minor or “dishonest” are very truthful and serious. I know that highly significant jump in my BP was due to having to deal with her those few days. I can handle dealing with Ms. B from time to time but working directly for her full time, would have my BP up constantly. I already have health issues and that would be just taking too much of a risk.

        Saying that it was not the right “fit” for me in this case would be very suspicious because I have worked with that department extensively before and would know if the fit was right or not already.

        Thank you everyone for your comments and suggestions but I hope that I never have to use them. I hope I am never in this type of situation again.

        1. KAZ2Y5*

          I’ll say that I think health reasons are a perfectly valid reason to decline. I had one co-worker who eventually quit because his boss (our boss, but I had quit a few months earlier) micromanaged him to death–almost literally. His dr had been after him to quit for a few months–his blood pressure was extremely high and mainly blamed on his stress levels at work. I’m glad you’re out and hope things calm down!

          1. Windchime*

            A family member of mine recently retired from her job for the same health-related reasons. Her blood-pressure was sky-high (like in potential stroke territory) because of the never-ending pressure of running a department without enough staff. Years and years of working like that had led to a very serious condition and her doctor advised her to take an early retirement. Her blood pressure is now much lower, so it definitely can cause serious health issues.

            1. Artemesia*

              I have a SIL who quit a job for that reason; her BP dropped like a stone when she was out of the pressure cooker. Mine went down to where I don’t need meds anymore when I retired and I didn’t have an unusually stressful job although I had a lot of management responsibility.

          1. op# 3*

            Thanks for your comment and yes, it would most definitely be detrimental to my health.

        2. Bwmn*

          I have to add that in no way do I think that mentioning illness is dishonest. First – health care maintenance can simply involve addressing issues of keeping levels of negative stress at a manageable level.

          But more so – if you know a manager/boss to be unreasonable – then providing them with an honest response can too often just be too risky. Way too many “bad bosses” just do not respond well to “the truth in a professional manner”. To me, this sounds like a case where falling on the sword of honesty regarding the workplace environment would bring about nothing positive.

          1. Artemesia*

            I don’t think it is dishonest; my concern would be that it would tarnish the OP’s reputation i.e. being thought ill or disabled is not going to help with upward mobility. So make it temporary :)

        3. Not So NewReader*

          OP, I understand Alison’s thoughts. But, you know, I would have done what you did.
          I know for a fact that my health would tank in that situation. Since I do a lot of alternative medicine type of things, I have a raised awareness of how things impact me and how quickly. You had insight into that situation, because you were supposed to take action to protect yourself.

          No job is worth dying for. And saying it wasn’t a good fit might raise an eyebrow with certain types of people. You did the best you could do with that whole thing- it was just a bad spot to be in.

    1. AVP*

      The hard part about that is that she likely still needs to work closely with Ms. B going forward.

      1. op# 3*

        Thank you for your comment and you are right. I will have to work some with Ms. B going forward but I won’t be working for her. It may seem like a subtle difference but in this case it is a significant one.

        BTW, I am a *he*.

  6. en pointe*

    #4 – If they’re reference checking only a “select few finalists”, I don’t think you need to worry about being forgotten at this point. That seems more like a possible concern for earlier in the process, when they likely have tons of great candidates. (Not that there’s really much you can do about it then either, beyond being qualified and interested, writing a great cover letter, etc.) I agree that you just need to hold tight until they make a decision, unless you have a legitimate question or need to contact them in the interim.

    If you reach out to them just for the sake of putting yourself front of mind, that might be pretty transparent, and I don’t think would help all that much at this stage, when they’re going to be looking carefully at all of their top finalists anyway. Good luck!

    1. Marcy*

      Yes, I agree that it would be pretty transparent. I have an applicant right now that is “pestering” me with excuses to get in contact, obviously to keep his name in my mind. It’s in my mind, alright! It has only been a week since the interview. He is irritating me already and I am not about to make that a permanent situation! It is a shame that people talk themselves out of a job like this.

  7. Adam*

    #1. I’d be very careful how you go about bringing up that you heard your boss talking about you. I know some people who take privacy so seriously they’d consider the fact you heard anything at all to be eavesdropping, cut and dry. You know your boss at least a little so you may be able to tell if he has a mindset like this or not.

    If he does maybe you need to discuss this with your supervisor and see if you can get him to address it for you. It may come across better from him. I don’t know if that’s the best advice but it’s the best I’ve got. Good luck!

    1. en pointe*

      Yeah, I know several people like this also, even a couple of otherwise reasonable ones. Overhearing is interpreted as eavesdropping, or at least suspected of being so. I agree with Adam that you should take into account your previous experiences and what you know about your boss when considering whether/how to bring this up.

      1. nate*

        I agree. They MAY focus on the listening in, not the rest. Plus it’s an easy cover to remove onus for not speaking directly to you.

        I’d bring it up under some other pretense and then make sure they know why they incorrectly think you are slow.

    2. Artemesia*

      Can you finesse this by saying ‘It has come to my attention that you think I dropped the ball and missed deadlines on the McGillicuddy and Fernstein projects. I just want tl let you know that Fred changed the deadline on those projects and we met those deadlines. I am a stickler yadda yadda’

      If they ask how it ‘came to your attention’ then you can say that it was told to you confidentially.

      Passive voice while odious in writing has its uses.

      1. en pointe*

        If the OP goes this route, I don’t think it’s even necessary to talk about it coming to her attention really. She says her boss has been taking an increased interest in her schedule and work, so she could just as easily frame the conversation around that.

        As in, she could bring up the increased interest boss has been showing and ask something like, “Did you have any concerns about the McGillicuddy or Fernstein projects?”….. and then the pretty much rest of Alison’s suggested answer… “I want to make sure you know that Apollo pushed back to the deadlines to this time and this time. I don’t want you to think that I missed deadlines when they’d actually been moved. I take deadlines really seriously, yadda yadda.”

      2. Vicki*

        How do you say this in such a way that doesn’t come across as defensive and blaming Fred? (or Apollo. We need to stick with one set of pseudonyms…)

        Perhaps the way would be to go to Supervisor and say “I’ve noticed that Big Boss is taking an increased interest in managing my schedule and work, which he’s never done before. I’ve also hear from some coworkers that Big Boss thinks we missed the deadlines of projects X and Y. As you know, those deadlines were changed; I don’t think he’s aware of that.

        What’s the best way to let Big Boss know that we’re actually on the ball in our group?

        (Because, supervisor is on the hook for missed deadlines too.)

    3. cajun2core*

      I have to agree with the others. I have worked places where it is not appropriate to comment on what people are talking about even if they are right outside your office talking in a normal conversation.

    4. jelly donut*

      #1, try not to be so contrite. Don’t grovel for this guy. You did nothing wrong. Act like it. Your boss sounds like a whiny little ineffective manager who jumps to conclusions based on unfounded assumptions. And despite the fact that you are a stellar employee, he assumed the worst about you, and didn’t even accept your supervisor’s explanation (if I’m reading your post correctly).

      The fact that he b*tched to a room full of superiors that you missed a couple deadlines before asking you or your supervisor what the deal was first is a sign that he is a gossip and a coward (he won’t confront you or your supervisor, he’ll just complain). He doesn’t respect you enough to ask you or your supervisor to explain what occurred before throwing you under the bus.

      I personally wouldn’t even mention this silliness to him. It won’t change his ways. He might even deny that he complained, and/or attack you for “eavesdropping.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s way too extreme. People get mistaken impressions. It happens. We don’t know what caused this one. These are wild leaps here that aren’t warranted by what we know.

  8. Apollo Warbucks*

    #2 The UK has a very generous maternity leave policy, my manager took almost two years off to to have two children. We work in a small team in a highly technical function and it was hard to cover for her, but we managed, I was give a little more money but not anywhere near what would have been reasonable give the extra work, I took on a lot of extra work and used it as a chance for some personal development and got involved in lots of projects and tasks I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

    I never focused on the reason she was in the office, that’s not really something that matters, the knock on impact of being short staffed needs to be considered and a sensible plan to cope win that absence should be put together.

  9. OriginalEmma*

    She is in a position that is specialized so we can’t have a temp fill in for her, and the rest of the staff ends up having to take on her huge work load.

    …but not so specialized that coworkers cannot take it on. Do you all have the same backgrounds, experience and qualifications? Can her work be apportioned out to one or more highly-qualified temps? It seems to me that it would be smart for the company to hire temporary assistance preemptively, with whatever background it is that yourself and Surroworker have, and train them up to fill the gap during her next bout of leave.

    1. Harriet*

      Or, if someone who’s been covering for her has a less specialised role, can a temp take on some of their work?

  10. Cristina in England*

    #2. I have a hard time with the conversation in the comments so far about whether or not the leave for pregnancy is justified or not. I can’t imagine the same level of scrutiny on any other medical issue. The problem seems to be that management is not adequately managing her workload while she is away. The details of her own health and recovery are no one else’s business.

    I have a lot more to say on how poorly pregnant women are treated within the US workforce and working culture compared to other western countries, and how policies that protect pregnant women and working parents with young children actually benefit the economy, but I will leave that for another time.

    1. Rebecca*

      I think the questions arise because she is being a surrogate, volunteering to have children for some else. These are not her children, she hands them over at birth. Maternity leave supposed to allow the mother to recover from the birth, yes, and bond with the child. There’s no child to bond with, thus the questions about the length of time she’s taking.

      1. Mike C*

        Unless we’re talking about some horrible situation, all pregnancy is voluntary.

        Furthermore, I’m no expert, but pregnancy takes a ton out of a woman, regardless of who is taking care if the child afterward.

        1. Sophia*

          +1 I’m really taken a back by the scruitiny of this woman’s reproductive choices. Focus on how it impacts you, OP, and go to manager about those problems. It shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern about what this woman does. You have no idea what the agreement is with regard to the surrogacy, who it is for (not that this should matter), etc. Women’s choices about their body should not be so heavily policed

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m not. Women are constantly and needlessly judged about their reproductive health choices.

            Guys like me on the other hand? No one gives a crap.

            1. Jamie*

              You don’t think so? When a guy has to keep missing work to go to court over child support issue and payroll has to deal with his garnishments to multiple mother’s of his various children you think people don’t judge that?

              It’s true that men are less judged for having kids in general at work because in our culture typically they aren’t the one’s taking time off to do so.

              I would take any bet that in companies where men were taking the same amount of paternity leave each time the exact same conversations would be happening.

              Because when you inconvenience your co-workers repeatedly people will bitch about it. It doesn’t matter how valid or justified the reason – it’s human nature to wish people would stop doing that one thing that keeps making more work for you.

              1. Jamie*

                One more point – women tend to be judged less harshly ime for having kids (or multiple kids) based on their earnings because people assume the man is the main earner.

                When a man who is on the lower end of the income scale announces the upcoming birth of his kid people get quite judgy.

                It’s crappy and stereotypical but this kind of thing happens all the time.

    2. Helen*

      If someone were off for four months sick in my department, it would be a matter of scrutiny.

      I agree with your main point about paid maternity leave and I absolutely think surrogates should be paid.

      However she is saddling her co-workers with all her work due to what is essentially a profitable, personally chosen, self inflicted health condition, which is bound to cause resentment.

      1. Amanda*

        She is not “saddling them” with anything. Their managers are. Any resentment should be aimed their way.

      2. Mike C*

        She isn’t saddling anyone with the work, the management is. She’s not in charge if work assignments, the manager is.

        Stop judging other people for what they do with their own bodies and instead hold people responsible for going their jobs. And in this case, the manager isn’t doing theirs’ .

        1. aebhel*


          If the workload was managed properly, would the OP still resent this woman? I suspect not, or not as much. That means that the actual issue is that the workload is not being managed properly, which is on the management, not the woman taking maternity leave.

          It’s true that coworkers might be less resentful of a large extra workload if the woman was staying at home with an infant, but the actual issue is that management is dumping an unreasonable workload on them, not the fact that she’s taking advantage of a maternity leave that is in fact part of company policy.

      3. AB*

        I’m a little confused at this. If you had a coworker who took FMLA, it would be up for the scrutiny of co-workers? So if your co-worker took 4 months off because they were undergoing medical treatments or caring for an ailing family member, it would be up for the scrutiny and censure of their coworkers? That doesn’t seem right. The reason behind that leave shouldn’t be up for the questioning or scrutiny of a person’s co-workers, regardless of the reason for it. It is up for the management to decide whether or not policies are being adhered to. If the OP takes umbrage with the workload and how coverage is being handled, that’s one thing, but the reasons behind the coworker’s absence have nothing to do with that and should not be a part of the conversation.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I see no ethical problems what so ever with coworkers voting on personal family decisions. Nope, none at all.

        2. undercover for this*

          Sadly, yes, people scrutinize FMLA at times. I have a (male) coworker out now and everyone talks about when he’ll be back, is he malingering, etc and whether he is or not, the only thing I care about is having enough bodies to get through the day.
          (for the record, I think he probably is putting on a bit, but again, I can’t be bothered to care.)

          1. AB*

            Yes, co-workers may gossip. But, Helen presented it as though coworkers have/ should have the authority to scrutinize or police a person’s reason for and length of FMLA. If I take FMLA, that is between me and my manager. Coworkers may gossip (which is an issue in and of itself) but the reason for being on leave is not open for review with coworkers.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Actually she didn’t specify who should be doing the scrutinizing, and may have been coming at it from the point of view of a manager, not a co-worker.

          2. Anx*

            I think FMLA is so scrutinized for 3 major reasons:

            1) Older workers who didn’t have the benefit say snarky things about younger people being coddled with FMLA. A classic obstinance to a change that happens after your chance to benefit.

            2) They aren’t getting the protection for their own family needs. Perhaps there was a technicality issue. Perhaps it’s something larger like trying to take care of a sibling, parent, etc. Or perhaps it’s because there’s no real bereavement leave. For whatever reason, they resent that some family and social responsibilities are worthy of protecting while others aren’t.

            3) Resentment of FMLA in general. It’s so inconsistent. Milions of workers can only dream of not having to choose between remaining pregnant and keeping their jobs. There’s always the possibility of a minor mistake at work becoming a fire-able offense when you are pregnant. There’s the fact that many workers pay into FMLA but are not eligible (I myself have been bitter on that front). There’s the fact that a temp worker or contracted professional may not have the benefit that the very person they are filling in for has.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Just one correction here: You don’t pay into FMLA. (FMLA actually doesn’t require that you be paid anything when you take it; it just requires your employer not to fire you or otherwise penalize you for taking protected leave.)

              1. Anx*

                Ah, yes.

                My mistake. I meant in general that you can pay into payroll taxes and not be eligible for the benefits because of your class of employment (disability, unemployment, etc).

                1. fposte*

                  Can you explain more? Are you talking about FICA, or are you talking about disability insurance that your employer is covering part of the premiums on? There are various scenarios this could be, but I’m a little concerned there may be somebody misclassified as an independent contractor in here.

        3. RG*

          FMLA doesn’t give you 4 month, it gives you 3 in a 12 month period. So, yeah, I would be scrutinizing 4 months.

      4. Xay*

        So if a person were out for 4 months due to cancer treatments or organ donation and recovery, this would be a subject of discussion by co-workers in terms whether the absence is valid? Perhaps, was that organ donation really necessary? I mean, that kidney wasn’t even for a family member, just some stranger.


        1. Mike B.*

          It’s more like if an organ you’d already donated was retransplanted into someone else, and you realized that the rule in the handbook was worded to allow you to take recuperation time again.

          1. Kelly L.*

            No, because her body is actually having a baby each of these times. Your analogy only fits if she only had the one baby, and the same one baby is being adopted and re-adopted by different people, and she’s taking leave every time.

    3. Anon for this one*

      This is really a tough one full of nuances and shades of grey I think. It’s a bit like an elective surgery in a way. I would never begrudge anyone getting plastic surgery (I have had it myself) but what if a coworker keeps getting multiple elective surgeries and taking quite a bit of time for them, to the point where it disrupts the team and impacts work flow. When does it become not okay?

      1. FiveNine*

        There’s that analogy, and then the other half of it people are arguing: Would any other employee be able to take off four months of paid leave every year — more than a financial quarter — to make money at another endeavor? It’s a combination of issues.

        1. KellyK*

          We’re all working from the assumption she’s getting paid, but that’s not a given. She may well just be getting her medical bills covered.

          1. fposte*

            True, but it’s also a possibility. I think we’re tending to run either toward “It’s a selfless action!” or “It’s moonlighting!” and it could be either, neither, or both. She could do it for free, or she could be making $40k. We don’t know, and I think it would be bad to make the policy dependent on her remuneration.

            1. Mike C.*

              I’m running towards the “management should be staffing the workplace properly and everyone should keep their nose out of another person’s uterus” myself.

              1. AnnonMom*

                Yes! and FMLA only covers employers with 50 employees or more. A mid sized company that has a paid FMLA policy should certainly be able to staff appropriately for someone who is out of work so often.

              2. Jamie*

                I believe management has an obligation to deal with the coverage issue when people are out, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to hire someone to address this one issue.

                If they are otherwise understaffed it’s one thing, but if staffing is otherwise adequate then they are overstaffed for 3/4 of the year. That doesn’t make sense financially

      2. Del*

        How is it different from someone who chooses to carry a child to term for the purpose of expanding their own family, though?

        1. Contessa*

          Because, as Chinook set out well above, what we call “maternity leave” is actually some time for the medical recovery and some time for parental bonding. If you have a child as a surrogate, the difference is that while you still definitely need the medical recovery time, the parental bonding time does not seem necessary. (I said “seem,” because we don’t really know)

          That said, the law and her company’s vacation time policy are on her side, so the best way to address this, IMO, is to work out some kind of coverage. Maybe temps can do other folks’ work, and then the people who know this woman’s work would have more availability to cover while she’s out.

          1. Del*

            My point was specifically regarding the elective nature of the issue. Absent some really terrible circumstances, any pregnancy that is being carried to term is ultimately elective.

        2. Judy*

          My understanding, at least in the US, the “disability” that goes with pregnancy is 6-8 weeks. The rest of the time for “maternity leave” is actually FMLA leave, to take care of a family member. So you could take that leave when you have kids, when you adopt, if your parents or spouse are sick, etc.

          My husband had hernia surgery and got 6 weeks disability. I’d not expect someone being a surrogate to get more than the “disability” time off required for pregnancy.

          1. fposte*

            There’s no disability time federally provided for at all. FMLA is it. All the feds care about is that if you’ve offered other time to employees with non-pregnancy disabilities that the pregnant person gets the same.

            Some states (California, natch) have additional disability time. But U.S.-wise overall, it’s 12 weeks for FMLA, if you’re eligible.

            1. Piper*

              This. You can use disability as PART of the 12 weeks of FMLA so you may get paid some pitiful sum that doesn’t come close to your actual salary. So you’re first six weeks of FMLA could also be used as short-term disability, but it doesn’t add on to it. (Totally going through this right now. Hate the US parental leave policies. They are dreadful.)

              1. fposte*

                Right, short term disability isn’t a kind of leave, it’s an insurance policy that pays you. Under what circumstances is dependent on your employer’s or state’s policy, but it doesn’t give you days off, because it’s about money, not time.

                1. Judy*

                  I thought I read that it’s a law that pregnancy is a disability, and if you offer short term disability insurance for other things you have to offer it for pregnancy. (You can’t offer it for a hernia surgery and not for pregnancy.)

                2. fposte*

                  In general, yes, you can’t withhold leave/support you offer people with other disabilities from the pregnant. But that doesn’t mean everybody signs up for STD–in some places it’s optional, and in some places it’s nonexistent–and you’re not required to ensure that people get to collect on it, just that they get an even crack at acquiring it.

      3. Blue Anne*

        I think it’s more analogous to having multiple surgeries over the course of years to donate organs, bone marrow etc., than plastic surgery. It does need to be recognized that what she’s doing *is* a huge, helpful, meaningful thing for someone.

        1. Anon for this one*

          True and a good point, however I’m honestly not sure how much that should factor into it on the employment side of things. It becomes a slippery slope when you start deciding whether or not time off is approved based on if time will be spent in a way that is helpful or altruistic.

      4. Mike C.*

        From the employee’s perspective, it’s not that nuanced at all. There’s too much work, and management refuses to step in a properly hire enough people to take over the workload.

        1. Anon for this one*

          I completely agree on that point. Regardless of the reason for the coworker’s time off, management needs to deal with the workload appropriately so that OP and the remaining coworker’s aren’t being burdened with it.

          The nuance, in my opinion, is more in relation to exactly when that employee becomes more of a problem/expense than she’s worth.

          1. Mike C.*

            The thing is, from the employee perspective, the surrogacy thing is a complete red herring. It doesn’t matter why the employee is gone for months at a time every year, only that the work isn’t being covered by temporary staff during that absence.

    4. Chef*

      I see where you’re coming from but I feel like that rant should be saved for a more politically-oriented blog.

      1. Piper*

        Eh. It’s a work and workforce problem. I think it’s worth discussing on a work-related blog, although at this time it diverts from the initial question so it’s slightly off-topic.

    5. kac*

      I agree with you. The management needs to do a better job *managing* this situation.

  11. Megan*

    #2 is interesting to me! I had looked into being a surrogate and my HR lady and I had had a completely different reading of the law. We figured that I would have gotten a six week medical leave for the delivery, but that the additional FMLA wouldn’t apply as there was no newborn to care for. Or is the OP not in the United States?

    1. Kirsten*

      That’s how I interpreted it as well- definitely entitled to the STD. My my understanding of FMLA after STD ends after birth is bonding time with the new baby. That doesn’t seem like it would apply in this case?

    2. StarHopper*

      It might also be that the surrogate’s company policy allows for more than the bare minimum time off. If that is the case and management feels the policy is being abused, it is an easy enough fix to change the language. Also, how is she getting vacation time approved for right after a three month maternity leave if it is known that there is no baby at home?

      1. Celeste*

        That’s a brilliant point–why are they so quick to approve her vacation time at the end of a maternity leave? Is nobody in charge of process control of work?

        I have to say it’s been interesting to read about this. Normally when I hear about surrogacy, it’s paid service that a woman does when she is home with children and other paid work isn’t feasible for her. I’ve honestly never considered that an otherwise employed woman would do it outside of a one-off for a friend or family member.

    3. Liz*

      The FMLA isn’t just for caring for a newborn. According to their official FAQs: “A mother can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. ” That sounds like what #2 is complaining about, allowing you to take up to 12 weeks – if you qualify – before and after the birth if needed.

      1. Megan*

        Good point. But if someone truly needs that much time off for pregnancy related complications, who would hire her to carry their child?
        Sorry, that’s going beyond the scope here. I had only looked into being gone for the six weeks if I were to do it. I also have easy pregnancies and deliveries – hence the desire to be a surrogate.

        1. FiveNine*

          It could almost be that she’s working on the next impregnation, couldn’t it, with the timing?

        2. Another Job Seeker*

          I’ve never hired a surrogate. However, I can imagine that someone who has not had easy pregnancies or deliveries might be grateful for a surrogate – including one who takes more than the “traditional” amount of time away from work during an after a pregnancy. If I were looking to hire a surrogate, I’d be concerned about the surrogate’s health, of course. However, if she and the medical professionals working with us did not have concerns about her health, I would have no concerns enlisting her support as a surrogate.

        3. Enid*

          That’s what I keep thinking — some people have been saying that the woman truly might need that much time to recover, but if it consistently takes you four months to recover from birth to the point that you can hold what I assume is an office job, it doesn’t seem like surrogacy is a great fit for you.

    4. Piper*

      These were my thoughts, too. In the US, you get 6 weeks STD for regular birth, 8 weeks for a C-section. Even if you are a surrogate and the baby doesn’t come home with you, your body still needs time to recover. Childbirth can be traumatic and it does crazy things to your body regardless of whether you take the baby home or not.

      And for the record, the US’s paltry 12 weeks FMLA (that may or may not be paid, that you may or may not get, depending on the employer and length of employment) isn’t nearly enough time to get used to life with a new baby and all of those adjustments. It’s embarrassing how bad this country’s maternity/paternity (and other general leave) policies are.

      1. fposte*

        The short-term disability isn’t a federal law; it’s either state law or an employer’s particular policy. There’s no legal requirement in the US as a whole for short term disability.

        1. Piper*

          Ugh. Even worse. For some reason, I was thinking disability was federal as well. Thankfully, my employer has it (as listed in my previous comment), otherwise, I’d be totally screwed because 12 weeks unpaid leave is not possible. I’m taking 6 weeks and that’s it.

    5. Celeste*

      The OP stated that the full 3 months is paid, and the extra month is saved vacation time.

      It sounds like the staff have already challenged this person on taking the time off routinely, and she has stated she is doing it “because she can”. I think the staff resent her having different priorities and that the HR policy apparently allows this.

      I don’t really have any feeling about what she is doing, unless she is lording it over the staff that she has found a way to get a paid 4 month release from work every other year?

      I’m actually amazed that the management hasn’t decided to find another way to cope with her absences if she is so critical, but the fact that others CAN and DO pick up her slack says that she can be replaced (as can we all). It seems like it’s time to look at cross training and changing position descriptions, if a temp won’t be able to do the work. If the work is that critical to the org, it only makes sense to be prepared. That one bastion of knowledge can leave for any reason, by design or involuntarily. I think if this problem was fixed, nobody would really care about this coworker’s sideline.

        1. Celeste*

          “will still take the maximum paid maternity leave because “she can.”

          She is basically taking off three months in a row,”

          Six weeks is the minimum, three months is the maximum.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think there is any minimum, is there? The law doesn’t require one, and some people definitely come back to work earlier than six weeks.

            1. Celeste*

              I think in the US for full time workers, 6 weeks is considered the normal minimum. I think when you get into part time and especially min wage, they might hold your job for 2 weeks, or they might not.

              1. fposte*

                I don’t think there is any concept of a normal minimum on the employment front, though. A lot of doctors do say six weeks (though there’s nothing magic in the number), so I think that’s what gets reported to workplaces a lot, but I don’t think it’s a policy. It’s just where some people fall.

                And if an employee isn’t eligible for FMLA or has already exhausted FMLA, the employers don’t have to hold the job at all, whether they’re part time or full time; how long they’re willing to grant leave in that case is going to vary wildly from workplace to workplace and even manager to manager.

    6. Sophia*

      We also don’t know if the four months starts after birth. Many women take a month before the due date off – as someone who is in her ninth month, it is exhausting, difficult to concentrate etc. so her first month could be before birth and the next three for recovery, which all seem reasonable to me

    7. OhNo*

      Interesting that a certain amount is meant for the delivery/recovery, and the rest is for bonding and taking care of the newborn.

      We are assuming thus far that she is just delivering the baby and handing it off to the parents, but how do we know that? The surrogate could be acting as a wet nurse for the baby for the first couple of months, which I would think more than qualifies her for the rest of the time.

      Or she could have an open-adoption style arrangement, where the baby is encouraged to bond both with the birth mother and with the parents who will raise the child. In which case, again, she would probably qualify for the time off so she can bond properly with the baby.

      Or, hey, maybe part of her arrangement with the parents is that she just helps them out with the first month or two after the birth.

      Basically, what I’m saying is – there are a lot of reasons that she could need (and qualify for, under FMLA) the full three months off, plus a month of vacation time. It’s not something the OP should be getting into, because they don’t know the details of the surrogate’s agreements either. Focus on the impact at work.

      1. Celeste*

        I can accept your points, but I personally think that the OP’s coworker lost all credibility when she put in for the extra month of vacation to keep the long leave going. I’m not against taking vacation, but I think timing is everything. Creating hardship is not endearing.

        1. MT*

          This worker may have earned 4 weeks of vacation a year. And a lot of companies have a use it or lose on the vacation.

          1. Celeste*

            Of course, I agree with it being earned and the use-it policies are very real. Of course it isn’t her job to see that the work gets done, so maybe she should just look out for Numero Uno and get the best possible deal for herself out of it. I mean, who wouldn’t want 4 months off in a row? That would be sweet, especially when it’s 4 months off from a busy, understaffed workplace. Do that.

            Just don’t expect your coworkers to like you.

            1. Anonsie*

              I don’t know, it might be a lot less disruptive to take a really long consecutive leave than to take three months and come back and then take another month later in the year.

            2. aebhel*

              Okay, but if three of the four months are for medical need, and the other is earned vacation time…what, she’s just supposed to give up vacation time she earned so management doesn’t have to bother staffing correctly?

              1. fposte*

                If an employee wait until the last minute her vacation days are available to use them, she’s always risking the possibility that they won’t be approved and she’ll lose them. That’s on her.

                In this case they were approved, so I’m going back to management again as the target of blame here. But she’d be a fool to assume that a manager would always be okay with that and to save up her annual vacation days in hope without asking, because it’s not uncommon for people to lose vacation that way.

              2. Celeste*

                She always had the option to use them sooner in a use-it-or-lose-it scenario, but she saved them to tack onto a longer leave. I think you have to ask why she would do that. It seems like a person could make everything line up to be able to take a long trip someplace expensive, which could not otherwise be done without losing the job, for example. With a typical $10K surrogacy fee, that could be feasible. I personally could not subject myself to it, but I can believe some would think it was a great opportunity.

                1. OhNo*

                  The approval of the vacation time is definitely on the management, though. They have the ability to deny using the accrued vacation time before/after/around the three-month leave, if they choose to do so.

                  The fact that they haven’t done so tells me that the management either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the effect of such long absences on her other coworkers. The OP and their coworkers should definitely make that clear to them, and advocate for a temp or some kind of plan to minimize the stress on their schedules.

      2. Anonsie*

        This is what I came here to say– surrogates don’t always (or even usually) just hand the newborn over in the delivery room and call it done.

        1. Another Job Seeker*

          That’s a good point. I had not thought of that. And I would not necessarily expect the woman to share that bit of information with her co-workers…especially if she has reason to believe that they would judge her or have little to no concern about her, the baby, or the new parent(s).

  12. Kiwi*

    #3: Don’t claim vague “health issues”, as that can get people thinking that you may become a liability to the company and questioning your future advancement prospects. Nowt stranger than folk.

    I would instead cite “a change in personal circumstances” and politely decline to discuss specifically, if pressed further. Technically it’s also true – your potential new boss started acting like a right one towards you. Circumstance changed. ;-)

      1. OP #3*

        Thanks for your comments. Pretty much everyone already knows that I have health issues.

        What I forgot to mention in my previous post is that the department manager, Ms. B, knows and admits that it is a highly stressful department to work in (they are understaffed and many of their internal clients are highly arrogant and unreasonably demanding).

        Again, thank everyone for their comments.

  13. BRR*

    #1 I call it forced eavesdropping. It’s when you literally cannot help but hear what is being said due to what is usually an open plan office. Thankfully it’s mostly happened to me when someone needed help with something and we all had the understanding that if you want a private conversation you go elsewhere

    #2 You said they can’t hire a temp because her work is specialized, while you’re covering for her can the company hire a temp to help with someone else’s work load?

  14. Another Job Seeker*

    I am thinking about the woman who is serving as a surrogate, the couple (or parent) she is assisting, and the children she is helping to bring into the world. There are women who are unable to carry a child to term, and many of them are quite grateful for the assistance of a surrogate.

    There could be multiple reasons why someone would rather enlist the support of a surrogate than adopt a child – just like there are multiple reasons why women who choose to carry biological children they plan to raise do so instead of adopting children. I don’t believe that co-workers have the right to make these types of decisions for each other. Additionally, the amount of vacation time the company is permitting the woman to take after her maternity leave is over is between her and the company.

    I do agree with statements that have been made about workload, however. I strongly believe that the woman serving others as a surrogate has the right to help people in this way, and I applaud her for doing so. However, I do not believe that the underlying issue here is about serving as a surrogate or multiple pregnancies. When a person is out of the office for a legally protected reason – regardless of that reason – it is the responsibility of management to ensure that the person’s duties are completed without unfairly burdening others. Sounds like the company has dropped the ball on this one.

  15. John*

    #5 — to support AAM’s advice, the prospective employer might interpret that to mean that you’d expect a similar reward for your performance. Not many hiring managers are sitting on an extra 20% they can award within the first year. Heck, lots will have to fight to get you a 3% raise!

  16. MR*

    I think the OP for #2’s frustration stems from having to pick up the slack of the surrogate mother being out so long – and management not doing anything to bring in help.

    Remember, if this person were to get hit by a bus, they will never return, and something would have to be done. This person is not so special that they are irreplaceable (nobody is in the first place).

    The company owes it to their (rightfully) frustrated staff to find a solution to the absences. But I think the OP and colleagues need to speak up as well.

    1. AB*

      I think this has become too derailed because of the reason for the woman’s absence. The reason for the woman’s absence isn’t and shouldn’t be a factor. What if the woman was taking the time to care for a chronically sick parent (as covered under the FMLA) and the parent gave the woman money to cover the expenses incurred during the period of care? That wouldn’t be the business of the co-worker, nor should this. The issue at hand is coverage. As has been mentioned several times, there is plenty that management can and should do to mitigate the burden on the co-workers and the discussion would be better off focusing on that. If any position is so specialized as to make finding a temporary replacement impossible, management should have a contingency plan in place for coverage. You never know when an employee is going to quit, get pregnant, get hurt, get sick, have a family emergency, or die. Coverage plans to support critical functions make sense and help ease stress should they be needed.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      AB, the issue though is that if someone was hit by a bus, they could just hire a new employee to replace them. You can’t do that with protected leaves. A temp isn’t always a solution. For example, you can’t just get a temp to cover for a cop because the cop has to first go through the academy. Since the academy is sponsored by the hiring department it is rare that will find a currently credentialed unemployed cop who can temp. Instead, in those situations all the other employees have to work overtime to cover people on military leave or maternity leave or disability leave. Basically, any position where you can’t just fill their slot. They also wouldn’t have enough work for another full time body so they can’t just hire an extra person and keep them on.

      I think the difference in this scenario is how one defines choices. Getting hit by a bus or having a medical emergency is not usually the employee’s choice. With pregnancy, even non-surrogate pregnancy, some would argue that while you can’t control when you will get pregnant, you can take steps to prevent getting pregnant at certain inopportune times. So when someone gets pregnant with a leave at an inopportune time, some people are resentful, right or wrong, because that employee decided that she would rather not prevent pregnancy during that time despite what it would mean for her coworkers.

      Most people are sympathetic to a couple who has been “trying” and doesn’t want to stop trying because leave would coincide with a bad time for business. People would likely be less sympathetic when this happens multiple times with the same employee, for their own children. They would likely be even less sympathetic if it was for surrogacy – a choice that doesn’t even go to expanding your own family – something some people don’t consider a “choice” but rather a right.

      At the end of the day, any employee taking multiple medical leaves that effect business would be facing issues at work and this is compounded when it is within the employee’s control and they still do it.

      As an example, a lawyer who needed non-emergency surgery would be expected to schedule said surgery when he is not in trial. School teachers are encouraged to time leaves (when possible) so they are over the summer. This to me is not unreasonable.

      1. fposte*

        Sure, people are people and have their feelings about why co-workers are out, whether it’s being annoyed that somebody’s pregnant, that somebody wrecked themselves skiing, or that somebody smoked and now has lung cancer.

        But from a workplace point of view the problem is that the employees don’t have adequate coverage for long absences. I don’t think we really want to create a situation where it’s okay for us to interrogate one another on whether we controlled our lives to minimize our being out of the office.

      2. AB*

        The only person(s) who should be privy to discussions on reasons for family and medical leave are the person on leave, that person’s manager and potential third party experts (doctors and/or government overseeing FMLA regulation).

        The OP is not one of those people, and therefore, regardless of their personal thoughts, frustrations or feelings, they have no part in that conversation. What the OP can and should discuss with management is the concern for how workload is handled or distributed. No one is arguing that hiring a temp is the solution. My point was that for positions that are too specialized for a temp to be hired, a plan should be put into place that can be called into action for coverage so when there is need of it, there is no question of what is to be done.

  17. Ruffingit*

    #5 – Definitely mention the reasons WHY you received the promotion and raise rather than just that you received them. As we’ve all learned here, many incredibly incompetent people receive promotions and raises. That alone doesn’t say anything about your competence or work ethic so highlight what does.

  18. Ruffingit*

    Surrogate – I look at this the same as any other thing that is compromising her ability to do her job. At what point does it become too much? If you have someone who is out for the 1/3 of the year every year or even every two years, at what point do they just need to move on because someone needs to be in that job and doing it consistently? It’s not about pregnancy, it could be the person is too ill, taking care of a long-term sick parent, etc. Sort of like the ADA standards on reasonable accommodations. I don’t know that it’s reasonable to expect a workplace to cover this much absence on a fairly regular basis particularly when it’s voluntary and the woman is being paid to be doing what she’s doing. That does speak to more of a second job scenario to me.

    In any case, the OP’s workplace does allow this, so all she can do is try and get coverage well in advance so everyone else there is not left hanging.

    1. Sunflower*

      The part that confuses me is the Surrogate knows she is going to be doing this- why is the surrogate not trying to be part of the solution and help out the coworkers? When I go on vacation for a week, I make sure my stuff is covered and try to make it easier on anyone who is going to have to pick up some of my slack. This coworker doesn’t seem to care which is a little unnerving and strange to me? She must know people are struggling.

      1. fposte*

        That’s an interesting point. I wonder if this co-worker isn’t hugely well liked and if that factors into the workplace response to her absence.

    2. KJR*

      If she’s taking approved FMLA, then they don’t have a choice. Employers can’t just “move on” in these instances.

      1. fposte*

        They have some choice, given that they’re apparently approving her for vacation on top of it.

        They also don’t have to automatically accept 12 weeks for any medical situation, so if they’re granting more than a doctor states necessary, that’s a choice too. But I could definitely see them not wanting to get into an argument about it.

        1. KJR*

          Yes, true, there is that extra month of vacation that they could deny. But as far as pregnancy and childbirth are concerned, those 12 weeks are pretty cut and dried.

          1. fposte*

            In that there would be plenty of doctors willing to state that somebody requires twelve weeks off, sure. But since plenty of people return to work earlier than that after childbirth, I don’t think it’s automatic.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I am not real sure that taking 3 months now and 1 month later is a better solution. The company might be thinking “Well she wants to tack her vacation on, so might as well let her, rather than have her gone for 4 weeks at another point on the calendar.”
          Maybe their thinking is “At least we will have x number of months of steady work from her.”

          I’m not saying this is a good or bad way to be thinking about how to handle all this time off but rather just offering a perspective.

          I worked for a company that paid time off was earned by hours worked. So any type of unpaid leave would not be counted in the formula that figured out the accrued paid time. Likewise, paid vacation time/ sick time was considered non-working hours so that would be tossed into the calculation, also. (Yeah, this formula must have been a nightmare.)

          1. Marcy*

            But the 4 weeks doesn’t have to be together. It could be a week here or there, which would not be as disruptive. I get four weeks of vacation a year and it would take a miracle to be approved to take even two of those weeks together.

      2. Incognito*

        They can. They can’t fire her, but they can place her in another position as long as it has the same or equivalent benefits, pay, and working conditions . FMLA doesn’t mean the company needs to suffer with a role unfilled and current employees overwhelmed.

        From the DOL page: An equivalent position is one that is virtually identical to the employee’s former position in terms of pay, benefits and working conditions. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility and authority.

        There is room in the definition of equivalent responsibilities to put her in a position where it meets this standard, but is easier to provide coverage for. Depending on what she does, of course.

        1. MT*

          ” It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility and authority.”

          If this person is in a highly specialized position, it may be hard to find them an equivalent position. That would just be shifting the problem to a different group.

          1. Incognito*

            It may be hard and may not be possible in some scenarios – but we my response was to the comment that because it’s FMLA the employer cannot move on, that there is no choice and that’s not the case.

            There may be a rare instance where one job is so specialized that one can’t find anything the court or mediator would consider equivalent – but those are outliers. And since in this scenario the co-workers can pick up her slack there seems to be some crossover.

  19. NylaW*

    The real issue with #2 is that her company is not managing the workload. Take out the fact that she’s doing something pretty damn selfless in being a surrogate multiple times, and replace it with any other medical issue that would require that much time off. The effect is still the same. Her coworkers are covering her for 1/3 of the year and that’s ridiculous. This is a management issue. If their leave policy doesn’t cover a surrogacy situation, or it allows someone to take 4 months off if they have a medical issue even when they don’t need it, then that’s another management issue.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I think this is about the company, too. And what does a company do if they cannot use a temp?
      So far, I have seen the idea of cross-training suggested. It could be that I missed something else- but it looks like the company does not have a lot of options.

      I think the work place would be a lot less upset if the company was taking better care of the employees. And I think that this coworker could be a little more concerned for the person who will be filling in her spot. At some jobs I’ve had- if I was going to be out one day- I would leave a note saying where my work was at, what was needed AND I briefed a coworker as a backup to my note. I am not seeing this in anything OP said- but maybe the coworker is doing these things. We can’t tell for sure.

      Many companies have back up plans, in case they lose a person for a while or permanently. I am thinking this company could probably benefit from having back-up plans for each one of its key people. Why target this one woman, when it’s just good practice to know what you would do if you suddenly lost any key person?

  20. Weasel007*

    #2 – This happening (not having the resources to cover her, not the pregnancy itself) once is understood. Twice, and it is her manager’s responsibility to make sure that her work has been cross trained. There is plenty of time in between to get someone ramped up on this. By the thirdtime with no real coverage, it is unacceptable. This is poor managment IMHO.

  21. C Average*

    I agree with everyone who says that surrogacy can be a wonderful, selfless thing to do.

    And I also agree with everyone who says that they’d resent the heck out of this if it happened in their workplace.

    There are tons of altruistic things a person could choose to do that would require him or her to be out of the office. I’d love to step out of the corporate rat race for a couple years and join the Peace Corps. I’m sure I have colleagues who would consider, variously, surrogacy, donating an organ, volunteering for a great cause somewhere else in the world, feeding the hungry locally, etc.

    But our employer doesn’t give them the leeway to do this (with rare, approved exceptions) because it’s in the employer’s interest to have them there, in the office, doing the work. Most people who want to do something altruistic have to figure out how to do it in their spare time while actually doing their job.

    If I had a colleague taking a quarter of his or her time off to volunteer for something worthy and I was picking up the slack AND my colleague was still getting paid (and possibly even making some money on the side), I too would consider it pretty annoying and even wonder if it was a bit of a racket.

    I’m not a puppy-kicking baby-hater, but I do think this woman is getting away with something that feels sort of hinky.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      What is she getting away with, exactly? Her body is going through something that meets the legal requirements for FMLA. She’s not gaming the system.

      I highly doubt she’s spitting out babies to get a vacation.

      1. BB*

        No one thinks she is doing it to get vacation- I can’t make assumptions but there is a good chance she is getting paid and some people feel she is essentially abusing the law in order to work a second job while still earning income from her current job. There seems to be discussion of what FMLA time off is used for though. Most people seem to agree that the time off is for your body to recover PLUS to spend time bonding with children- and that is not something the coworker has to do so people are a little skeptical if she actually needs the max amount of time. People tweek the law to their advantage all the time- Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right and people find ways to abuse the law for their own gain all the time. I do agree this is essentially a management issue and they need to find someone to cover for her but it doesn’t mean she isn’t pulling a small stunt here.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          We’ll have to agree to disagree. Surrogacy isn’t a “stunt” and I don’t think it’s accurate to frame it that way.

          We also don’t know if she’s accepting money for it or if she’s a volunteer, not that it matters.

          Regardless, being a surrogate isn’t an occupation–. The implication that she’s doing something dishonest or abusing the system is insulting to all women–and don’t think that people don’t complain this way about women who have their own babies close together, because they do.

        2. Chinook*

          “I can’t make assumptions but there is a good chance she is getting paid and some people feel she is essentially abusing the law in order to work a second job while still earning income from her current job”

          I thihnk it is this perceived double dipping that is causing some of the ire. I am not sure how FMLA works in the US, but the Canadian rule for EI (which covers maternity/parental leaves) is that you have to claim any moneys earned while collecting EI and this is then deducted from your coverage. If your employer then tops up your EI (which I think is 60% of your current salary), I am not sure if that top-up is affected but I could see them being not impressed if you are caught double-dipping.

          1. fposte*

            In the US, FMLA doesn’t give you any money at all. Whether you get money when you’re out on leave is up to your employer/state. The employer here seems to be okay with the surrogacy, and they’re the ones who matter.

  22. JMegan*

    #2 – I’m curious about the “because she can” idea. Where did this come from? Did the staff ask her why she does so many surrogacies and takes so much time off, and was this the actual response that she gave?

    Or is “because she can” something the rest of the staff came up with on their own, because they don’t actually know why she does it?

    Also, “because I can” is actually a perfectly good answer to this question. Partly because it might be a polite way of saying “I’m not discussing this with you,” and partly because it’s probably the truth.

    In which case it would be a lot more nuanced than just the time off work. “Because I can…because my body is young enough and strong enough to support multiple pregnancies…because my family is willing and able to support me…because I can help people…because I can make some extra money doing something that is relatively easy for me…because my employer has policies that allow me to take the time off.” There’s a lot of “because I can” there, before you even get to the time off work.

    TL;DR – Management should deal with the issue of staffing while the woman is away, and everybody else should stay out of the discussion except as it directly impacts their jobs.

    1. Celeste*

      I wondered that, too.

      The fact is, nothing about what she is doing is prohibited. This aspect just needs to be lived with.

  23. CanadianWriter*

    #2 – Your anger is really misplaced. Your coworker isn’t doing anything wrong; you should be mad at your employer, instead. It’s their job to figure out a way to cover for her.

  24. Tiff*

    Personally, I’d rather not consider or discuss why the woman is out. People have to be out of the office sometimes, and when it involves anything medical the time out can be extensive.

    It’s on the shoulders of management to handle the absence. Period. The employee in question is giving the company plenty of notice that she’ll be out for an extended time – why not use that notice effectively to ensure coverage for her while she’s out?

  25. BB*

    #2- Hate to bring in a ‘is this legal’ question but it sounds like the company gives more than the bare bones minimum leave to their employees and they are paying them which is also not required. If this is the case, is it legal to give one employee more leave than another or restrict one down to the minimum/make them unpaid? Or do they have to give everyone the same. Not suggesting the company do this- just curious

    1. Amanda*

      If it wasn’t legal than no company could give paid maternity leave or paternity leave.

      1. fposte*

        BB’s talking about differential treatment, though. And there are indeed protections against that; for instance, if you’ve given somebody with a non-pregnancy disability time beyond FMLA, it’s discriminatory to restrict pregnancy disability time to less.

        However, if you want to give Sally six months paid leave for pregnancy and Jane five months paid leave for pregnancy, the law isn’t likely to care–as long as you’re meeting any minimum required standard and not discriminating on any *illegal* basis, they don’t all have to get the same perks.

        1. Chinook*

          How about if you allow the surogacy employee to take her one month vacation time at the end of her FMLA but tell everyone else that vacation time will be be limited due to low staffing? This is not me being snarky but honestly curious.

          1. KJR*

            This reminds me that companies can require employees to take their vacation/sick leave concurrently with FMLA. That they are allowing her to tack in onto the end of the leave tells me they are on board with the whole thing.

            1. Celeste*

              In my workplace, you are required to use your paid leave if you want the first two weeks of a disability leave of any kind to be paid. I think it looks like concurrent leave, but in fact you are allowed to take those first two weeks unpaid. There is no requirement to add extra leave at the end, and in fact we need a doctor’s note authorizing return to work after such a medical leave.

              I think what’s happened here is that the staff has (so far) been willing to cover the load for no extra pay, and there is no incentive for the management to change a thing.

          2. fposte*

            As far as I know, the anti-discrimination law requires that people in the protected category aren’t discriminated against; it doesn’t mean that non-pregnant people are entitled to the same benefits as pregnant people (unless the benefits are related to something legally relevant like disability).

            1. Anonsie*

              This is my understanding as well– it’s that people with medical need are supposed to receive at least the same leave allowances as other employees, not the other way around.

  26. Recruiter*

    #5 – Another issue here is that a 20% raise isn’t an objective measure of anything. Every company has a different approach to merit raises. Some companies only give cost of living increases, even if the employee is the best performer the company’s ever seen. Some companies routinely give 20% increases. Some companies give small merit increases, but give their employees salary adjustments based on the market that can equal a 20%+ raise. The hiring manager has absolutely no insight into how your company calculates raises, so it’s meaningless information that looks like bragging.

  27. Malissa, CPA*

    #1. By all means please address this. There does seem to a problem with your supervisor. So a more head-on approach to open communication may solve this problem.
    #2. If a person is taking off 1/3 of the year for what amounts to a voluntary situation, and is in such a key position that everyone else suffers, I would hire someone else to do her job and find a new role for her that’s less key. It’s a win-win. Nobody feels put out by her decisions and the surrogate can continue to do what she loves to do with less pressure.
    #3. Yes, pull yourself out of the running if you think it’s going to be that bad.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “I would hire someone else to do her job and find a new role for her that’s less key. It’s a win-win”

      That’s a good way to find yourself on the wrong end of a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.

      1. Malissa, CPA*

        Actually if I am reading it right, the surrogate takes 16 weeks after each pregnancy. FMLA protection ends at 12 weeks. Unless various state laws are in effect. In Washington State new mothers are allowed an extra 6 weeks on top of FMLA.
        All that aside, surely management should realize how what is going on is affecting everybody. At the very least somebody needs to train and learn her job. All other issues aside her prolonged absences are an issue that needs to be dealt with, by management.

        I think we’ll definitely need a follow up on this one.

        1. fposte*

          But she’s got approved leave. You can’t approve her leave and then fire her/demote her for taking it.

          1. Malissa, CPA*

            I’m not saying fire her or demote her. There are so many other ways she could go. Maybe if this position is key enough it could be split in two. Maybe she could be promoted or moved up to a place where time off wouldn’t be so critical long before she takes time off.
            I’m saying she’s planning another four month absence, somebody else needs to know how to do her job.
            Seriously if she is this key, what would they do if she won the lottery tomorrow and never came back.
            Management has failed. This is not a surprise, this is a situation that can and should be managed.

            1. fposte*

              You used the phrase “less key,” which is pretty clearly a breach of federal law on FMLA and pregnancy discrimination.

              I understand the way you’re thinking, but it’s exactly what the law is designed to prevent–you can’t put her in a different job where her being pregnant bothers you less.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              “Seriously if she is this key, what would they do if she won the lottery tomorrow and never came back.”

              Well, they’d hire a replacement for her, which they can’t currently do because FMLA requires them to hold her job for her.

              1. Malissa, CPA*

                So why not ensure another employee in the building knows how to do that job? One they could hire a temp to fill in while this employee take on additional responsibilities?
                I look at it this way. If this lady is the only one doing payroll, then she is key in that area. Now would a company be smart in only having one person who knew how to do payroll? Absolutely not.
                Now if they payroll person was taking off 1/3 of every year , I would definitely be looking to put another person in their place. I would look at putting the former payroll person into Accounts Payable if there were a need for more than one person there. Similar work, similar position. Less of a key person because there are two people that do that job. If one person is gone for an extended amount of time, then there is somebody else there that knows what is going on.
                Or if I like this person and think she does a really great job over all maybe I promote her to AP supervisor. More pay, more money, possibly less important that she be there all the time because there is another person in AP who could serve as an interim manager during her leave or maybe I could just take over myself.
                There are win-win’s in this situation.

  28. spanky*

    Not sure if someone else already flagged them, but I think the post has a couple of typos: “considering” instead of “consideration in question #3 and “more” instead of “move” in question #4.

  29. Interviewer*

    #2 – She’s says she’s taking the time off “because she can.” I’m not an expert on etiquette, but I think, OP#2, that your co-worker might be telling you to MYOB.

    She’s been pregnant or on extended leave for most of the last 3 years. Your employer’s generous company policies created an environment for this to happen. What if it’s with their explicit blessing? She may have told them ahead of time she was planning to do this, and they may be supporting her 100%.

    You mentioned multiple pregnancies across your dept. Talk to your manager, get some coverage plans in place for maternity leaves overall, and please stop resenting this one person.

  30. Annika*

    Are people defending the surrogate because they think surrogacy is some selfless noble act and it should be encouraged? The planet is hardly underpopulated, people. It’s fine that we want to have kids that look like us but it doesn’t make anyone Mother Theresa. There is no selflessness here.

    This is no different from me liking to ski but having a weak ankle so breaking my ankle every year and taking off three months on FMLA to recover. At some point, I need to stop skiing. Legally, I can keep skiing every year and I have a moral “right” to ski as I have a moral right to do what I want with my own body. But I am ethically in the wrong as the surrogate is.

    Legally, the way to resolve this is to have the leave follow the baby. You should just get a bank of maternity leave per child and if the surrogate takes it, the parent can’t. That would put an end to parents double dipping for the same kid.

    1. KellyK*

      Regardless of your feelings on overpopulation, being a surrogate is a kindness done to the couple who wants that child. It’s an enormous gift (yes, even if the surrogate mother gets compensated for her time) that encompasses nine or ten months of her life, a raft of health complications and risks, and a lot of complicated emotions.

      And the amount of maternity leave most companies give is short enough to be medical leave more than family bonding leave (although it serves both purposes). If the leave legally goes with the child, then either a woman who has just given birth uses her vacation for medical leave, when no one else at the organization has to do that, or she’s somehow expected to return to work immediately after having a baby.

      1. fposte*

        I’m with you on the job thing, but the fact that people receiving the benefit are pleased with it doesn’t make it into an enormous gift. It’s a really ethically complex transaction.

        1. Celeste*

          I think it’s entirely possible that for some, surrogacy is a business transaction at heart.

          1. fposte*

            Right; it’s an immensely variable and varied act even in a single situation, and there’s no way to say across the board that it’s either an enormous gift or simply “renting out her womb,” as phrased upthread. The fact that people get something they really want out of a situation doesn’t mean it’s inherently noble. Which is okay–it doesn’t have to be–but all the more reason why the workplace decision shouldn’t be based on individual takes on surrogacy.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Good grief. “Overpopulation” has nothing to do with anything here. Neither does the silly idea that allowing parental leave both to cover dependent care AND recovery from childbirth is “double dipping” when different people do it. Do you also think that it is “double dipping” if a brother and sister take leave from their respective jobs to care for a dying parent? Or is that like skiing, too? “Hey, we have enough people on the planet, why are you worrying about one more just because he’s your dad?”

  31. KellyK*

    #2 – Surrogate Mother

    I have some pretty strong feelings here that the people accusing this woman of being selfish or taking advantage of her coworkers are really out of line. Whether or not you want to be pregnant, whether we’re talking about surrogacy or having your own kids, is one of the most intensely personal decisions there is, and whether it conveniences her coworkers shouldn’t come into it. Would you expect a pregnant coworker to have an abortion if she was due at an inconvenient time for the company? Would you ask an infertile coworker to forgo treatment so that she doesn’t end up missing too much work with IVF appointments and then maternity leave? Would you ask a woman with health issues that might complicate pregnancy but who wants a child to get her tubes tied instead because she might have a long recovery that would inconvenience her coworkers?

    Your coworkers’ opinions on whether or not you should have a baby and under what circumstances are as irrelevant as their opinions on whether you should get Lasik or wear contacts or glasses, what color you paint your bedroom, and what kind of underwear you want. Period. End of story.

    She *does* have a responsibility to tie up as many loose ends as she can before going out on leave and make it as easy as she can.

    And her employer has a responsibility to divide up the work in such a way that people aren’t getting burned out. That might mean they need to hire more people, do more cross-training, or schedule vacations better. It might also mean their paid maternity leave is too generous, or that they should distinguish between leave to recover from pregnancy and leave to bond with a new baby (but she’d still be entitled to 12 weeks unpaid through FMLA). But none of those are decisions the surrogate is making and it’s not appropriate or fair to act as though she’s responsible for them.

    1. aebhel*

      Are you saying that people shouldn’t tailor every aspect of their personal lives to the convenience of their workplace? OUTRAGEOUS.

  32. SallyForth*

    #1 The person who should be writing in should be the manager! Something like “I was in a meeting and the room was hot so we opened the door. Now I realize that one of my employees may have overheard my criticism.” This is a good lesson on how sound carries.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I once learned I was getting fired due to crappy sound insulation in a conference room. The good news is that I figured out when it was happening and was very prepared for it.

      The bad news is that the rest of the office heard it too.

      Hard to have any dignity in a situation like that.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Ouch, sorry that happened to you. How did you prepare for it and how long did it take to happen after you heard about it? I’m just thinking that if it was several months or something, that would have been rough to keep on going to work knowing it was coming.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I had about a week. I was really young so my only objective was not to cry and I did achieve that.

          What really sucked is that I would have been completely blindsided had I not overheard anything–not long before I had been given an outstanding performance review and a raise. Then they fired me “for performance.” Then they sent me an email afterward apologizing for not having the resources to support my role. Then they called me for like 2 months afterward to ask me questions, and refused to release my vacation pay unless I have them what they needed.

          It was a very crappy place to work and being let go ended up being a positive thing–my next job was an incredibly successful 8-year run that ultimately led me to where I am now.

  33. Callie30*

    #1 – My boss often gets frustrated with different people due to misunderstandings, as well – with me and others – sometimes related to productivity. I agree with Alison – Definitely address this, especially if you’re able to constructively.

    We unfortunately are never able to because there is NO reasoning with our boss here the majority of the time, even when it comes to explaining a situation. It definitely affects morale and induces a fearful workplace.

    Example – My boss was angry at me the other day because I seemingly didn’t receive a critical text message. I had never received it – It was an Android-Apple issue in transmission. When I asked the question that was answered in that previous text, my boss became angry and blamed me for not reading her text and not responding. I tried to explain it, but she claimed I was making excuses. Oye. Note that I was also en route and driving to one of our work sites and can’t always text back right away, even if I had received it!

  34. Biff*

    As I understand, you can’t take FMLA every single year. It sounds like the surrogate mom is taking FMLA every single year and her whole vacation in one go, every single year, and then returning to work pregnant to do it again. I don’t think this is regularly permitted because (for example) “CMS uses a ‘rolling calendar’ to determine your eligibility for FMLA. This means that when you request leave, only the leave taken within the past 12 months will count against your 12 week maximum. ” This means that she shouldn’t be able to take full leave EVERY 12 months, but only ever 16. She might be breaking the law.

    Furthermore, It sounds like using the whole 12 weeks after a relatively normal birth is actually not supported by the law. The official site says “Under the regulations, a mother can use 12 weeks of FMLA leave for the birth of a child, for prenatal care and incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for his spouse who is incapacitated (due to pregnancy or child birth).” Also, ““serious health condition” is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.”

    Finally, it also appears that companies can decide to not authorize vacation time that extends the leave. I think it would be advisable to have a policy that says something like “Unless taking FMLA or a Leave of Absence, no vacation may be scheduled that lasts longer than 3 consecutive weeks. Vacation may not be scheduled at the beginning or the end of a leave of absence of FMLA leave.”

    1. aebhel*

      She’s not breaking the law if her workplace is approving the time off. That’s like saying that because my workplace allows up to six months (unpaid, I’m not that lucky) for maternity leave, I’m breaking the law by taking it.

      FMLA means that her employer is legally required to hold her job for up to 12 weeks. It doesn’t say that she’s required to be back to work as soon as those 12 weeks are up.

    2. fposte*

      “As I understand, you can’t take FMLA every single year. ”

      Yes, you can. It’s up to the workplace how they calculate a year–there are four different ways to calculate it, and one of them is calendar year.

      1. fposte*

        *Though it’s worth noting that you do have to have worked 1250 hours in the previous twelve months to be eligible regardless of the calendaring chosen.

      2. Biff*

        That might be so, my understanding is a little shaky, but it looks like they are only eligible for the whole 12 weeks every twelve months. So, if she works 9 months, takes off four, goes back to work for 9 months…. she only has ‘accrued’ 8 of the 12 weeks she can take.


        It’s going to vary by company, etc.

        But it does seem to be a stretch of the laws, if not an outright abuse.

        1. fposte*

          No, if your employer goes by calendar year, you’d be eligible for the full twelve weeks in the new calendar year as long as you’d worked 1250 hours (roughly 31 weeks). There’s no time “accrual”–you’re either eligible for FMLA or you’re not, with no intervening amount of days in between.

        2. Biff*

          Sorry, I’ve done some research — actually she IS breaking the law, because at the point she’s been back for 8 months, she’s eligible zero FMLA leave no matter how I slice it up. The company is of course, the one that needs to point out she’s not eligible, so this isn’t on her yet, but yeah, what she’s doing is definitely NOT protected by law at this point. (This wouldn’t have been true the first time she did this, because she hadn’t used it before, but she’s going into each year with NO FMLA leave in her ‘bank.’ So yes, this isn’t a protected use of the leave as best as I can tell.

          Company policy migh be very different from federal standards, however.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The law doesn’t require that she wait 12 months for her next FMLA leave; it’s up to the company, and they can use the calendar year if they want.

            But even if that weren’t true, she’s not breaking the law if the company is allowing her to do this, which they are. However, it’s possible that the company doesn’t realize the limits of what the law requires — but that’s on them for not finding out, not on her for taking what they’ve offered her.

            1. Biff*

              Alison, it does and it doesn’t. Say they have a ‘set period” instead of a rolling period. Say it starts on October 1st.

              Presume Surrogate Mom is out starting September 1st. She returns to work in January. She is pregnant again. She puts in for FMLA leave again in September. At that time, she’s eligible for 1 month. She will be eligible for 3 months at the beginning of October. Say she takes it. Again, she returns to work, pregnant in Jan. Come September, there is no leave for her to take under the provisions of the law.

              Now, the company might give it to her anyway. And it sounds like they have. However, if they flip to a rolling 12 month period, they may put a stop to her behavior, which is neither ethical nor productive.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But it’s up to the company whether they approve the leave. She’s not breaking any law by requesting it, or by taking it if they approve it.

              2. fposte*

                Biff, I really think you’re reading an organization’s policy website and not FMLA proper–there is no “accrual” of FMLA where one would be eligible for only 1 month after a certain amount of work time. If they’re going by calendar year, which the law absolutely allows (and it doesn’t allow them to change the way they judge years for individual employees), she’s absolutely eligible for FMLA again in September assuming she’s worked full 40 hour weeks after returning in January, because she’s worked over 1250 hours. If you’re seeing something different on a .gov site, can you post the link so that we can figure out what’s up?

                Mind you, that’s why most places don’t do calendar years for FMLA, and, as Alison has already noted, FMLA is a moot point if the employer has authorized the leave. But she could definitely be entitled to two leaves in under twelve months under FMLA if her employer uses a calendaring system that makes it possible.

              3. Editor*

                The surrogate isn’t doing one pregnancy per year. The OP said she’s done two in three years, which sounds close together but with enough time to recover between pregnancies. That’s also enough time to become re-eligible for FMLA. Averaging two pregnancies for every three years is still hard on the co-workers, but it isn’t quite an annual event.

            2. Biff*

              Also, this still does not fall under the issue of serious medical distress as per paragraph two.

              1. fposte*

                I’m not sure what document you’re referring to–I’m not finding that phrase in the actual text of the FMLA–but in general it’s not for employers to determine what constitutes medical need, it’s for the employee’s doctor.

                1. Biff*

                  Right, there is no child to care for, so she would only be eligible for the time it takes her to be cleared to return to work. Anything the company gives her beyond that is aiding her in scamming the company out of time.

          2. Jamie*

            That’s kind of like saying my employer is breaking the law because they aren’t paying me minimum wage.

            FMLA and minimum wage are there to enforce the minimum the employer is required to do. No one is in violation of anything if their practice is more generous than the law allows.

          3. aebhel*

            Dude, no, that is not how the law works, and I’m really curious to know where you did this ‘research’.

  35. FD*

    Would the thought process change if the person was a Mormon/traditional Catholic/a variety of evangelical who didn’t believe in birth control, and ended up pregnant fairly regularly as a result?

    1. Ruffingit*

      It wouldn’t for me because to me, it’s more about how balancing being fair to the job and making your own life choices. If you’re pregnant every single year and taking three – four months off each time, you’re gone about 1/3 of every year. Have all the kids you want, but I think you need to assess whether it’s fair of you to take that much time away from your job and them have to cover your position that long and that often. Whether it’s legal or not for you to do it is less the issue for me as much as “Can you actually give the time necessary to this job?” If not, then let someone have the job who can.

    2. fposte*

      I was thinking above about the way people complain when parents are out for kid illnesses and other kid-related reasons and thinking the OP might want to appreciate what she’s got.

  36. Joline*

    When I read this I wondered if the pregnant woman was in effect bragging to other co-workers – that she is medically ready to return to work after six weeks but takes the whole leave because “she can.”

    In the end the employer is still the the one in charge of writing and enforcing their policies and of ensuring proper coverage for people left in the office.

    It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure things are still running smoothly, not that of the pregnant woman. But I do see how it could be frustrating for the co-workers of the pregnant woman if it’s like the situation I described above – even if she’s not doing anything wrong in accordance with HR policies.

  37. soitgoes*

    I think this conversation is being derailed by the idea that repeated surrogacy is common, as if every woman in the world would be pregnant all the time if she could. This is….sooooooooo not true. Most women do not wholeheartedly enjoy being pregnant or giving birth. It’s safe to say that this is a woman with a fairly uncommon outlook. Not bad by any means, but to act like this is a scam that’s likely to be repeated by multiple women is missing the point here. It’s hard to make a hard-and-fast rule for a situation like this, since most women who have that many kids aren’t going to enter the workforce in the first place.

    While allowing her the leave time sticks to the letter of the law, I think we’re all hovering around wondering if this situation suits the spirit of the law. I wouldn’t encourage this (or not), but if it’s known that this woman will be pregnant every year or two, I’m sure the company will wait a safe amount of time before letting her go for another work-related, legitimate reason, especially if the company is in an at-will state.

  38. Editor*

    More than a decade ago, a guy I know was one of four employees in a department, working with three women. They each got pregnant but fortunately the maternity leaves did not overlap. However, for most of one year things were pretty fraught around his office, and he was expected, during each pregnancy, to handle more of the backup because the other workers were pregnant or had just delivered and were either preparing to be off or adjusting to coming back.

    This was frustrating for him, because he was salaried, worked a lot of unpaid overtime, got no recognition or thanks from management, while he tried not to resent the people he worked with. It’s fine to say his company had bad management (which they did) and should have hired someone to fill in for the bulk of that year (people with the necessary skills were available). But they didn’t, and because of a bad local job market, he had no recourse.

    Now, to go off on a short tangent, companies used to kind of ignore the accrued liability of the cost of accumulated vacation time because they could, until the Financial Accounting Standards Board informed them that it had to be posted as a liability. Now a lot of companies have a use-it-or-lose it policy or some other restrictions on vacation time so it doesn’t show up on the books as a future financial obligation. Not accounting for the cost of vacations was a sloppy management practice that was mostly ignored by managers because of convention.

    Now many workplaces have problems covering work for employees who are on vacation, out sick, using FMLA, serving in the military, or otherwise unavailable. There are common and sloppy management practices that view all office work as fungible items that can be transferred to other employees without additional cost. Employers don’t look at their workforce and annual budget and build in a figure to cover such contingencies. Maybe they would if the FASB told them to, or if it suddenly became fashionable to plan for the problem because the Harvard Business Journal said so. There might be more relief for employees if there was some kind of insurance setup for employers to buy into to cover the cost of vacation, illness, FMLA or similar situations.

    It’s fine to say good management would hire someone to cover these absences, but in an economy where many budgets have been pared to the bone, a whole string of managers can beg and plead for money, and one higher-up after another says there’s no money there because the profit numbers have been calculated so closely that if an analyst comes up with a higher than expected profit figure, all of management is in the soup trying to meet that number (even if it is unrealistic) in order to keep the stock price stable or increasing. The wrong principles are driving budgeting decisions at businesses, and managers don’t manage things like maternity leaves well because there is no external force that compels them to plan properly.

    1. Celeste*

      I used to work someplace before the use it/lose it policy came out. It was common for men to work their whole career there and upon retirement, receive 6 months of full pay (at their final hourly rate) for vacation they accrued and never used. It is a heck of a way to live, but for some people, it was all about making every dime they could.

  39. OP2*

    So, I started reading all the comments on my letter quite late .. And wow! I am really very grateful to have been able to gain a
    It of different perspectives on the issue. I haven’t had time to read through all of them, but thanks Alison, and everyone else who left thoughtful comments.

    I really hate that the culture on my office can be quite gossipy at times .. I tried hard to stay out of it, and this whole issue makes me really want to step back even more.

    This particular coworker has a lot of personality issues that people clash with, but it’s not my issue to take up. Thankfully, we do get along in a professional capacity.

    I also agree that this is more of a management issue with regard to reassigning her work while she is out. Our department runs so lean that when someone even calls in sick for a day we all feel the strain; continuing to address workload concerns needs to be a priority. And ignoring any obnoxious comments made by the coworker or about her …

  40. Springy*

    WOW! I once had a co-worker that did this for profit and bragged about how she got paid very well for it and still got a check from her full time job every payday. She had done it twice before I got there and was planning on doing it again but I left for another job before she had the chance. She looked at it as no big deal and told me to try it for extra money when she heard I was looking for a part-time retail job. She had no attachment issues at all whatsoever and said that when Mother’s day came she got cards and pictures from the parents she helped that she tossed in the trash every year because she couldn’t care less about the little brats (her words, not mine). Interacting with her everyday made me wonder what kind of human doesn’t get attached to a life that they carry for 9 months. I thought she was one of a kind, but apparently I was wrong. Reading the OP’s email made me realize that people actually do this just for the money. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked at what people do for cash….they lie, cheat, steal and kill for it, so why not get pregnant for it. People with this kind of mentality don’t give a crap about their co-workers, managers or workload. People like this will sue the company as soon as a change is made to prevent them from receiving what is legally theirs to have even though it’s obvious that they are working the system. If it bothers the OP that much then she should look for another job because this woman has a good thing going and isn’t giving it up. It’s all about the money.

  41. Mena*

    #2: the repeated maternity leaves need to be the employer’s problem and not the colleagues’ problem. Push on how this can be better staffed. If she is specialized and cannot be temped, are there aspects of others’ workloads that could be temped which would allow knowledgeable resources to free-up and cover for her?

  42. Vicki*

    I’m having some trouble with #1, wrt the “supervisor” and the “boss”.

    I’m guessing that OP #1 reports to supervisor and supervisor reports to “boss”?

    (too many words for the same thing.)

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