should I have told my employee I figured out she’s pregnant so I could offer her flexibility?

A reader writes:

A friend and I are both huge AAM fans, and we’ve been in a discussion today about how I should have handled a situation, so I thought I’d go right to the source and get your opinion.

I work for a very small nonprofit but we pride ourselves on being very good with our benefits, paid parental leave, and all of that. We’ve never had a pregnant staffer, so all of our plans are in theory and not yet been tested in real life.

We’ve been having issues lately with staff not adhering to our office hours of 9-5 and coming and going as they see fit, so I had to call a special staff meeting last week to address it and let them know that we can no longer be as flexible as we once were because too many people were abusing the system. This also includes a lot of “I don’t feel well so I’m going to sleep a bit longer and then work from home today once I feel better” when we do not allow work from home except in rare circumstances. I had to stop all of that and tell everyone we needed them in the office 9-5 every day.

One of my staff has had several medical appointments lately (which is not a problem), and eventually I put two and two together and realized she was likely pregnant. She had come to me last week to ask how she should handle her hours for a day where a quick appointment had turned into three hours, and she wanted to make sure she wasn’t abusing the system. Today she stopped by my office so I asked her to close the door so we had some privacy, and I said, “You do not at all have to confirm anything to me, but I want you to know that I think I’ve figured out your medical issue, and if I am correct, I just want you to know that we will be as flexible as needed during this time, don’t worry about the crackdown on hours and work from home stuff that I told everyone last week, we want to make this all as easy on you as possible.”

My friend thinks I should have waited for her to tell me before saying anything, but I felt that it would be less stressful on her to know that I already know, so she didn’t have to spend the next few weeks hiding it from us and trying to figure out how to balance her work and her medical appointments, especially since she had already come to me with a question on it, though without telling me what the medical issue was. In the end, we’d be accommodating to whatever the medical issue was, but knowing that different issues require different accommodations, and this one specially needed flexibility in the areas we just announced a crackdown on, I thought it was better to get out ahead of it.

What is the best way to have handled this?

Yeah, I’m with your friend on this!

I absolutely get that you were trying to be kind and reassuring and make the employee’s life less stressful. And those are good instincts.

But “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue” can be an alarming thing to hear! First, it means that you were speculating on her health (and maybe her body), which is uncomfortable. Second, you could have been wrong. If she isn’t pregnant and something else is going on, she might be wondering what you’re talking about, or thinking it’s very odd that you’ve figured out she’s getting treated for gallstones or whatever. (And if she realizes you mean pregnancy and she’s actually struggling with infertility, there’s an additional layer of Not Great in there.) Plus, if she is pregnant but planning to terminate the pregnancy (or it’s not viable and she’s going to lose it) and didn’t want anyone at work to know, that’s a problem. Basically, there are a lot of scenarios here where you could have made her feel uncomfortable and like her privacy was violated.

Or, to be fair, it’s also possible that she was really grateful for what you said! Plenty of people would appreciate what you said, and the sentiment behind it.

But when you’re talking about employees’ medical privacy, it’s better to err on the side of respecting people’s privacy.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you couldn’t have conveyed the rest of your message. Ideally you would have said something like, “When I talked to the staff about cutting back on flexibility with our hours, I should have been clearer that I wasn’t talking about time when people need flexibility for doctor’s appointments and medical care. When you or anyone else has a medical situation, we’ll be as flexible as needed. We want to make that as easy as possible on you, so just let me know what you need and we’ll work around it.”

That’s not quite as specific as naming pregnancy allowed you to be, but it gets the basics out there. And then if at some point she does announce she’s pregnant, you can get more specific at that point if it’s needed.

{ 435 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For the purposes of the comment section on this post, I’m going to ask that we take the letter writer’s word that they have business reasons for limiting working from home / flexibility with hours (since otherwise that could end up becoming very derailing and detracting from the crux of the question).

  2. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

    Not really part of the question, but I’m not a huge fan of We Are Taking Away Everyone’s Perks Because Some People Take Advantage.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      That was what struck me–this sounds like the group email to address the behavior of a few. Better to be explicit with the few, rather than hope they deduce that when you say “everyone be here by nine” you mean them, specifically.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, that to me is like when we were in school, and one or two kids did something, the whole class was punished for it.

    2. OP*

      Not that it matters to this discussion, but it’s never been a perk we offered, some people just decided they had the perk and were using it, despite policy against it, and things have been a little loosey goosey for a while around here and part of why I was brought in was to get everyone back in line again, so we took away a perk that was never offered, but had somehow become part of common practice and needed to be cut out.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Oh wow – how in the world did they get away with working remotely when that was never a thing?! Lol! Those are some bold employees.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It’s where “better to ask forgiveness than permission” naturally leads as a strategy. (Though I must note that for a while here, the gumption seems to have worked fine.)

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I guess. I have that mentality, too, but it never extended to just working from home when I wanted to, lol. I guess maybe I’m more of a rule follower than I thought.

            1. LovecraftInDC*

              I don’t think it’s a rule follower situation, I think it’s a consideration for coworkers thing.

          2. sam*

            there’s also obviously a big difference between a few times a year where you have a legit emergency and need to stay home (like needing to wait for a plumber or *actually* being sick and not wanting to spread germs but not too sick to work), and folks who apparently just start to do this semi-regularly. If people had stuck to the former, this probably would have never been an issue.

        2. OP*

          We have a wonderful boss who treats us all very well but will never discipline anyone or say anything to them, even if you spit directly in his face. He will suffer in silence and never say anything, but keeps me around specifically because I can be his bad guy and rein people in for him when things go too far, which is what happened here. I know this all sounds very horrible, but it really is a great working environment and we have a great staff who love working here, but every organization will need some course correction every once in a while.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            It doesn’t sound horrible, but it doesn’t sound great that your boss is a pushover. He’s very smart for recognizing that though and hiring someone who doesn’t mind stepping in to play bad cop once in a while on his behalf.

          2. Devil Fish*

            None of that sounds horrible. The boss being unwilling to manage isn’t ideal but he’s at least aware that this is an issue enough to work around it by hiring you. I would suggest coming up with a formal work from home policy (if it’s not available at all, that’s the policy) and maybe throw something in there about work from home as a potential medical accommodation if that’s a possibility, since it sounds like you’ve already offered that option to the possibly pregnant coworker.

            And please keep in mind that employees may experience other medical conditions besides pregnancy that could also benefit from using a work from home option. If I was working somewhere that went out of their minds throwing special accommodations at a pregnant coworker but didn’t offer me similar accommodations when I was going through cancer treatment (for example) or having to go to frequent medical appointments to sort out a condition, I would be looking for a new job as soon as I was able.

        3. MicroManagered*

          I work in an office with very ill-defined rules around working remotely, so I can see how this could happen. We are all equipped with laptops “just in case” (our work is considered essential if the building were bit by a tornado, for example). Our grandboss works from home roughly one day a week. Some managers and more senior folks work from home with some, but slightly less, regularity.

          I’ve battled snowstorms to get to work, only to find most of the office took their laptops and are working from home–but no explicit permission or encouragement to do this was given. I’ve been allowed to work from home when expecting a furniture delivery, but told it’s “not allowed” (while being allowed to do it).

          I don’t know if OP’s office has this problem or not, but I’m pointing out that it can exist. :)

          1. So sleepy*

            Yeah, we’re the same. It’s not really a “perk” that is offered, just something that is allowed corporately and some people do, but any unit can decide it’s not something they want to allow. Since management and professional positions manage their own work and hours, most of us will work from home as needed, with the assumption that we would be told if we can’t do it. I don’t consider it a perk so much as a convenience, so I’m never overly annoyed when it occasionally isn’t an option.

            1. Door Guy*

              My last job (once I was in management and not tech level) was really good about letting you work from home if something came up (sick kids, repair man, etc) as long as you didn’t abuse it. (Although with all the changes that had happened opportunity to do so was dwindling as we had more scheduled work vs. monthly inspection quotas) Honestly, I hated working from home because it felt like I worked longer than I would have it I had left.

              Apparently, though, it sounded like that was changing. About 2 months before I left we had gotten a new Regional Manager and he came down HARD on my coworker who was home with a sick kid right as I was getting ready to put in my notice. Cue everyone getting copied on a nasty email from said RM about no one wanting to find out what kind of conversation he’d be having with you if he caught your truck at your home during the hours of 8-4.

              1. Marie*

                Sounds like a great strategy for making sure the whole office catches every cold/flu that goes around the local day care. I adore my snotty wee Petri dish but my coworkers shouldn’t have to.

          2. Wintermute*

            It sounds like you may want to do what OldJob did and set up a defined facility for emergency and limit the laptops to there. We had the advantages of having facilities all over the country (data centers and cellular network switching facilities) and the network ops center was absolutely 100% required to be 100% online no matter what, understandable given that cellular networks are life-and-safety critical and especially important in cases like disasters, civil unrest or anything else that could destroy an office building.

            We had a local facility a few blocks away and one about three hours away that had cabinets with laptops, cellular data routers (in case the fiber optics were out), generators, a few boxes of MREs, bottled water, everything we would need to hole up and run the network as long as it held together even in case of something truly disastrous.

            You wouldn’t need THAT much, but if you have another place somewhere, even a large retail building or a satellite office, put a cabinet in it, some laptops kept powered up, charged and connected (so they update properly) and make that your emergency plan rather than issue everyone laptops to be abused.

        4. Senor Montoya*

          We have a new employee who’s done that a few times already, didn’t feel well, decided not to drive in and emailed the boss that they’d be working from home today. We can flex/remote work a bit, but it has to be approved in advance and most of the time we need to be in the office. And sometimes we MUST be in the office if we’re working (= you must have previously approved annual leave or be out sick if your body is not at your desk) — this month is one of those times.
          Not a good look for a new employee…

          1. Marie*

            Ugh, someone needs to tell that person what you just told us. I’m in my mid 30s and have only worked in places where WFH was not a big deal at all. It would be a surprise to find myself suddenly in a situation where it was damaging to my reputation.

            1. Jen2*

              Yes! That new hire is probably coming from a company like yours or mine, where sleeping in and then working from home is the typical way of handling an illness that’s serious enough where it would be hard to commute in, but not so much that you couldn’t focus on work for a couple of hours.

      2. Jennifer*

        I’ve seen this and been a part of it unfortunately because I was never clear on what the rules were. The bosses had to have a similar meeting here. I totally get where you’re coming from.

        1. Shocked Pikachu*

          Same here. In my experience, if there are no clear rules set in place, then the default becomes “if it’s not forbidden, it’s allowed”.

        2. Door Guy*

          I got hammered once for a data usage violation on my company cell because no one could tell me what the actual policy was. I knew what it was when I was a tech, but when I got promoted, the other supervisor took my phone and was on a call with someone at corporate while I was filling out paperwork. He brought it back and told me that it was now unlocked and not to go on any dirty websites. I asked him about the data limit and he told me “They’ve never said anything to me.” I asked other supervisors “I don’t think we have one, I don’t even have internet at home and just use the phone hotspot to watch youtube while I’m closing and my wife checks her Facebook page, they’ve never said anything to me about it.” Even the GM said he wasn’t sure and would check and then never got back to me.

          14 months after I started as a supervisor, I get a call from my GM that I’m using too much data. At the time, my personal phone had died and I was streaming music through the hands free while I was driving around the tri-state area. Apparently, we had a 2 gb limit per phone and I had used 16 and the company was upset (not just at me, but all the people over). I told him truthfully everything I’d been told and I got a mild chastisement with a “Don’t do it again” and he left it at that. 2 weeks later the office HR rep was asking me if I had signed my write-up. Apparently, whoever at corporate suddenly started caring about data overages demanded everyone in violation get a write up. Thankfully it was my first (and only) so it was only a documented verbal, but it still irked me something fierce.

          1. CanCan*

            Companies should have a policy around using work equipment for non-work purposes, setting out any exceptions (e.g. reasonable amount of personal browsing, on your own time – which I would think includes checking AAM on breaks) and limits. Not fair to give you a write-up without any kind of prior notice.

            1. Door Guy*

              About a month after it all happened we did get an updated data usage policy. Too late for me but at least I got to be used as an example :/

              The person demanding the write ups was the PA for the President of our company. Our local PA told us that she does everything possible to stay off her radar because she enjoys wielding the power that comes with the position. She’s also one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” types as well – laughs off her own mistakes but writes you up for making the same one.

      3. A*

        That’s especially interesting in relation to the remote working. Dang, it never occurred to me to just… do it without even asking/getting permission at a new employer lol.

        That being said, the schedule flexibility ‘abuse’ may not have been intentional. I’ve never had a salaried position where I didn’t have that level of flexibility, and it’s never been a perk that is explicitly called out or “given”. This has been across multiple industries. It’s just been the increasing norm that so long as the work is getting done, everyone’s performing well, and meet their job description (which, of course, for some people requires set hours), the rest is up to the individual. I can 100% see a scenario where I start at a new employer and inadvertently overstep in this regard because I genuinely had no idea it wasn’t standard practice. Everywhere I’ve worked has had different degrees of flexibility, it’s not like it’s a free for all – but we come and go without needing permission/accounting for a specific number of hours etc.

        You clearly had the best of intentions in this situation, and while I agree with Alison’s advice – your heart was in the right place and hopefully your employee can see that!

    3. Degen From Upcountry*

      I’m truly very surprised to hear someone day “I’m a big AAM” fan and immediately follow up with this detail.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, see above. It’s really easy to misunderstand a letter writer’s situation this way when you don’t have all the details, but the explanation above makes perfect sense.

        1. Arctic*

          But you almost always remind people that requiring someone be there on the dot at 9 is not a good practice unless completely necessary.

          1. Meredith*

            Docking pay or PTO for coming in at 9:05 would be over the top, and Alison wouldn’t support that, but telling people who are working maybe 6 hours from home, when WFH isn’t allowed or a policy, or people who may be coming in at 10 or 11 or leaving at 4 or whatever that their contracted hours are 9-5 doesn’t seem onerous, especially if it’s an industry where coverage is necessary.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes. And this is a letter without details around that and where it’s not the crux of the question. (And the additional details we have now in the comments bear that out.)

          2. Bee*

            But “we need everyone in the office 9-5 every day” is not the same as and doesn’t even really imply that they’ll be punished if they show up at 9:02. It just means they can’t roll up at 10:30 without asking in advance.

            1. Flash Bristow*

              Yeah. My team got told “we know if you enter late you’ll stay late… But we need at least ONE of you at the desk by 9 every day, work it out among yourselves, otherwise you’ll all have to be here then.”

              Worked for me.

              Another job, we had to be there at 9am on a Friday for the head honcho’s briefing, but otherwise you just make sure all your work is done and any scheduled commitments are done.

              But ringing to say “ahh, I’m a bit hungover, don’t think I’ll come in today, I’ll be online in an hour or two tho”? No. Firm no.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Well, I don’t think many offices would allow that last one anyone. Unless maybe it’s a public affairs firm that has a lot of late nights? I dunno.

              2. Meredith*

                Seem unprofessional to tell your boss you’re hungover, but in my office it’s common for people to say they aren’t feeling well and they’re taking half a sick day, but they’ll be online in the afternoon. Or they’re not feeling well and they’ll put in a half-day worth of work, but they’re not at top performance level, so they’ll also take a half sick day. Or they’ll take a full sick day. Or they’re just working from home because they woke up with a sore throat and cough and don’t want to spread it around or leave their couch.

                But that’s MY office, and we all have jobs where working remotely is acceptible and easy because of our industry and the tools we have set up to make it happen. It’s also documented policy that we are allowed to do that.

            2. Mama Bear*

              Many companies have “core hours” to prevent people from working hours that never overlap with anyone else. Sounds to me like they want people in the office during core hours, which in their case is 9-5. Here if you’re not going to be in during our core hours for at least half the day, you are encouraged to convert to PTO if you haven’t requested WFH.

              We lost the privilege of WFH without permission because of a Very Big Deal from before I arrived. I miss it somewhat, but I understand.

          3. TootsNYC*

            having too many people too often coming in late or working from home without notice can make for some real inefficiencies in terms of people not being there when others need them, or when clients need them, etc.

            1. A*

              Sure, but there it’s also not black/white. Obviously this is only one example, but in my current position I (& everyone else at the company in salaried positions) has a work cell and we are expected to be available via Skype/Teams during standard business hours. We can come and go as needed etc. but we are expected to be checking our email at least once an hour.

              We’re in highly collaborative positions with tight timelines, but it hasn’t been an issue. Occasionally new hires won’t work out because they end up unable to accurately gauge the business needs (i.e. “there’s a major, time sensitive issue going on that only I can speak to, maybe leaving early isn’t a good idea”), but it’s rare. We just have to be really diligent in having high expectations of performance and output to ensure we aren’t being negatively impacted by the flexibility.

              Doesn’t work for every position/industry/organization, but it’s certainly possible to have that level of flexibility without harming the bottom line.

        2. Degen From Upcountry*

          Allison, I think OP and I commented at the same time… I hadn’t seen the comment yet.

    4. i_am_eating_cheetos*

      It also seems like insensitivity to medical issues! If you can’t slightly sleep in and then work from home, you need to take a sick day and potentially go to the doctor—which the company should be clear they are very supportive of. If that was made clear, the pregnant employee would have no issues.

      Love your username, btw.

      1. valentine*

        If you can’t slightly sleep in and then work from home, you need to take a sick day and potentially go to the doctor—which the company should be clear they are very supportive of.
        What you can do, OP, is to make the threshold and flexibility options clear. Not feeling well isn’t enough, but what is and how much detail are you expecting? Will you be disappointed if your employee isn’t pregnant and what if you have to tell her the admonition does apply to her because you can’t be as flexible with condition x or acute versus chronic is crucial?

    5. embertine*

      Back in my previous role, my bosses banned us from going on site visits because one member of the team used to arrange “site visits” every Friday and then go shopping with his wife for the whole day. Every week. Visiting a site to look at access, site conditions and logistics was an essential part of the job.

      Rather than confronting this person, they stopped everyone else from doing their jobs effectively. Eventually they fired me for a mistake that happened because… I hadn’t seen the site. Good work, management.

    1. theelephantintheroom*

      I’ve said this to cashiers…. Unbelievable what people will just assume about strangers.

      1. theelephantintheroom*

        Though in fairness to them, it did help me realize empire-waist blouses do not flatter me.

          1. juliebulie*

            Agreed. I’m wearing one now, and I think I just figured out why someone was giving me the side-eye at lunch while I was drinking a mai tai.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                You should wear whatever you want to wear and feel good in. People can take their assumptions and shove ’em.

                1. juliebulie*

                  I don’t care that they disapproved of my drinking, but I really would prefer not to look pregnant if I’m not pregnant.

              1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                An empire-waist dress is one where it cinches in just below the bust, rather than at the waist, so it’s loose-flowing from the ribs on downwards.

                1. Rainy*

                  They are EXTREMELY beneficial if you are long-waisted and tall like me, because something that’s meant to be empire-waisted is cut in a more flattering way than something that just ends up being high-waisted because it’s made for someone who is 5’2″ and you are 5’9″.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Ouch. They actually do slim down my figure. I’ve never been accused of being pregnant while wearing one.

            Lots of time it’s the size and not the cut necessarily.

            1. Rainy*

              They look great on me, and nobody has ever assumed I’m pregnant because I was wearing an empire-waist dress or top, but cmmv I guess. :D

          3. theelephantintheroom*

            Where the hell were you when I was in my 20s??? (The joys of growing up a tomboy is figuring out the basics if fashion way too late.)

        1. Essess*

          Agreed… I threw one away when I got home because a complete stranger on the sidewalk congratulated me as they passed by me on my walk home.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          Ha, I was 30 pounds overweight for a few years and had a shirt that must have made me look pregnant because I was offered a subway seat whenever I wore it. I started wearing it on purpose on days when I was really tired and didn’t feel like standing for an hour.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        What I love is when people insist that you MUST be pregnant! No, really, I’m not. Aw, c’mon, you can tell me, I know you’re pregnant. No, really and truly I’m not, and you being so pushy means you will be the last person to know when I am.

        One excellent thing about getting old is that no one makes that mistake any more.

        1. Rainy*

          I have had that happen, from a total stranger, on public transit, while wearing a very form-fitting coat. I did not look remotely pregnant, but the bus that took me to campus also went past a hospital, and apparently if you have a ginormous rack and are riding the bus away from a hospital, some people will feel like they get to make assumptions.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      It happened to me when I had the checkup for my current job. The “doctor” in charge talked in a condescending tone as if I was lying while calling me “mami”. I told her my period is irregular, but I don’t think she believed it.

      1. boo bot*

        In fairness, people do use “mami” kind of like “hon.” It’s kind of familiar for a doctor’s appointment, but doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about whether or not the person being addressed is actually a mother.

        I have no idea if that was the case here or not, but wanted to throw it out there!

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Yeah I’ve had that, from cleaning staff who I kinda knew… At the top floor… The rest of the lift ride down was quiet.

      They were Very Sorry… Which made me amused at least.

    4. Goldfinch*

      I had to say this to my baby-crazed aunt at my cousin’s wedding. Why are you trying to hijack your daughter’s big day, Sharon?

    5. Lepidoptera*

      I had to get a child to back off asking me every week by assuring her that when I am I will tell her first.
      To be fair to her she’s young and excited that her mom is pregnant but I really don’t need to be reminded that I’m fat once a week. No thanks.

      1. Facepalm*

        Yes, my 4 y/0 son rubbed my belly lovingly and said, “It looks like there’s a baby in there”
        Nope, son, mama’s just fat.

        1. Flexing Rhetoric*

          Ugh. I’ve struggled with infertility for years, and the worst thing was hearing my kid tell me, in an attempt to cheer me up while I was feeling sad, “Well at least you look pregnant, mom!” It makes me laugh now, but at the time I was kinda devastated.

        2. Ophelia*

          My older daughter, about 3 months after the younger was born, snuggled up cosily onto my lap, patted my stomach, and said, “mama, you already HAD the baby; why is your tummy so SQUISHY?” and oh man, she’s lucky she’s cute!

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “It’s a food baby” and “I can’t have kids.” are my go to responses, depending on how cantankerous I am at the moment.

    7. SpaceySteph*

      Its really fun to say this when you actually are pregnant, too. I like to teach people a lesson in being nosy.

  3. OP*

    And now my friend will get to do the “Told you so!” dance every time we talk from now on.

    And as I type this, she just sent me the gif of the “told you so” dance, see how well you know someone after 25 years of friendship?

    1. fposte*

      Heh. She’s fast.

      And she’s right, but you’re also right in wanting to make sure that your employees have the flexibility they medically need. So I’d say you still end up gaining points overall :-).

      1. Shocked Pikachu*

        The fact that OP listened to her friend’s feedback and then wrote Alison for advice on how to beat handle it gets big thumbs up from me.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Lol, yeah…your intentions were good, but you way overstepped. At least you now have a good script on how to handle this moving forward.

      1. OP*

        That’s why I wanted to ask Alison, I was pretty sure after the fact that this was probably not the best way to handle it, but wanted to see if my instincts (and those of my friend) were correct, and how to better handle it next time.

        For what it’s worth, this colleague and I are very good friends, so I felt much more comfortable approaching her than I would have others. In fact, I told her this morning that this had turned into a debate and that Alison would be posting about it today and she got a good laugh out of it and told me that I was 100% fine in approaching her and she appreciated it.

        1. 4Sina*

          This is good context, as well. My boss and I are also close (non-profit as well, so our interests and dedication to our work overlap, you know how it goes) so I feel like if she approached me in a similar situation, it would be OK even if she was off the mark (although not without correction and, depending, a talk about respecting my privacy). This would not be the case with my super boss or any previous managers who I have not felt this close to. I’m glad it worked out well and that you read the situation correctly, but I do agree overall that your friend and Allison are correct. On the bright side, you have a pretty good running joke for the rest of your friendship!

        2. pcake*

          OP, I’m glad it worked out, but please next time keep in mind that women can go to regular medical appointments because they have cancer or have had a severe miscarriage, and in both cases, you approaching the person and telling them you’re pretty sure they’re pregnant could have truly saddened the employee in question.

        3. Anon Librarian*

          That’s great! I’m imagining the comments on this one could be all over the place, but I can see it playing out well between friends (friend-ish co-workers). I agree with Allison, but I’m glad to hear things are all right.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Oh, and to add – maybe you should use Alison’s script and send out a clarifying email to the whole team to let them know that you weren’t referring to legitimate medical needs when you said you’d be enforcing the time off/leave policy. This way, your employee doesn’t feel singled out and your other employees won’t stress about this if they also end up having medical issues in the future.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s great that the two of you can have these kinds of discussions. Take it on the chin!

    4. Even In an Emergency*

      FWIW, OP, this would have made me so INCREDIBLY uncomfortable. I hope the employee took it better than I would have. I would have wanted to craw into a hole if I knew anyone in my work place was speculating on my medical issues, especially related to my fertility.

      1. So sleepy*

        This. I keep thinking about all the medical situations I’ve had that, from a distance, could have been mistaken for pregnancy – and where it would be brutal to know people are sitting and waiting for an announcement that isn’t coming (and trying to figure out whether I need to disclose my very private medical situation so they stop assuming I’m pregnant). Therapy is also something that results in an increase in regular appointments and there’s nothing quite like “I’m not pregnant, I’m just having a flare-up of mental illness” to make things so. much. worse.

        (related, people should never ask what “you secret to losing all that weight” was. because sometimes the secret is “I changed antidepressants”).

        1. DashDash*

          I used to take a medication that made me feel like I was going to vomit most, if not all mornings. The morning sickness jokes only began to taper off after 10 months. (I stopped taking the medication not long after for reasons not related to the jokes – and was explicit that I didn’t mind the jokes, joined in, and they made an awkward medical situation a bit less dreadful. Maybe I really WAS brewing the biggest human baby ever seen . . .)

          1. So sleepy*

            I was thinking this, too! I’m on a medication that makes me nauseous if I forget to take it (and then, in a turn of irony, will make me nauseous again the next day as my body re-adjusts to being back on it). It’s worse in the morning (which really, isn’t even a red herring – when I was pregnant I was nauseous all day every day for 7 months!). I also had a concussion a few years ago and will sometimes go through periods where I have more vertigo and nausea then usual…. and I’m a terrible sleeper, so it’s always worse in the mornings, when I’m the most tired. Most people I work with now don’t know about the concussion (and I don’t really have a reason to tell people) so between that and my ever-fluctuating gut, I’m sure people think I’m pregnant all the time (but thankfully, don’t say anything – better to leave it to random grocery store clerks, my kids, and their friends!)

            1. Workerbee*

              Just scrolling and this caught my eye—I’m sorry you’re going through this stuff! Your online spirit sounds positive so I hope the good vibes pervade real life.

              1. So sleepy*

                Thanks! I just saw this now, and it made my day! I’m fortunate to have an employer with excellent sick leave and disability benefits (and an organizational culture where it’s completely acceptable to use them if you need them), which makes it all 1000x more bearable :)

        2. Junior Dev*

          Yep, I’m out for medical appointments several times a week for things related to my PTSD, including physical injuries that were exacerbated by mental stress, therapy, and sleep problems. I’m also fat so I could see someone assuming I’m pregnant. “Woman” plus “frequent medical appointments” does not necessarily equal “pregnant.”

        3. Old Biddy*

          I’m a woman who carries most of her excess weight in her belly. It will fluctuate a bit from month to month due to my diet/workout/how careful I am about avoiding gluten. I’ve gotten congratulated on my non-existant pregnancies more times than I can count, and every time I shut that s*&t down with a “No, I’m just fat”. Despite my willingness to return awkward to the sender in most situations, I would’ve been mortified and pissed if my boss assumed medical appointments were due to pregnancy.
          I totally agree on the wisdom of never congratulating anyone on weight loss unless they know the circumstances. This happened when I had chickenpox and it made me so mad, even though I didn’t mind the weight loss.

          1. Collingswood*

            Ugh. Me too. I’ve been asked so many time if I’m expecting just randomly. And people have repeatedly suggested I must be pregnant when I haven’t been drinking at work events recently. (The real reason is that I realized I have a problem with alcohol and am working hard to be sober, which also comes with a lot of doctor’s appointments, in my case.)

            So while the OP may have had good intentions, I definitely agree that they should not speculate on medical conditions, but can speak generally about accommodations available for medical needs.

      2. Dagny*

        Same here.

        People stupidly forget that even if they are ‘right,’ there are more important things in life than being right. You shouldn’t speculate on the contents of someone’s uterus, full stop.

        There are people who were ‘right’ about my pregnancy who destroyed their relationship with me via how they handled ‘sussing it out.’ When people show you who they are, believe them, and those people showed me that they do not care about my dignity and privacy.

      3. TheCommenterFormrlyKnownAsRUKiddingMe*

        Likewise, even if as OP says up/down post that she and her report are good friends. I wouldn’t want my non-work friends (or even family FWIW) to feel free to talk about my medical stuff/body…ever, at all, period. So…certainly not a boss. Regardless of being “good friends.”

    5. geek*

      I suspect that OP will never make make the “Ten Worst Bosses” list. Or even the bottom 100.

      Intentions matter.

      I’m reminded of listening to an interview of Jeff Immelt, former CEO of General Electric. I’m never going to remember it verbatim, but it’s something along the lines of his people may question his decisions, but he hopes they never question his intentions.

      1. Iain C*

        I am fairly sure the “please donate an organ” boss had good intentions too.

        “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

  4. theelephantintheroom*

    I feel like “people assuming someone is pregnant, but it turns out they’re not” has been such a played out sitcom idea that we should all know by now not to do this no matter what evidence is in your favor.

    1. Sedna*

      I am very much a fan of Dave Barry’s rule, which is “never assume someone is pregnant unless they are actually giving birth right in front of you at that moment”.

      1. Ophelia*

        I guess the only possible exception to this rule is if you’re the one who impregnated them, but EVEN THEN.

    2. Mimi Me*

      YES!!! My sister and I had this conversation last summer. We were sitting poolside when one of the neighbors “Lola” came out in a bikini. She was fairly thin all over, but had a protruding stomach that suggested pregnancy of at least 6 or 7 months along. My sister whispered that she hadn’t realized that Lola was pregnant. I whispered back that I didn’t think she was, but she sure looked it. Back and forth we went, desperate to know. My sister said, “we should just ask her” to which I said “what happens if it’s like a TV show and she’s not pregnant but just carries her weight oddly?” We said nothing. Thank goodness. It’s been over a year and she still looks like she’s 7 months along and there’s no baby.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, I have a distinct belly pooch that is determined to not go away no matter how much I exercise. I’m also a size six with a slightly athletic build from running and yoga/Pilates, so I’m not very big all around – just slightly muscular in my calves and back. I would be so upset if someone approached me and asked if I was having a baby. I eat (mostly) clean and workout – I’m just bad built, lol.

        1. Mamunia*

          I recently learned that uteruses (uteri?) push on your pelvic muscles, making a pooch. Most women will have one no matter how skinny/fit they get. That’s just the human female body.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            This is what my yoga instructor told me, so she’s been great about trying to incorporate more core exercises into our workouts to try and right the pelvic tilt issue, but it’s taking awhile since my classes are only once a week *sigh*.

            1. Marie*

              Prenatal yoga wasn’t very challenging for obvious reasons. I would love a postnatal yoga class that focused on hips/abs. I’m 10 months post partum and … yeah.

      2. Hobbit*

        OMG. I had a cashier trying to make “small talk” with me.
        Him: is it a boy or a girl?
        Me: huh? ( looking around for a baby)
        Him: The baby is it a boy or a girl?
        Me: WHAT BABY??
        Him: (back peddling faster than Superman reversing the world.) My friend on FB looks like you … and won’t tell me if it’s a boy or girl…
        Me: (in my head) I hope you learned a very importatin lesson young man.

        1. Creepd the F out*

          One of the more recent times it happened to me, I was walking through the cafeteria at work and an older dude with a eastern european accent was in the middle of eating something. He flagged me down and asked something, but between his accent and his mouth full of tuna salad, I couldn’t understand. I just kept saying “what?” and “huh?” and actually had him repeat it three times before I understood what he was saying. After I got it, I used my usual which is “Nope, just fat!” and walked away. But I’ve since purposely used this technique on the last two people that asked (yes, rude people are everywhere and they feel free to comment on my body) and it’s great watching them ask and re-ask until they eventually just squirm, mumble, get embarrassed, etc. I’ve probably been asked 20 times in the last 20 years, and this is by far the best way to respond.

        2. Wing Leader*

          This exact same thing happened to me. I was checking out at a local store.

          Cashier: How many months are you?
          Me: Sorry?
          Cashier: How many months pregnant are you?
          Me: …I’m not.
          Cashier: Oh.

          I was really pissed, mostly because the cashier gave no shits about how wrong she was. She did not apologize nor even look embarrassed.

      3. Door Guy*

        One of my bridesmaids was a very petite woman and her dress was fairly tight in the midriff/stomach. She ate up at the dinner and apparently at least 2 of the guests asked if she was pregnant. She had a great sense of humor, though, and replied “Only with my food baby.”

        1. Mamunia*

          I had a friend who, when asked if it was a boy or girl, would answer, “it’s a burrito.” I now call my fat my “burrito baby.”

      4. SpaceySteph*

        If Lola previously had a baby, she could also have abdominal muscle issues (can happen to everyone but especially common if you’ve had a c-section) where the muscles don’t lay flat and basically always make you look somewhat pregnant.

    3. ellex42*

      That played out at my workplace recently. Our supervisor got married over the summer, and came back from her honeymoon looking (to me) like she gained a little weight. Rumors were flying all over the office about if the wedding was precipitated by a pregnancy.

      Several months later, she lost the honeymoon weight. She just ate really well and didn’t go to her regular exercise classes for a few weeks, and she’s thin enough for a small weight gain to show.

    4. The Original K.*

      I didn’t comment on a coworker’s pregnancy until a card for her work shower started going around and people started planning her work shower. She was tall and slim and only gained weight in her midsection so I thought she was pregnant when she started to show, but I have seen people be wrong about this before and didn’t want to risk it. Once the word was out I was happy to congratulate her, but I figured better safe than sorry.

      1. nonymous*

        Meanwhile I had a coworker (now supervisor, but thankfully not for long) wriggle like a happy puppy if someone in her close circle guessed and then proceed to use her pregnancy announcement as a passive aggressive way to reinforce social stand. Yes, pregnancy announcements can be weaponized for office politics. Also, ugh.

      2. AKchic*

        I had a boss who decided that her last pregnancy wouldn’t be announced. She’d only tell her favorites that she was pregnant. I was not a favored person, so she never told me. The office was a hotbed of gossip, so it wasn’t hard to figure out. I pretended to not know at all. I acted as if I knew nothing. She had a baby shower and I skipped it because she didn’t tell me about the pregnancy, I wasn’t officially invited to the shower, therefore I was not obligated to attend the shower for a pregnancy I knew nothing about on my lunch break.
        She went on maternity leave and I kept up the “oh, she’s on vacation again” mentality.
        I gave my notice while she was on leave. No fox given.

        1. So sleepy*

          This actually isn’t that unusual – I didn’t announce any of my pregnancies, but told a handful of people (including my supervisor) and let word get out. It wasn’t even about favourites/non-favourites. In the later months I would try to make a reference to it so people didn’t have to pretend they thought I wasn’t pregnant when I was huge, but I don’t think anyone is owed an announcement (except the person you report to, and/or maybe the person taking over your work), nor does it mean you had to pretend you knew nothing when clearly you did.

          1. theelephantintheroom*

            Same. I’m not an announcement person, so I let it slip to a handful of people and let office gossip do the rest.

          2. nonymous*

            I think there’s a big difference between a supervisor failing to plan for their leave vs a coworker.

            In the former case all it really takes is a quick email saying “I will be out for two weeks starting Date. Jane will do X, Fergus will do Y, ignore Z. Everything else falls to Karen, and if Karen needs guidance she goes to Grandboss”. In the latter case, presumably one has the option of going to their shared supervisor and asking “Who is doing that Thing while Coworker is on mat leave?”

            With either case, ideally the supervisor will have thought through their plan well enough so no one is unduly burdened with their extra tasks and category Z does not prevent someone from doing their job.

          3. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            My colleague last year did make a quiet announcement, mostly so we knew she’d be going on maternity leave in 3/4 months (and maternity leave can be up to six months in my country). But now that I think about it she probably did also want to head off quiet speculation, because she’s a very tall woman and later in her pregnancy it did become very obvious.

    5. Phony Genius*

      And this creates awkward situations on public transportation. If you don’t offer your seat to a pregnant woman, you get called out. If you offer your seat, and she’s not pregnant, you get called out. (Where I live, it is not acceptable to wait for a pregnant woman to ask.)

      1. Zombeyonce*

        It’s okay to offer your seat to anyone that looks like they would benefit from it, no matter the reason.

        1. theelephantintheroom*

          Yeah, I feel like it’s fairly obvious when someone needs to sit down. There are many months during a pregnancy where the pregnant person doesn’t even show but is still exhausted enough to need a seat.

        2. So sleepy*

          This :) as a rule, when I’m able-bodied, I’ve always just stood up if there are people standing and no seats available so someone who needs it can take it without having to ask. And now, I’m on the other side of the pendulum – my balance is terrible on moving vehicles because of a concussion and I would never ask, but am incredibly grateful when someone does the same.

      2. Shiba*

        In Japan the way around that is a little maternity keychain women can put on their purse so people know to offer them their seat. People with medical conditions can use a red one with a white cross on it. That way you don’t have to play the “but they don’t look pregnant/disabled”, you can just act based on the keychain. (And of course the keychains are optional, and not everyone gives up their seat, but… I like the idea)

        1. londonedit*

          In London we have ‘Baby on Board’ badges which seem to be fairly universally used by pregnant people – if you see someone wearing one, you offer them a seat. We also have blue badges that say ‘Please offer me a seat’, which are for anyone with a visible/invisible disability, to let people know that they’d appreciate being able to sit down. Of course, you still get rude people who refuse to give up their seat for anyone, badge or no badge, but I think the badges have improved things.

          1. Jess*

            It’s a shame you can’t get a badge unless you’re a London resident, I visit frequently and tried to order one but wasn’t able to. I realised nobody will stand and offer a seat on the tube unless either you ask them (which I am always a bit unlikely to do as they may well have just a great a need for a seat, invisible disabilities exist!) or you have a badge.

  5. Goldfinch*

    I’m hoping LW glossed over a variety of telltale symptoms for the sake of letter brevity, instead of just jumping directly from “female person needs medical care” to “must be baybeez!!!!”

    1. OP*

      Yes, I cut things out for brevity as I didn’t want to send Alison many paragraphs, but there were many many clues, all of which pointed to pregnant or trying to get pregnant, I had no doubt that it was anything other than that.

      1. Massive Dynamic*

        Oh nooooo…. please, it could actually be other things. It’s actually a common and well-documented fallacy in the healthcare world to equate various symptoms in women to their reproductive functions. Cancers and other very non-gender-specific issues have been misdiagnosed in so many women because people look at us and see wombs and periods.

        1. anon-er than usual*

          Seconded. OP, I know you meant well, and I commend you for seeking advice on it.
          As a person that people perceive as a “woman of childbearing age” (I’m actually nonbinary and the phrase childbearing age is a complicated one), who desperately wants kids but not for a few more years, every time I hear about a boss who is *sure* their employee is pregnant, I get more scared that this is going to happen to me when I’m not pregnant. It would make me incredibly anxious to have people going around assuming I was pregnant when I wasn’t, and I haven’t even had any active struggles with infertility. Some of my totally mundane health problems and the things I do to manage those problems could look like pregnancy to people who are looking for signs. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who actually had cancer.

          1. Hobbit*

            I hate how ppl assume this. Female of childbearing age not feeling right = pregnant. My sister had a cyst on her ovaries and had to argue with the ER doc that she was not pregnant. Thank God the OB-gyn showed up and told the ER doc that he was wrong. My sister had surgery & is fine, but still! It could have gone very bad for her.

          2. Kendra*

            Yeah, this is one of the many things that suck about ovarian cancer (along with other types that develop in the same set of organs). I even used to joke about looking like I was developing a “baby belly,” until it turned out to be a 25 cm tumor growing in roughly the same location a baby would have, and which meant I’d need a hysterectomy (including both ovaries, so no preserving any eggs, either) and could never have children. That was…not a good mental space to be in, and I’d definitely have broken down if anyone had asked if I was pregnant just then.

      2. CoveredInBees*

        Eek, yeah. In the US, you generally don’t see your OB/midwife often until the 3rd trimester unless you have serious medical issues. Fertility treatments, on the other hand, can require a lot of appointments clumped together. Considering how uncertain any fertility treatment can be and how many stupid things people can see in response to infertility, I can imagine an employee not wanting to talk to a manager about this even if they have a good relationship.

        1. quagmire*

          uhhhhhh everyone I know in the US who knew they were pregnant had at least one appointment in the first trimester, and quite a few in the second. Did you mean somewhere else? I had a low-risk pregnancy (minus the fact that I did IVF), so as soon as my RE released me at 9 weeks, I had an appointment every month for 3 months-4 months, and then they got closer together in the back half of the pregnancy. (Every other week, every week, etc) Which is the same schedule my friends who did not undergo IVF had.

          1. Agnodike*

            I think that’s what CoveredInBees meant – before the third trimester, you’re not going to seen super frequently, just about once a month, so if there are lots of appointments clustered together, it’s less likely that normal early pregnancy is the cause.

            1. Marie*

              I had several appointments around the 10-12 week mark because we were doing CVS genetic testing, and a nuchal translucency scan, which a lot of women choose to do. After that, things settled down until the end of my 2nd trimester.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Yup, a bunch of appointments in short order accompanied a missed miscarriage for me. The fetus stopped developing so early that it wasn’t visible on a regular ultrasound so doctor was concerned about an ectopic. Over the span of a few weeks I had an appointment to check for the pregnancy, one a couple days later to recheck blood levels and right after that one I was sent to the hospital for a more advanced ultrasound which turned into a 3 hour appointment. Then a week after that I missed a whole day for a D&C, and then a week after that another appointment for a post-op.

          I told work it was a “medical issue” that was under control and would be resolved within a couple weeks, and never elaborated beyond that. If my boss had told me they figured out I was pregnant during all that, they would have been both right and wrong and I would have burst into tears in their office. DONT DO THIS TO PEOPLE. Even people you know well, you don’t know everything.

        3. Perpal*

          That’s not really true at all. Prenatal care starts from the moment you know you’re pregnant. Usually there will be regular (Though not too frequent if everything’s fine and early) visits starting with a pregnancy confirmation and ultrasound.

      3. Agnodike*

        Just for your future reference, a person undergoing treatment for infertility and a person experiencing early pregnancy can look very, very similar from an outside perspective but may have very, very different reactions to “Hey, are you pregnant?”

      4. RandomPoster*

        Was one of the clues her saying the phrase “I am pregnant”? If not, then you still have no right.

        I keep coming back to this thread, I can’t let it go.

      5. I'm just here for the comments*

        Taken from Maternity Nursing 7th Ed. by Lowdermilk Perry- the only positive pregnancy signs that have no other causes: Fetal heartbeat detected, visualization of the fetus, fetal movements detected. In other words you need irrefutable evidence of a fetus to declare pregnancy. Everything else (even the really *obvious* ones including pregnancy tests) ALL have other causes as well. So unless you’re the OB with an ultrasound machine or doppler stethoscope I’m not sure how you are 100% sure about someone being pregnant “by piecing together the clues”. Unless you were super sure like the old man who “knows what’s going on” with my belly and asked when I was due (no, sorry honey, I have this belly from giving birth to my 4th child 9 months ago and I haven’t been exercising so much). You weren’t “sure” so much as you were making assumptions, which happens to the best of us, but I think you’ll be well served to admit to that and change for the future.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      This. I sincerely hope this woman has announced her intentions to have children very shortly and has a large bottle of prenatal vitamins on her desk.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I felt kinda bad when a coworker announced her pregnancy to the office and I responded with, “I’m not at all surprised!” but in my defense she had talked about “starting a family” (side note: I hate that phrase, but whatever) a few months prior and also mentioned a few weeks earlier that she had given up drinking coffee. She had also, notably, *stopped* mentioning starting a family since mentioning giving up coffee, so, yeah, I put three and three together and figured it out. So I only felt kinda bad, not totally bad.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          This kinda happened to me when I told my siblings I was pregnant. They were like “ok, cool” and just kept eating dinner. I was like “wtf?” but my sister said I’d already announced my intent to get pregnant months ago so they already expected it.

          Except what they don’t know is that while with our first we got pregnant on the first month we tried, this one took a few months of trying and then a miscarriage before it stuck, so it actually was a big announcement to me. One can talk about starting a family, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be successful at it.

      2. So sleepy*

        Yeah! Even then, I wouldn’t touch it, haha. I’ve shopped in maternity stores when I wasn’t pregnant because some of the shirts are just far more flattering on my stomach!

          1. So sleepy*

            I just realized I’m actually wearing a maternity shirt right now. My youngest is almost 4! It’s one of my favourite shirts.

  6. Kiwiii*

    Even if the rest of the message was positive (we’ll work with you, do as you need to!), starting off the conversation with “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue” is startling and feels almost invasive. Like a boss showing up at your house instead of emailing. Or an elaborate/expensive gift rather than a card and a plant for your birthday.

    I’m wondering, also, if the schedule strictness doesn’t apply in some cases, why it applies most of the time. You mentioned priding yourself in providing good benefits and wanting to be accommodating, is there a reason it won’t work to apply that to hours more liberally?

    1. Kiwiii*

      oops — posted this before I had the Ask a Manager comment at the top loaded. Feel free to delete/edit.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Often the answer to that is “we can be flexible when you really need it, but it means other people have to step in to cover your work, means you’re not available when we need you, etc.” I want to ask that we not derail on this! (This comment section has a tendency to assume all jobs should be super flexible and to ignore the reality that there are legit reasons they can’t all be. Not saying you’re doing that, just trying to head it off.)

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Thank you. I get tired of that. I can’t do my job from home, and my workplace can allow me slightly nudged hours so I miss the worst traffic, but we serve patrons so I need to be there pretty much 8-5 M-F. That’s just how some jobs are.

      2. SimplyTheBest*

        Thank you for this. I have never worked anywhere where working from home or flexible schedules were available. In more than one place I’ve worked, there was a legal requirement for the minimum number of staff people needed for the workplace to be open. WFH and flexible schedules are not a perfect fix all.

        1. AuroraLight37*

          Yup. I’m a librarian, and public libraries need staff at the information desk when we’re open. We also need circulation staff there when we’re open. Flexible hours exist to a point, since we’re open about 12 hours a day, but WFH is not possible for my job. You can’t check in or shelve books from home. Nor can you answer patron queries about computer issues (a big chunk of the day) or walk them through how to use a specific database.

    3. Wing Leader*

      I agree about the comment, “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue.” That comment is so off-putting! I would never want someone to say that to me anyway but, if it were my boss, I would seriously consider if I wanted to continue working at that company. Even if it is just a pregnancy, that is so none of your business, OP.

  7. Brandy*

    Oh, nope. I would definitely be alarmed if my boss said they had figured out my medical issue. What if you were wrong? And it was something she didn’t ever plan on disclosing? For example, from my own life. I had a miscarriage and had to have a d and c. Nothing I wanted to discuss with anyone. But the noses HR woman kept asking me—did you have the flu? Did you have that stomach bug? It was difficult not to shout the truth to her in the elevator where she would accost me.

    I know you had good intentions and pregnant women need all the support they can get. But to me this is overstepping and could have waited until she told you.

    1. Yvette*

      This, and maybe she did “told me that I was 100% fine in approaching her and she appreciated it.”, but really, you are her boss. What could she say, “Mind your own damn business”?

  8. some dude*

    The majority of women I know who have tried to get pregnant have had a miscarriage. some have had multiple miscarriages. So i am very wary of saying anything about a potential pregnancy until the person tells me.

    1. SerialFreelancer*

      Yes. After my miscarriage, I had to go in for bloodwork weekly, exams, and even a few ultrasounds — over the course of eight weeks. I miscarried later than most, and it meant LOTS of medical follow up.

      1. Marie*

        *hug* That must have been so difficult. I hope you are or were able to have the baby you wanted eventually.

    2. Devil Fish*

      PSA: 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.

      It’s not rare at all but it’s something women don’t usually talk about because we’re socialized to protect society from the truth about all the nasty things that can happen inside us. Most men have no idea and are so surprised if it happens to a woman they know.

  9. Jen S. 2.0*

    Oof. The guideline is that you don’t mention a pregnancy unless the pregnant woman or her partner mentions it explicitly. Not calling it pregnancy doesn’t really change that. “I think I know your LITTLE SECRET,” **winks and grins and points toward stomach** “so I’ll understand if you need to go to the DOCTOR a lot in the next few weeks” is not any better.

    “I know we’ve been talking a lot about timeliness, but that’s about making a general habit of keeping basic business hours, not around legitimate appointments,” would have been fine.

    1. Kiwiii*

      I really like the example language you provided. In particular because it cites what she’s doing as outside of the larger conversation that was had, rather than a special allowance that’s being made.

      1. fposte*

        And it would be good to say it to everybody, because you don’t know who else is sick/pregnant/whatever. So the OP whiffed on the delivery, but the underlying point was worth making.

    2. Remote Cat Herder*

      …and the punchline is that the delightful “LITTLE SECRET” is irritable bowel syndrome.

      (or something else stomach-related that is Not Baybeez)

    3. SusanIvanova*

      And on the flip side, don’t be like my friend’s wife – she was dropping hints like crazy, but they weren’t the obvious ones like “eating for two”, so we were all whispering to each other “do you think…?” and “yes, but what if we’re wrong…?” She was fairly heavyset to begin with, so being wrong would’ve been mortifying.

      Someone finally asked her husband. Yes, she really was just waiting around for someone to ask. No, I have no idea why.

  10. Close Bracket*

    Coming on the heels of the “How do I handle disclosure of my cancer diagnosis?” letter, I am wincing at the thought of analyzing someone’s behavior pattern surrounding medical appointments and then commenting on it to them. Wow.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yeah, there are plenty of long-term or chronic health conditions that might require a person to need multiple medical appointments, possibly at regular intervals, for quite a while. Some of those might involve things we think of as symptoms of pregnancy–nausea, weight gain, etc. And some might require a person to abstain from the things (alcohol, excessive caffeine, raw animal-derived foods, etc.) that pregnant people need to avoid. So yeah, it’s always best to avoid making assumptions even if they seem logical, when it comes to other people’s private health issues.

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        Seriously. I’ve had all of those symptoms and lots of doctor’s appointments in the past few years. I’d be so offended and uncomfortable if anyone in my management mentioned “figuring out” what I was dealing with. Spoiler alert: not pregnant, just a fun mixture of chronic and mental illness.

        (I disclose SOME of my chronic illnesses, but would rather not have anyone trying to figure out what’s going on with my gastrointestinal tract or my brain!)

    2. Penny*

      Yeah, as someone who went through a cancer diagnosis as a woman of prime childbearing age, I am so uncomfortable reading this letter. And yes, part of my stress during my diagnosis process was that people would think I was pregnant because of all the medical appointments, and that would just make it worse if any of them said or hinted anything.

      1. Penny*

        I also went through a pretty traumatic miscarriage late enough in a pregnancy that anyone looking for signs or symptoms would have noticed them.

        The more I think about it, the more mad I am at the OP. Holy shit.

  11. anonymous for this one*

    I’m lucky in that I’m work part-time from home and so can be extremely flexible and don’t have to explain to my boss when I’m going to be out and not, but I’ve been undergoing fertility treatments lately, which required me to go and get bloodwork literally every morning for a week and then take a day off relatively last minute for a procedure. The lab and the clinic are open very early, but I know I’d have ended up going in late on occasion if I was required to be in the office, and there were a few days where I was not feeling well because of the meds I was on.

    If my boss or anyone else at my job had said “I know what your medical issue is”, I would have freaked the eff out. Aside from my husband, no one knows we’re doing these treatments. I definitely do not want my coworkers knowing.

    If you offer flexibility for medical appointments, then just say that. It shouldn’t matter whether the person is pregnant, undergoing chemo, or has a chronic illness. The same benefits should apply to everyone.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      To this point, frankly, OP may very well be correct that the employee is pregnant. It’s very possible that people DID know you were doing these treatments. The point of not disclosing these issues has nothing to do with expecting that no one will ever make the leap or being furious if someone does. People may well guess. (For this reason, I get a little eye-roll-y about super-elaborate pregnancy deceptions.)

      But it indeed would have been really rude for some coworker to come to you and give you unsolicited advice about your fertility treatments. Not their business.

      1. anonymous for this one*

        No, no one knows. I work from home and did not see or discuss the issues with my coworkers, boss, parents or friends.

        Regardless, if my boss or coworkers were making assumptions about my medical conditions, I’d be pissed, same as I’m pissed if I feel sick one day and people ask if I have morning sickness. It’s one thing for them to speculate amongst themselves but I’d my boss came to me and said it outright I’d be fuming.

  12. Daisy*

    ‘we’d be accommodating to whatever the medical issue was, but knowing that different issues require different accommodations, and this one specially needed flexibility’

    I’m not following here. Why would doctor’s appointments for pregnancy need more flexibility than appointments for illnesses? The first eight words seem great, I don’t see the need for the ‘but’.

    1. TCO*

      Yeah, I’m not sure where OP was going with this one. Maybe she was thinking about morning sickness, or the need for a lot of doctor visits, or the potential for reduced energy/output at times… but the kind of accommodations those might(!) require for someone’s who’s pregnant are similar to what a lot of other health conditions might require. I hope that all of OP’s employees get equal flexibility around medical needs, and not just those who might be pregnant.

    2. OP*

      Because someone needing an extra half an hour to get to work because they broke their leg is different than someone being pregnant and needing to take some extra time in the morning for more sleep if needed or to stop feeling nauseous because of morning sickness but then being fine to work remotely are very different things. I had just specifically told her she couldn’t do the “sleep in and work remotely” thing anymore because we needed everyone to adhere to office hours, but now that we understood why she was doing it we were able to be flexible. It specifically needed flexibility in relation to the policy we just announced against it, which we are happy to provide.

      1. Close Bracket*

        I emphatically disagree with this. Needing extra time to get to work bc you are temporarily mobility impaired vs needing extra time to go to work bc you are experiencing a side effect of a temporary condition is still needing extra time to get to work based on a medical need.

        1. Rugby*

          I agree with you. I don’t see how these situations would be different in practice. But it does sound like OP expects employees to disclose their medical conditions in order to get approval for flexibility and that could be really problematic.

        2. annony*

          Yeah. I think this might be better addressed by telling all the employees that flexibility is available if needed for a medical condition and tell them the process for requesting that if necessary. Preferably, you would have a very clear guideline for what, if any, documentation you require.

        3. Lepidoptera*

          I guess because unlike having to be at an appointment in an office that has the same hours as your work, needing more time to get into the office can be mitigated by leaving the house earlier?
          Still burdensome regardless.

        4. banzo_bean*

          I think what OP is saying is that if an employee says “I need an extra thirty minutes to get to work because of a broken leg” that’s fine. Employee can come in 30 minutes late. That is a well defined, explainable shift in their schedule.

          Pregnancy is not as predictable, so the employee couldn’t say “I need an extra 30 minutes” because sometimes she might need an extra 2 hours and sometimes she might not need anything at all.

          I don’t think OP is in the wrong for expecting this. I cannot flex time and I must talk to a supervisor about gaps in my day if they come up (doctors appointments, sick leave, extra time in the morning or leaving early because of abnormal circumstances). I don’t give a full medical history but I do have to explain myself.

        5. CommanderBanana*

          Right? They’re both essentially the same accommodation, just for different medical issues.

          1. So sleepy*

            Agreed. “I have a medical condition that requires flexibility in my hours and occasional work from home”. The actual medical condition is irrelevant. I could easily list 10 that would fit that criteria or would cause fatigue and nausea. I also find this comes across as “we are happy to be more than accommodating for pregnancy but not for other medical conditions we consider to be less socially acceptable (depression, post-concussive syndrome, sleep disorders, stomach or digestive issues, etc.)”. Why would pregnancy be different or get more accommodations than any other condition?

            1. Devil Fish*

              All I’m getting from elsewhere in the thread is “BECAUSE BAYBEEEZ!” and it is gross as hell.

        6. Scarlet2*

          Exactly. I don’t see any difference at all.
          I thought I detected a whiff of “it’s fine for you because you’re pregnant” rather than “it’s fine for people who have legitimate medical issues” in the original letter, which is highly problematic and is unfortunately confirmed by OP’s later comments.
          That’s… really bad.

        7. Pantsuit Eleanor Shellstrop*

          The difference is that one is SPECIAL BABY THING and other is NOT SPECIAL BABY THING

      2. Even In an Emergency*

        Wait … So being pregnant is more legitimate than needing to sleep off another kind of illness? Why are you so randomly accommodating of pregnancy but not broken legs or other sicknesses that might lead to needing more sleep? This is so odd.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Odd, and it will get the employer slapped with an ADA complaint. This is not a good look, OP. As someone with a couple of invisible disabilities, I urge you to rethink this stance – it’s hugely problematic.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmmm, I’d disagree with that! Medical needs are medical needs. Pregnancy isn’t in its own special category. You want to be accommodating with all medical needs.

        1. OP*

          We are and would be, but the type of accommodation does change depending on the actual medical situation.

          1. Non-Public Accounting CPA*

            I don’t think you should be judging what accommodation is necessary for which situation. Then the person might feel pressure to disclose what their medical condition is. They should be comfortable coming up to you and saying I’m dealing with a medical issue and need the following accommodations and leaving it at that.

          2. Even In an Emergency*

            But OP, you assmed this person’s medical needs while telling other people their’s aren’t legitimate (sleeping off a headache or whatever). You’re saying that only pregnant people are allowed to need more sleep vs. employees who actually tell you they need more sleep!

          3. KristineB*

            But are you really in a position to be an arbiter of that?

            This is not going to go over well when another employee has a medical need that would be alleviated by working from home, and you don’t allow it because you don’t think it qualifies.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It does, but the broken leg example you gave doesn’t illustrate that :)

            Maybe it was just a bad example, but I’d say it’s worth interrogating your own thinking about this more — because combined with the question in the letter, it does sound like you might have a sort of pro-pregnancy bias about when you’re willing to make accommodations. Plus, the law doesn’t allow you to be the decider of what accommodations are needed; under the ADA, you’re not even entitled to know what specific medical condition is in play.

            1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

              OP, my reaction to your comments is to recommend that you spend some time thinking about the ways chronic illnesses could impact your team whether you know about it or not. Accommodations don’t changed based on the specific medical condition at issue, but they do depend heavily (entirely really) on the way a medical condition impacts a person’s ability to perform their job. You seem to readily acknowledge that pregnancy can have ongoing and recurring impacts on a person’s ability to do their job, but so can lots of other medical conditions. Chronic illnesses that are prone to flare up periods would be something to think about, and make sure you would be prepared to engage thoughtfully and without making assumptions if an employee made a request for intermittent telework days or a more flexible work schedule as an accommodation for an illness of this type.

            2. Rockin Takin*

              My company uses a third party company to deal w medical accomodations and anything for FMLA or disability leave. HR is strict that we are not to ask employees what their illness/situation is, and if they choose to then we are not supposed to share that info.

              It’s nice because it removes any bias issues between the boss and the employee.

          5. pcake*


            Btw, a good friend of mine went to cancer treatments every other week to once a month for quite a long time. She could have used the same flexibility and for some of the same reasons. She was much more nauseous in the mornings from her chemo than later in the day, btw.

            1. Nini*

              Agreed. Especially if all your plans are only “in theory”. Get someone to help you write up medical leave contingencies that has experience with this sort of thing.

          6. Scarlet2*

            1. You’re not privy to the employees’ “actual medical situation”.
            2. Even if you were, you’re not in a position to judge on the legitimacy of people’s medical situation.

          7. Goliath Corp.*

            I’m trying really hard not to get worked up about this, because I get that you came here asking for advice. But I do not understand why you are doubling-down on the idea that you get to decide what conditions deserve what accommodations. Your employees and their health teams will tell you what they need. It’s not up to you. You really need to interrogate some of your biases here.

            1. J.*

              It sounds from the letter and her responses that she didn’t come here looking for advice in good faith to figure out what she could have done better for next time. She came here looking to have her behavior validated and for Alison to be the deciding vote in a disagreement between her friend and and her over whether what she did was ok. (As seen from the above comment about her friend gloating and sending her an I Told You So gif, and pushing back against all the replies saying that it wasn’t cool.)

              That’s what strikes me the most about this particular post and is getting me worked up in conjunction with what’s in the letter itself.

              It’s hard to hear when everyone thinks you’re in the wrong, especially when things seem to have turned out ok by chance. But man.

              1. Even In an Emergency*

                God, this. I’m not usually so worked up but she just wanted validation and isn’t taking this seriously.

                1. Even In an Emergency*

                  (Sorry, I regret that comment – I don’t know how OP is feeling/looking for. It’s tough when people jump down your throat. I just really want to know that OP’s other employees are getting fair accommodations and that OP won’t assume medical conditions/needs in the future. )

                2. Devil Fish*

                  Well I’m glad someone said it.

                  OP said she was a fan and she made a good decision to contact Alison about a work question (I like when managers write in because sometimes managers can actually make real changes!) but she’s not ready to hear anything that’s being said. I hope she comes back to the comments when she’s not so close to the issue and can really pay attention to what’s going on here.

          8. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I think the type of accommodation changes based on the person, not the condition. No two people experience the same pregnancy (well, they don’t usually) and no two people deal the same way with a broken leg. Let’s say Andrew and Beth each break a leg. Andrew gets a boot and goes about his day with few interruptions. But Beth’s boot is heavy and messes up her gait, plus she breaks her driving leg so she either has to take the bus or she has to get someone else to drive her to work.

            It sounds here like you offer– or want to offer– different accommodations for pregnancy than for other conditions, and you really can’t do that.

            1. Paperdill*

              I’m reflecting on my own experiences: I had dream pregnancies and rarely needed any time off for appointments or anything. Fast forward 7 years I am far more likely to be late for work, now, trying to get 3 kids (one with ADHD – also a “medical condition”) out of the house. Pregnancies are lovely and fluffy and fun to accommodate, the results of those pregnancies are not going to be met with quite so many doting smiles and allowances.

          9. A*

            Approach with caution OP. You’re toeing some dodgy territory from a legal perspective. You do not have the authority to decide what the appropriate accommodations are, or how they should compare to each other.

            Aside from that, unless 100% necessary it’s generally a good idea not to police people’s assessments of their medical/health needs. Assuming your staffing appropriately with honest/mature individuals, it shouldn’t be overly scrutinized unless there’s a repeat pattern. If I need to sleep an extra 30 minutes one day because I have insomnia and would otherwise be useless for the day / possibly have a weakened immune system a get sick – why should that be handled differently than someone who’s pregnant?

          10. Nesprin*

            Yeahhh… but you are not the person to judge what accommodations your employees need and what you want to offer. That would require that your employees tell you their conditions, and that you have the medical know-how to judge.

      4. KristineB*

        I think I didn’t realize this in the above. I agree that it is concerning that you would extend the “sleep in and work remotely” exception to an employee for the blanket rule of “pregnancy”. Certainly there are pregnancy-related conditions that may require this accomodation, but this seems premature and likely to annoy other coworkers. If this employee is pregnant and arrives late due to some morning sickness, that seems like it could be allowed within reason. But requiring in-office work for all employees and then making this blanket allowance seems not great.

        1. pamplemousse*

          Also, I know some people who get pregnant are miserably sick the whole time, but my understanding of morning sickness is that it’s typically worst in the first trimester, when many pregnant people are not disclosing their pregnancy to close friends yet, let along their bosses.

          So either you have an office where everyone can take it a bit easy in the morning once in awhile, or you have an office where people with morning sickness (as well as other health conditions that can make being somewhere at 9 on the dot difficult) are going to have to formally ask for accommodations.

          OP, I know you mean well, but this makes it seem like you’re really making pregnancy out to be special and unique and exciting — perhaps because it is culturally seen as an exciting and celebratory thing, maybe because US offices are generally horrible to parents and you’re enthused about creating a better and more flexible culture. If you guessed than an employee had depression (and was going to therapy and psych appointments), or if the employee told you about mental health struggles in an informal way rather than as part of a formal request for accommodation, would you be so eager to encourage them to take it a little easy in the morning?

      5. pleaset*

        “Because someone needing an extra half an hour to get to work because they broke their leg is different than someone being pregnant and needing to take some extra time in the morning for more sleep if needed or to stop feeling nauseous because of morning sickness but then being fine to work remotely are very different things.”

        I don’t understand the difference. I don’t think there is any difference.

      6. Nini*

        If you’re only offering this kind of flexibility for pregnancy then I think you have a real issue on your hands. It’s also an issue if you’re requiring employees to disclose the specifics of their medical need to work from home. I think you’d be better off implementing a policy where you require a doctor’s note or something when a worker is requesting a flexible schedule on an ongoing basis, if you’re concerned about people abusing it (whether it’s for a few weeks for a broken limb or a few months for a pregnancy or forever for a chronic illness.)

        I’ve worked in an office where there was no work from home option, but I provided a doctor’s note stating that I would need to work from on occasion due to a medical condition and no further questions were asked. It was great for me, because discussing the exact nature of the illness with my manager or any coworker would have been very embarrassing. And my manager knew my need was legitimate because I had a note from the doctor.

      7. Turquoisecow*

        Um, why are those different? If someone is ill or injured then they need some extra time or days off, regardless of the illness.

        I can see getting annoyed if people are calling out with hangovers or laziness, but a broken leg should get the same compassion as pregnancy.

      8. Marissa*

        I may be reading too much into this, but OP, is it possible you’re trying to be more accommodating in this situation because you’re close with the employee and have more details about her situation than you may have for others? If the rule is hard and fast for others but not for your friend, that’s not great. If the rule is soft and bendy, but you’re only letting your friend know this, that’s also not great. I definitely understand needing to pull back on the reins, but I would give the policy another look to make sure you’ve thought out accommodations globally and don’t run the risk of applying them unevenly based on how well you know the people involved.

        1. pamplemousse*

          or how exciting and fun their underlying condition is. not that pregnancy is exciting and fun for the pregnant person always, of course, but there’s a sort of “ooh! a BABY!” tone to all of this. maybe it’s because they want to throw an office baby shower, maybe it’s because they want to show off how flexible and helpful they can be for working families, maybe it’s both.

          lots of conditions require frequent appointments, aren’t always obvious or talked about, and don’t end with something cute after a neat nine months.

        2. A*

          I had the same thought. Followed by the thought that this is a good example of why it can be problematic to be friends with a direct report (especially if you have more than one). Most people I know with direct reports have had to distance themselves from the social side of their work relationships with their reports specifically to proactively avoid bias, or even just the perception of bias.

          I think OP has a good heart, but needs management training. Especially since they mentioned that they were brought onboard to get everyone in line. It’s pretty crucial to understand the appropriate boundaries (both in relation to potential bias from social relationships/connections, and in how they approach policies – or rather, shouldn’t approach policies since they are not knowledgeable about the ADA).

      9. nonymous*

        Do you put on your judge judy had and make staff describe how hard they try in order to justify the accommodation? I ask this not to be snarky but to point out how ridiculous your comment sounds.

        Take the issue of pregnancy. Some people have morning sickness. Even with middle-of-the-road symptoms, it’s common to have a few instances of puking at work. Are you going to police how many times they have to puke at work before it merits the perk of work from home or a late start? Or are you expecting all pregnant women to wfh in the mornings even if their body responds to pregnancy well, with whatever workplace social/political penalties that apply?

        Why not say that sometimes medical symptoms make it impossible to work 9-5 in the office and let your staff decide for themselves? Or if you don’t trust them 100%, set a threshold when to have them go through a formal accommodation process. For example more than 3 days in a row or something.

      10. Wing Leader*

        Yeah…no, OP. Just no. It’s not different. In both of your examples, you describe someone who has a medical issue that may cause them to be late to work. Seriously, how is breaking your leg different (you imply that it’s less of a reason to be late)? Do you really expect someone to hobble in on a broken leg?

        The only difference would be someone who has a medical issue (like both of the ones you described) versus someone who just doesn’t want to get out of bed.

        All I can say is I’m really glad you’re not my boss.

      11. Another worker bee*

        I’m late to the party here but WHY is this different??? I’ve been through both a broken leg and pregnancy and was lucky in both cases (in that it was a mild break and I didn’t have terrible morning sickness, not that my employer was particularly supportive in either case) and I have to say, I think in terms of disrupting my schedule, the broken leg was way worse. I had physio two days a week for a LONG time, on top of Xrays every 3-4 weeks, which was a lot more Dr appts than when I was pregnant. And while you can just get up earlier to get ready in the morning with a broken leg, you seem to be assuming a perfect world where that person can still use the same transportation they were using before without relying on any extra people, which is VERY short-sighted. Anytime you are mobility impaired you are relying on other people for things (rides, mostly) and those other people care a lot less about your punctuality than you do. I definitely managed to MISS A PLANE for a work trip despite leaving my house 4 hours before the flight (normally 2-2.5 is plenty) when I had a broken leg because the wheelchair service at the airport just didn’t GAF if I got where I needed to be on time or not.

    3. Jennifer*

      I think she probably just used a lot of words to say something that only required a few. Different medical issues require different levels of flexibility.

      1. Sparrow*

        I do agree that different medical conditions (and different people) may require different kinds of accommodations, but that’s something to be sorted out on an individual basis. I think people are reacting strongly to the implication that certain medical conditions merit greater flexibility than others, even if both conditions impact the employee’s work patterns in similar ways.

        I’ve largely been sympathetic to OP’s intentions, because I gathered that intention was, “I want to be flexible for my employees with medical challenges.” This sounds more like, “I want to be flexible for my pregnant employees only,” and that’s…quite different. If that is the thinking here, I would strongly encourage OP to rethink whether the root medical issue itself is more important than the impact the medical issue has on the employee’s ability to work strict hours.

  13. WellRed*

    “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue”
    Cringing so hard! I realize you meant well OP, but there are reasons women wait to tell until they are ready. Instead of burdening her, you should have handled the other issues differently.

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      For REAL.

      “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue.”

      Really??? I’ve never told you about my hereditary chronic illness and now you know all about the complication that just developed????”

      I’d be on edge for DAYS worried about who is following me to doctor’s appointments.

  14. TR*

    I once had a manager assume that I was pregnant because I was out sick for three days. She sent me an email with a similar message as the OP described. It made me very uncomfortable even though I liked her a lot.

    1. TR*

      I just ignored it by the way, but even though it’s been almost 10 years, I still shake my head at it from time to time and wonder if I should have said something.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      My exact response to that email would have been, “? Not pregnant, got the flu, but thanks for your concern.”

      Seriously, folks – don’t do this, lol.

  15. Erin (who works from home)*

    Yikes. I would find it really uncomfortable if someone told me they figured out my medical issue. Maybe this is my anxiety talking, but to me that immediately conjures up an image of my coworkers talking about what could possibly be taking me out of the office so often and speculating — I’d feel so exposed and like the subject of office gossip, even if it was just coming from one person. It does sound like you had the best intentions, OP, and I’m sure some people would really appreciate it, but I would pretty much want to get out of there as fast as possible and then spend the rest of the day analyzing my past behavior and agonizing over how you figured it out.

    Plus, as everyone keeps saying, you could be wrong. And even if you’re not, isn’t it standard to announce at 12 weeks just in case something goes wrong? Now, if something terrible happens, your employee has to have an *additional* talk about how she’s not actually pregnant anymore …with her boss. Ugh.

    1. Close Bracket*

      that immediately conjures up an image of my coworkers talking about what could possibly be taking me out of the office so often and speculating

      Well, yeah, bc that’s exactly what happened, with the caveat that it was only OP doing the speculating. In some cases, though, there are multiple people speculating. Standard advice for people feeling like everyone is talking about them to that people notice you a lot less than you notice yourself. That’s true, except when people are talking about you. I worked with a guy who asked me things about myself (minor things) a couple times bc people had been talking about me and he was curious. It was weird and disconcerting. And now I know that those things about myself are things people notice and talk about, and the only way I get through my days is to pretend that guy never asked me about it.

      It’s not your anxiety, it’s real life.

  16. Flossie Bobbsey*

    I’m with AAM and OP’s friend. As someone who was out of the office for many appointments relating to fertility treatment, it would have been very difficult on me during that time to have a supervisor imply to my face that they had been keeping tabs on my appointments and concluded that I was pregnant. Ouch. Not to mention all the other reasons AAM mentions.

  17. MicroManagered*

    OP I think the real problem is “I think I know what your medical issue is.” When she asked about what to do when an appointment she expected to be short takes 3 hours, it would’ve been enough to say “If it’s related to a medical situation, of course we can be flexible. The staff meeting last week referred to folks who are abusing that flexibility to sleep in, etc.”

  18. Creepd the F out*


    I would be 100% skeeved out if you said to me, “I figured out your medical issue! AND IT’S BABIES!!!! :) :) :)”

    1. That’s freaking creepy.
    2. I don’t want babies.
    3. It’s not your business until I tell you.

    If your company has inclusive flexible policies for people with (enter whatever), then say that to everyone.


  19. Health Insurance Nerd*

    OP- I feel like people are being/going to be unnecessarily harsh towards you, so in an effort to throw some sunshine your way I’ll say that you were clearly so well intentioned, here, and now you know that you should never, ever have a conversation like that one with an employee again :)

    1. Wing Leader*

      I think people are being harsh, though, because OP should have known better beforehand. OP is in a management position for goodness sakes, and this is Basic Human Decency 101. OP should be well-versed in this stuff, or otherwise should not be in a management position.

  20. Bloopmaster*

    It great to enthusiastically accommodate people who have medical needs (whether or not you suspect those are tied to pregnancy), and clearly the individual involved was proactive in asking about time keeping for medical appointments, but make sure the rest of your staff are aware that they can still flex time, etc. when they have medical needs. Because–after the recent crackdown on flexible schedules–unless this is something you spell out, it’s going to be a concern for many people and possibly even cause some to delay or forego necessary medical care.

  21. Amber Rose*

    I’m fat, I’ve been throwing up a lot and being nauseous, I’ve been seeing my doctor very frequently about it all… I am not pregnant. It turns out I was dealing with some weird sudden allergies and food intolerances. It took a while to figure out.

    OP, I know you think you had enough evidence that there was no doubt in your mind, but unless someone has stamped YES AM PREGNANT to their forehead, you do not have enough evidence to come to that conclusion. And if you’d told me that you figured out my medical issue, I would have made the shocked Pikachu face, because how did you manage that when it baffled even my doctor? Which would have led me to wonder what you think I had, and then I’d be wondering how to gently correct you without revealing a bunch of personal details… Bad juju all around.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Yes! Now please respond to everything shocking posted on AAM so I can never stop laughing. :D

  22. RandomPoster*


    First of all, no. Second of all…no.

    Always wait until they bring it up. Even if they are pregnant (which is a big IF – there are thousands of other explanations it could be) it serves you no purpose to say that. If you wanted to state to your employees that despite your stringent policies they could still come to you with specific situations or medical concerns, that would have been appropriate to share with the whole group.

    And for what it’s worth, in my experience a typical pregnancy does not require many, long appointments in the early stages. So that’s an extra layer of complexity that things might not be going well.

    1. So sleepy*

      This is another good point! I have had pregnancy appointments go long…. in most cases when they went long it was due to complications or concerns about complications (save a few random ones where the OB-GYN was delivering a baby and therefore extremely late). And the only time I had appointments more frequently than monthly prior to 20 weeks was when the pregnancy was high risk.

  23. Meredith*

    As someone who has dealt with infertility, 10000% yes to Alison’s response. I’ve spent many months in and out of appointments in the morning. Just today I woke up at 5 (I normally get up at 6:15) to drive 25 minutes in the opposite direction for a doctor’s appointment, and then 50+ minutes back to my office, all by 8:45. I’m supposed to be in the office for stand up meeting at 9, but there have been times I’ve had to alert them that I won’t make it because “traffic” and “doctor’s appt. ran late.” There have been occasions where I have worked from home due to egg retrievals, transfers, and miscarriages. (My office has a flexible work from home policy.) It would take all I had not to crumble if I thought someone was on the verge of congratulating me when really, I just get pricked with a lot of needles and have a LOT of ultrasound to check my uterine lining.

    1. Cat*

      Yeah, doing IVF and even less invasive treatments is actually a lot more likely to be noticed by your office than early pregnancy much of the time. You don’t have that many appointments in the first trimester unless you’re doing fertility treatments! And the hormones can mimic all sorts of things.

      1. Meredith*

        Right? I was in the waiting room at my RE’s office once and this woman who was also waiting said, “I feel like I’m here every day.” The rest of us said, “Yep, if you’re doing a retrieval… there ARE times you’re here every day!”

        At my old toxic job I was normally able to schedule a 7 am appointment and still get in by 8, but it was the type of job where if I was 10-15 minutes late occasionally, it wasn’t an issue. Well, in theory, though they could use anything they had against you when the time was right. Anyway, I started giving my boss a head’s up that I *might* be late due to a doctor’s appointment, but it caused a lot of faux concern, so I stopped mentioning it.

    2. Anon for this*

      Same. I haven’t gone through fertility treatments (yet, and hopefully never), but I did have THREE back to back to back miscarriages over the summer, and prior to that went through the whole slew of fertility baseline testing where I had to get bloodwork and have ultrasounds over the course of a month. With all of that combined, I’ve taken a decent amount of time off this year for medical appointments. Now, still not pregnant (and absolutely no answers as to why the struggle conceiving/miscarrying), I anticipate having more fertility related appointments in the future.

      I would definitely be in tears if someone at work hinted that I was absent because I was pregnant, after what I’ve been through surrounding the topic.

      Good luck, btw. Wishing you all the best.

  24. Jennifer*

    Yowza! I know your heart was in the right place, OP, but this was not the right thing to say. I’d be alarmed if someone said “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue.” As women, there’s already enough scrutiny of our bodies without thinking your boss is staring at you to figure out if you’re pregnant. There are a lot of reasons that a young woman might need a lot of back to back medical appointments. If she is pregnant, you’ll find out soon enough. Alison’s wording here is perfect.

    I think it might be a good idea to let the entire office now that flexibility is allowed when it comes to medical, childcare, or other similar issues, just not “I feel like sleeping in today.” It’s perfectly valid to want the staff there at a certain time and plenty of offices operate that way, but this employee may not be the only one having a medical issue. She just may be the only one that voiced it. Another meeting where your flexibility with this issue is clarified might be beneficial.

    1. Heidi*

      I agree with this. I also think that it was kind of odd that OP said, “and if I am correct, I just want you to know that we will be as flexible as needed during this time…” Adding the “if I am correct” part seems to imply that if she weren’t pregnant, there would be no such flexibility, and it kind of puts the employee in a position where she has to confirm the pregnancy to obtain the flexibility. I’m pretty sure that’s not what OP meant to do, but that’s the impression I got.

  25. Quill*

    To my mind, it’s all in how you approach this. Don’t be vague! Simply ask if there are any accomodations she needs or wants rather than doing any lead in about “soooo, I figured out your medical thing…”

  26. ExcelJedi*


    Sorry if this was already said, but the implication here is that you’d only be accepting of medical issues if they include gestating another human. This is….very not good.

    1. Even In an Emergency*

      Yeah this is definitely the implication in the letter … and in OP’s comments here.

  27. OP*

    Just to address all of the “of course your employer will be flexible with your medical issues” I want to congratulate you on having always worked at places run by decent human beings. Another place where I worked, one of the employees called in one morning and told the boss that her sister had just died suddenly and he responded “but you’ll still be in today, right? We have work to do!” and to be clear, she 100% did not have anything vital that needed to be done, this boss was just a horrible human being. So, I don’t ever assume that people know they are dealing with decent human beings, I make sure to explicitly tell them, because unfortunately it’s not a given.

    1. Creepd the F out*

      Yeah, that’s the lesser concern here.

      Your major concern is that you think it’s your duty, and acceptable, to detective out and then comment on your employee’s health condition and pregnancy status.

      1. Weighted Owl*

        I totally agree. However benevolent her intentions may be, this is all about power. OP is the mama bear who brings the cubs in line for her boss and then gets to dole out exceptions based on her judgment. This makes me shudder.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree. I have to deprogram a lot of people when they start here. They’re used to being shamed out of taking PTO or using sick leave or even their heath benefits. Suddenly after they hear that we’re not tyrants, they come to me asking for assistance accessing their health benefits and the cartoon devil in the back of my mind says “See, you do get sick or need access to wellcheck-care when it’s available.” While the angel part of me quickly gets to work getting them all the documentation they need to get the services they’re seeking ASAP.

    3. annony*

      I think the main point is that the potentially pregnant employee is not the only one that needs to know about the option of flexibility when medically necessary. You should be letting everyone know that while in general you need them there 9-5, exceptions will be made for medical reasons and let them know how to request it. Not everyone who needs that flexibility will necessarily be obvious enough for you to pull them aside.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yes, that’s another thing that annoyed me with the letter. The pregnant employee is reassured, but what about the others who might be dealing with their own medical issues, chronic illnesses, etc.?

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup. There are invisible disabilities (I have a few of them that require accommodation), and I was going to make the same comment.

    4. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

      “Sure I’ll be in today. And I’m bringing my sister in with me.”

      What a jerk.

    5. lazuli*

      It’s great to explicitly tell them! You should probably work that into any and all conversations about scheduling changes or crackdowns, though, not just wait until you think they have a medical issue.

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Wow that’s a lot of snark, and in other replies I’ve seen, you don’t seem to be taking this seriously. You crossed a really big boundary on this one, and I’m sorry if the comment section is beating you up for it, but you need to take this more seriously. You can get your message across about flexibility at work without telling someone “ooh I think I know your secret”. Someone’s medical issues are really not your business.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I don’t read her comment as being too snarky–some people here do tend act like all employers can be flexible. I think it’s helpful for OP to explain that she doesn’t want to assume that her employees know they room to have flexibility when needed.

        1. Jennifer*

          That’s how I read it too. A lot of people here seem to have only worked for fabulous, endlessly flexible employers and don’t really have any idea that that’s not how the world works for a great deal of people.

          1. A*

            …or have gone through several transitions with companies that are adapting to the offering of such flexibility and are speaking to how it can indeed be done without detriment to the company, with the exception of positions where the job description truly cannot be fulfilled otherwise. This isn’t just some entitlement brigade.

    7. Not Me*

      But then your concern should be that all employees who may need an accommodation for a medical issue knowing you’re a decent human being and will allow them flexibility. You not only didn’t do that, you’ve said in posts that you don’t think other medical issues should have the same flexibility as pregnancy. Are you being purposely obtuse?

    8. Jennifer*

      I agree with you. I have worked many places where if I’d gotten there battered and bleeding, they’d have complained if I was a few minutes late. Certain things have to be said out loud. You may have bungled this when you spoke to your maybe-pregnant employee, but your heart was in the right place.

      1. Scarlet2*

        The problem is that OP didn’t pass on the message to all the employees, who might also have medical issues of their own. Saying it to one person in private (a friend of hers, no less), while also implying that it’s because she’s pregnant makes it deeply problematic.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, I mentioned that in one of my other comments. Her heart was in the right place, but she bungled the delivery. This is a very fixable problem.

    9. hbc*

      I think some of the pushback you’re getting is that you seem to be…overcompensating in support for this particular medical issue. Some pregnant people will need no accommodations beyond a shifted schedule for appointments six times in eight months, and it’s pretty annoying to be proactively provided these things you don’t need. When it happened to me, it felt almost like I was being gaslit when people told me that of course I was so tired and couldn’t walk across the room and so on.

      It’s almost coming across like you were so excited about finally having a Pregnant Employee to demonstrate your supportiveness that you lost sight of what would support the actual person in front of you.

    10. Nesprin*

      Yeah… but you butting in to your employees medical status is veering onto the not-decent-human-beings category.

    11. MCMonkeyBean*

      Then why would you only tell one person instead of making that clear to everyone in the initial meeting?

    12. I'm just here for the comments*

      Is there a reason you can’t make it an explicit policy stating that accommodations will be made based on individual cases (and accompanied by a doctor’s note, if necessary)? And then is there a reason you can’t announce it to the office at large in the same manner you cracked down on the “flexible” work hours? Rather than approach people individually who you “think” may need it (and save yourself from guessing their medical conditions) and missing the people who you ” don’t think” need it. This would tell everyone you’re willing to help them without singling out anyone, or making it seem that some accommodations are *more worthy* than others.

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yikes. A planned pregnancy would be the best case scenario but having had to have a lot of doctors appointments lately due to the fact that I have chronic issues starting to show themselves, I’d be horrified if anyone assumed it was pregnancy. Lots of things cause this stuff, including cancer scares. I’m glad your mind went to a positive place but it can make the impact even worse in the end. What if it’s actually fertility treatment that turns into “Sorry, you can’t have kids actually, despite trying everything.”

    It’s all about taking that assumption part away and just saying “I know you’ve had a lot of appointments lately and that discussion about punctuality wasn’t about situations like yours! Your communication has been great and we appreciate it, so please proceed with taking the time and flexibility you need to accommodate your appointments.”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yep, that’s why I made sure to use the term “planned” pregnancy. Since if you’re not trying or at least open to the fact that “what will be will be!”, it can be absolutely life shattering to some people. Or just frightful, there are woman out there that have pregnancy phobias I’ve learned. The idea of kids is lukewarm on my side but the idea of pregnancy and worse, birthing is absolutely terrifying. I’m a ball of nerves without hormones and another life involved!

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Gurl. I meant “positive for the OP” not positive for the employee. You’re getting a little too off track here.

  29. Dust Bunny*

    For the record, I recently went through a series of gyn appointments that were not pregnancy-related, and I would have been (unnecessarily, but still) mortified if this had been said to me. I did tell my boss that I was going to be going through a series of appointments simply because we’re a small department and tend to worry about each other in a friendly way if people start disappearing regularly, but he never asked and made it clear that I did not need to provide any information other than “I need some medical time off”.

    But we have medical leave and my boss can just adjust it if an appointment takes longer than I expected. That is, if I book two hours and it takes three, he just fixes it later (or vice-versa; he can also adjust if I get back early).

    But, in general, until somebody tells you directly that they’re pregnant, don’t bring it up. They get to control this information. (It was nice of you, but trust her to ask if she needs it.)

  30. OfficeGrl2019*

    It probably doesn’t matter but might matter – if I (young female) were pregnant, and my older male boss said he thinks he figured it out, etc, I would be really freaked out. I am assuming that the OP is a female, so that makes it 10% better but d@mn……if a boss would ever speculate my pregnancy/non pregnancy, I’d be a little weirded out.

  31. Ann*

    This is so beyond creepy and unprofessional that if your employee was my friend, I’d tell her to report you to HR.

    1. Rugby*

      This sounds like the kind of tiny non-profit that doesn’t have HR and that’s part of the problem.

  32. So sleepy*

    Yeah, I have to side with the friend in this case. Having been through this, it’s SUPER awkward to realize people are speculating, and it puts additional pressure on you to share before you’re ready because you’re worried people are making incorrect assumptions or that everyone’s just sitting around talking about it and waiting for you to announce. And, on the off-chance it’s NOT pregnancy, she might be HORRIFIED that you know whatever it really is or that you think she’s pregnant when she’s not and would not give the same accommodations if you knew it was actually migraines, or therapy, or uncontrollable diarrhea.

    What I would do next time is exactly what you did, just leave out the “I think I know what it is” and stick with “I just want you to know that despite the recent crackdown, we are still able to accommodate flexibility if you or anyone is experiencing personal or medical issues”.

  33. OP*

    Again, keep in mind that these letters have to be brief and don’t give the entire situation. Not that it matters, but it wasn’t just that she had medical appointments that tipped me off, because yes, that could be anything. It was a very specific combination of different clues, most of which are things she told me, I didn’t have to sleuth here, that pointed directly to pregnancy or trying to get pregnant, which is 100% what it was. And no, it had nothing to do with weight gain as some people commented above, she’s not showing at all yet, so I didn’t just see an employee gain weight and have medical appointments and assume she was pregnant, I am not that crass.

      1. Arctic*

        You are being really unkind and OTT. OP maybe overstepped a bit but had nothing but good intentions. And didn’t want her employee to freak about a recent crackdown.

        1. Scarlet2*

          Not sure about the good intentions when OP doesn’t feel the need to reassure the other employees who might also need flexibility for medical issues. They even implied in other comments that they wouldn’t be so flexible for other medical issues such as a broken leg…

          1. banzo_bean*

            No, OP clarified later in the comments that different medical issues require different levels of flexibility, and that makes sense.

            1. Not Me*

              But the OP doesn’t know who else might be dealing with a medical issue that would need flexibility. It sounds like they are operating on a system of “if they don’t tell me, I don’t know about it” with everyone else in the office but decided this one employee (who is a friend) is pregnant and therefore shouldn’t worry about the attendance policy reminder.

              That doesnt’ sound like good intentions to me. It sounds like overstepping the bounds of a manager and favoring an employee who they have a personal relationship with. It sounds like really bad management.

    1. Rugby*

      But even if you were 100% correct, she may not have been ready to tell you. Announcing a pregnancy is stressful for a lot of women and it sounds like you pushed her to disclose before she was ready.

    2. Nini*

      The issue is that you appear to have only pulled aside this one employee and told her the policy doesn’t apply to her because you *assume* she’s pregnant. That’s not a good look. The better thing to do is let all employees know that medical exemptions can be made to allow for more flexible schedules, and tell them what sort of documentations will be required to obtain said exemption. Then let them come to you to make a request, for whatever reason they might have.

      1. pamplemousse*

        Since OP was excited about being helpful and accommodating during a pregnancy, she should also know that in some cases, going out of your way to do something you think is helpful for a pregnant woman could end up as an anti-discrimination lawsuit. The example given in our training was reassigning a pregnant woman to a role where she wouldn’t have to lift heavy things, but that also had less potential overtime pay. The boss in that situation thought she was being helpful, too!

        I don’t think you’re in that territory with this question, but it is useful information to have going forward, especially since it sounds like you don’t have a formal HR department.

        1. Nini*

          Yes, there’s a comment further down about letting the employees be the leader in this situation, and letting them tell you what they want/need that’s very good. OP shouldn’t be assuming they know what accommodations are needed for anyone.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You know that a lot of women find it bad-luck to announce a pregnancy until a certain point, right? So let’s wash away the idea that you may not have guessed right because it’s a pretty slam dunk assumption.

      So how are you going to handle it when she never has a baby?

      There was a letter in a Friday post recently about how to deal with letting people know about a pregnancy not being carried to full term. You should really act like there’s nothing going on, ever until the news is given to you personally not just way of rumor or suspicions.

      1. blackcat*

        Yeah, I’d assume that someone who had a lot of first/second trimester appointments who I *knew* was pregnant may be having complications. And complications that early often mean there’s a concern about the viability of the pregnancy, which is a really good reason to not be telling people.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, having seen babies born for decades now. Every mother is the leader of their pregnancy and the information they share with others. There’s too much at stake here.

          It’s a very personal situation, I’m tired of pregnancy making women go from individuals nobody cares about to community property where everyone gets to chime on in with their feelings and opinions.

      2. quagmire*

        I got really sick and gained a bunch of weight a few years ago. A relative noticed I wasn’t drinking beer at a party (because I don’t drink beer, I was drinking a cocktail), and told several people I was pregnant, resulting in someone calling to CONGRATULATE MY MOTHER ON HER IMPENDING GRANDCHILD. When my mom insisted I was not pregnant, the cousin on the phone told my mom that they’d see who was right in a few months.

        It was humiliating and stressful, but my mom, Queen of Petty, waited exactly 9 months from the phone call, called that cousin back, and said, “weird, she still hasn’t had that baby you and other relative insisted she was pregnant with.”

        “Well, you never know,” was the flustered response.

        1. CindyC*

          “Exactly 9 months”. I am kind of cackling at the thought of your mother marking the date in her calendar to be absolutely sure she doesn’t miss it XD

        2. Bowserkitty*

          “Well, you never know,” was the flustered response.

          This makes me wanna rip my hair out, just admit when you’re wrong!!!!!

          I love your mother.

      3. Butterfly*

        So true! In 2nd trimester we found out our baby boy was really sick, described as “not compatible with life”. Had to terminate the pregnancy at 18 wks. I had so many appointments leading to the surgery, plus dealing with grief, I had to tell my boss. But it was done on my terms and she respected my privacy.

    4. Yikes yikes yikes*

      Ehhh… but it’s still creepy to me. Even if you we’re 100% sure, which you can’t be without a test, I wouldn’t want to know that by boss was thinking that much about my body. I just think you didn’t need to say that and offer the flexibility.

    5. blackcat*

      Look, I know you feel like you had reason to make this more okay.
      Lots of people are telling you that, no, even if you are really sure someone is pregnant YOU WAIT UNTIL THEY TELL YOU. Maybe your BFF is an exception, but never an employee, no matter how close you are.
      You could have simply told her “It’s fine if you’re having a medical issue requiring some follow up.”

    6. Tuckerman*

      But if she didn’t tell you she was pregnant, she didn’t want to have that conversation yet.

    7. J.*

      I feel like any conversation that starts “I think I’ve figured out…” about a personal issue I haven’t shared with someone (especially my boss!!!) is going to make me uncomfortable. This is true whether it’s a medical issue or not, or whether it’s related to assumptions around pregnancy or not. That statement means you’ve been speculating about an employee, possibly with other people, in a way that’s not really appropriate.

      Pregnancy aside, your sentiment and intentions may have been good, but the delivery was awkward and your friend and Alison are right to counsel you not to do that again in the future. Continuing to defend yourself and the reasons why you did it aren’t going to change what happened, just try to do better next time you’re presented with a situation like this.

    8. Non-prophet*

      OP, I’m glad this seems to have turned out fine, and that your employee doesn’t mind that you initiated the conversation. I can tell you were well intentioned.

      But even with the details that are included in the letter, I would NOT have felt comfortable in your employee’s situation. I have also been the employee who was pregnant, and had been planning this for some time. And then a routine quick appointment turned into a three hour appointment…at which, I was informed that I had had a miscarriage. And because it was a twin pregnancy and I was far enough along, my doctor was worried about risks to my health. So she referred me to a specialist, who then recommended surgery and testing, etc. In my experience, when a routine appointment turns into something that takes three hours, it’s almost always bad news.

      I let my boss know about the miscarriage because I needed to suddenly be out of the office at a busy time. And my boss was gracious and understanding…she may have known about the pregnancy, but she never said so. If she HAD asked about the pregnancy on her own…damn, I would have been devastated. Even when I initiated the conversation, it was the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to verbalize in my life.

      1. J.*

        In my experience, when a routine appointment turns into something that takes three hours, it’s almost always bad news.

        This is true, and thanks Non-prophet for bringing it up. It’s great that things seemed to turn out ok in this particular case, but that conversation could have gone so, so wrong very quickly.

    9. Not Me*

      You know, my boss and I recently were lamenting a few male idiots we work with who asked a female co-worker if she was pregnant after a few doctors appointments. We thought “how dense could you possibly be in 2019?”.

      Yet here you are, someone who even cares enough about doing the right thing to read AAM, not only being that dense but also defending it! Stop. Just stop.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I had a female coworker ask me back in January or February if I was pregnant because I worked from home one day (this was usually not allowed for my particular team unless there were extenuating circumstances, and even then, we could usually on do it for a couple hours or so). I told her what I told my manager – I had a doctor’s appointment that was weirdly scheduled at 11am, and I wasn’t feeling well enough to go back and forth to the office.

        I was really going to what I thought was going to be a two hour interview at 11 and needed to factor in my 45 min commute, lol. The interview ended up taking three and a half hours (!), but that was none of their business.

      2. CMart*

        I don’t think OP is defending it – they’ve clearly acknowledged elsewhere that they’re taking the “yikes, no, you were wrong and your friend was right” as the correct answer. This comment of theirs is explaining why they acted like they did, that while it was still the wrong call it wasn’t a call made on “lol Susan’s looking a little plump bet she’s preggers!”

        They’re defending their character a bit, yes. I would too. It’s one thing to hear “yeah, you were wrong” and another thing to hear “you were very wrong because you obviously had XYZ in your heart” when the second half was not true. But I think they’ve adequately noted they took the wrong actions here.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          But they still seem 100% sure that they can tell from “clues” whether someone is pregnant and that is a very serious problem. Unless one of the clues was literally overhearing her tell someone she is pregnant then there are other things that could be happening–and even then you don’t want to risk that you misheard or misunderstood. It is not ever, ever, ever okay for them to conclude that someone must be pregnant without being directly told and they seem unwilling to accept any comments indicating otherwise.

    10. The bread burglar*

      Its not about crassness.

      The issue is
      A. You should tell all your employees about medical flexibility if its an option. And it shouldnt be just for pregnancy. Also are you giving this same freedom to people who have a pregnant partner and want to attend appointments?

      B. Unless she expressely said the words “I AM PREGNANT.” You should never assume or speak with that assumption.

      Just because she is trying to get pregnant (assuming she said this not you guessing no matter how obvious she made it) doesnt mean that she is now. It can be a long and difficult process. It also doesnt mean she will carry it to full term because of all kinds of reasons even if she totally wants to. As someone who is going through this now if a boss thought I was pregnant even if I was that would be very problematic. People will share when they are ready.

      That being said your actions were well intended and as you advised above she was okay with it then it is really more something for you (and other readers) to know going forward.

    11. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

      OP, I’m going to take you at your word that you had good reason to believe that she was “pregnan[t] or trying to get pregnant,” but to assume pregnancy from that could be really hurtful to someone who’s dealing with infertility and/or losing a baby.

    12. AvonLady Barksdale*

      We get that. And you’re not a terrible person and you’re doing well to treat your employee with compassion, but the point is that the next time you suspect something like this, you need to keep it to yourself. Show your employees that you will be flexible with them by… being flexible with them. Be available, be kind, present yourself as a boss they can trust, but do not ever again approach an employee with, “I figured out what’s wrong with you,” no matter how kindly meant.

      If you have an employee who appears to be suffering or who is suddenly underperforming or is visibly distracted, you can gently ask if there is anything going on that they want to discuss by citing the change in performance. That is ok, that is human, if it’s done kindly then it is usually appreciated.

      But the ultimate point is that it doesn’t matter that you were right. It doesn’t even matter that your employee is pregnant. It only matters that you erred here, and you should have waited for her to come to you.

      1. ACDC*


        And kudos to you for wording this comment in a kind and constructive way. A lot of these comments are pretty mean.

    13. Marzipan*

      ‘Trying to get pregnant’ is a very, very, very, VERY different thing to actually being pregnant. I spent five solid years trying to get pregnant and stay that way. That was five years of disappointments, setbacks, losses, delays, and general rubbishness. I didn’t talk about it, because I didn’t want people knowing about it. I would have loathed people guessing what was going on, but if they’d instead inferred that I was pregnant – or that trying to get pregnant was more or less equivalent to being pregnant so same difference – that would have been incredibly upsetting.

      It’s wonderful to tell people not to worry about legitimate medical appointments, but please don’t get into or hint at the reasons why. There are so many ways that could cause people pain, which I’m sure you don’t want.

        1. Devil Fish*

          Where is the lie though?

          I’ve had managers who admitted they’d made a mistake but then wasted a lot of my time explaining why they’d made the mistake and how it was a completely reasonable mistake to make and actually I was the one being unreasonable for pointing out the mistake. The weird favoritism for pregnancy and dismissing other medical conditions as “a headache or whatever” also aren’t great, and neither is getting into an argument with a friend about an employee’s medical appointments. These aren’t things that good managers do.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, I was really reading their letter in good faith but they are digging in here in the comments in ways that make me really uncomfortable.

    14. So sleepy*

      Again, even the very specific combination of “pregnancy” symptoms can actually be a LOT of different things, so I really don’t think this has much merit, unless you literally saw a package of positive pregnancy tests fall out of her purse (you laugh, but I once knew someone who had a variation of this happen…). Unless she has been saying things like, “I think I might be pregnant” or “I missed my period and have been nauseous every morning,” I don’t think this is enough to justify it.

    15. hbc*

      I know you’re getting hammered here, but I just want to make clear how many complications you might be missing, even with the clues you had. As someone whose boss guessed that I was pregnant, I got darn lucky that it was during my one uneventful pregnancy and not the other successful one. Because in that one, yes, I was pregnant. I went from cautiously optimistic (because I finally made it past five weeks) to high anxiety (because there were three and my body was not going to produce healthy triplets) to massive indecision (selective reduction or not?) to dread (going from 3 to 1 naturally and not knowing if the third would stick) to slowly growing optimism.

      I honestly don’t know what I would have done if someone told me they guessed what was going on during that time, but I’m pretty sure they would have been wrong. But I would not have enjoyed trying to figure out if someone at work had overheard me making the appointment for selective reduction.

    16. Ruthie*

      While some people make inaccurate assumptions, it’s actually not unusual for people to catch on to a pregnancy before the parents are ready to share, especially if they spend a lot of time together. Like in a workplace. I work in the pregnancy and infant field and we do a pretty good job of being pretend surprised when an announcement comes, but as you can imagine a lot of my colleagues are pretty acutely aware of the signs of a pregnancy. I think “I know my report is pregnant, how should that be handled,” is a very fair question.

      1. Bonita*

        The question wasn’t “I know my report is pregnant, how should that be handled?” The question was “I told my report that I know she’s pregnant. Was I right?” OP was very wrong and needs to be made aware of that.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I think we’ve had a variation on the former before and the answer was basically “pretend you don’t know and do nothing until the employee comes and tells you.”

          This is a very different question indeed.

    17. smoke tree*

      Making assumptions about pregnancy and reproductive choices is a bit of a bugbear of this comments section, so that’s probably a factor in those comments. But the overall point is that it’s not appropriate to speculate about an employee’s medical condition, regardless of what it is, or how clear it may seem. I think the unique cultural place of pregnancy might sometimes obscure the fact that it is private medical information, particularly if you have warm relationships with your coworkers. But as a manager, it’s important to tread carefully with this stuff.

    18. Vistaloopy*

      OP, there is a HUGE difference between being pregnant and trying to get pregnant. In the second case, your assumption that she was pregnant (when maybe she was desperately trying) could have been extremely hurtful.

    19. MistOrMister*

      I didn’t see this updates comment when Iposted mine right after yesterday. But really my feeling is, it doesn’t matter what you THINK you know is going on with skmeone medically based on your observations, unless you are a trained medical professional. (And even then you would be telling the person that you needed tests to confirm before diagnosing them.) The thing that bothers me is you told her you knew what was going on, when in reality you couldn’t be sure because we all react differently to various ailments and conditions. There would have been nothing wrong with just telling the employee that flexibility was on the table for medical issues. But saying you know what is going on with them is an overreach because you DON’T know for sure and it isn’t a boss’s place to make assumptions about an employee’s health. I have some stomach issues that could possibly come off as morning sickness/pregnancy belly and if I was discussing them,and bothering to go to the doctor for them it might look like I was pregnant. But I’m not and no one should be speculating if I am. But even if they are speculating, they certainly shouldn’t be telling ME what they have decided is going on with my body. I really think that is the crux,of the matter.

      I am all for having a discreet conversation with someone if you notice something they are apparently unaware of that could be a danger to them. Although even then, one needs to tread lightly. But telling someone you know they’re pregnant when you’re actually not sure….it’s too much.

  34. MistOrMister*

    I can’t tell from the letter…..OP did you use the wording in the letter or did you specifically say you figured out that she was pregnant?

    Personally, I wouldn’t love to hear either, but it would be a lot more odd to me if a boss said they know what my medical issue is without naming it. Because I might be dealing with a case of shingles but you think I’m pregnant and now I’m confused by what you’ve said as I won’t need a lot more medical appointments to clear it up. Or maybe I have cancer and I’m stressed out by the belief that somehow my boss has realized my diagnosis without me having shared it, as maybe I didn’t want anyone to know. I have to agree with your friend and Alison that I think it would have been better to let the employee announce what they wanted when they wanted, but that letting them know the crackdown didn’t apply to sick leave would have been a good way to handle it.

    I had, not so much an illness, but some really wonky things going on internally for a few months. My symptoms were nowhere near what would be considered normal for the issue. What I (and the doctors) thought I would be diagnosed with and what it actually turned out to be were just light years apart. Which I bring up to point out that we have to be really careful when we say we know what’s going on with someone. Everyone’s body behaves so differently that unless symptoms are incredibly specific (I’m thinking something like uremic breath) you really can’t and probably shouldn’t make assumptions about someone’s medical state.

  35. Marzipan*

    As a currently pregnant person who doesn’t want to tell my workplace (or anyone else) just yet, I would *hate* having someone tell me this. And if my boss were to do so, I would literally wait until the last day I’m required to declare the pregnancy for maternity leave purposes, (which is 5 whole weeks after I plan to tell them), just out of sheer contrariness.

    I don’t mind if people guess, but I’d infinitely prefer they give me the gift of allowing me privacy until I tell them. I’m not an idiot; I know that I could get greater flexibility around time off for appointments if I were to let them know now – and yet the privacy aspect is worth more to me, which is why I’m prioritising it.

    For me, part of that is because it took me a very long time to get to this point, and although things are going well so far, there are quite a few risk factors in play that could cause issues. I would hate to have something go wrong and then have to tell everyone, so by keeping the news to myself for as long as I can, I feel more able to manage those worries.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is the thing right here. A lot of people will guess. People might put two and two together, happens all the time. But the key is to keep it to yourself! I met one of my close friends for breakfast once and she ordered her eggs “very well done”, which made my eyebrows raise pretty obviously, but I kept my mouth shut. When she was ready to start sharing, I was one of the first people she called– and I still asked her if the news was widely public so I wouldn’t accidentally let it slip. I don’t mess around with this type of stuff.

  36. fat scientist*

    I don’t want to further pile onto the OP who has said that they had multiple other reasons for believing the employee was pregnant but I (a woman of childbearing age) have recently been out of work for a lot of medical appointments, first to identify, image, and remove a grapefruit-sized tumor on my ovary, then to go through all the steps to freeze eggs from my remaining ovary. Luckily, no one at work particularly notices or cares (I’m a postdoc in a lab in an academic setting, the only reason why I told my boss before my surgery was that they said it would take up to a month to recover, but as it turned out I was back at work in a week and he wouldn’t have noticed). All of this would have been a lot harder without flexible start times, etc, so just want to reiterate that non-pregnancy medical things also really benefit from increased flexibility and also that it could really land you in an awkward position if you assume a woman is pregnant when she in fact just has a very large ovarian tumor, for example!

  37. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

    I think the idea that “different issues require different accommodations” is kind of a red herring. Different pregnancies also require different accommodations! Just reassure people that they can have the accommodations they need, and don’t concern yourself overmuch with their “issues.”

  38. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I commented earlier, but I’m going to do so again out of nesting:

    DUDE. I have a hereditary chronic illness that I keep to my damn self. I’ve been developing complications, which require a few more appointments that look exactly like what you “figured out.” I GET IT, you’re trying to be a good guy; but if you had come to me and said “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue,” I’d be frightened out of my wits, then on the phone to my lawyer to confirm what my rights are under the ADA. You have no business “figuring out” my medical issue. You wait until I TELL YOU that I have a medical issue for which I am taking short-term disability, or something else that affects the workplace.

    1. Rockin Takin*

      Just because someone’s able to put on a front doesn’t mean they don’t have a chronic illness. And sometimes there are flare ups. And it’s no one’s business but their own, unless they offer that information.

      Idk why, especially in the US, everyone thinks they are entitled to know everyone’s business, especially regarding health.

  39. Eep*

    OP, I don’t think you are intending to cause harm, so please understand that I mean this with kindness: I think you need to hire a trained HR professional ASAP. Your intentions are good – you want to support the medical needs of your staff! – but your thought processes in the OP and in your comments on this post are really troubling and inappropriate and possibly illegal. I think you are confused about what is and is not your responsibility re: supporting your employees’ medical needs. You have expectations about how much information your employees need to give you, what kinds of judgments you need to make, what kinds of conversations you are allowed or even expected to have, etc which are really out of step with the law. I worked for many years at nonprofits and I sympathize – everybody is always having to wear a million hats at once! The best way to put your organization’s laudable policies into practice in a way that truly supports your employees is to have a trained staff member overseeing these policies, who is sensitive to the medical privacy issues at hand here. If that’s not in the budget, and if you are going to be the staff member responsible for implementing your company’s medical leave policies, it’s important that you undertake some more formal training in this area ASAP. The fact that this particular situation seems to have turned out well (which may not even be the case, your employees may have had a whole host of feelings that she will never be comfortable sharing with you) is a matter of luck rather than skill – this situation could have played out disastrously in a million ways, leaving your employee devastated and your company liable.

    1. Jamie*

      This is such good advice and I hope the OP takes it. There are consulting firms where you can outsource HR functions from everything, to advising when writing policies like those that would apply here.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Agreed. I was trying to give the OP the benefit of the doubt, but her comments throughout this thread have been deeply troubling. I hope it’s just defensiveness and not an indication of her overall management philosophy because, if so, yikes.

  40. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    Hey OP,

    Thanks for hanging out and participating in the comments. Based on some of the other things you’ve said I wanted to mention one other thing: it’s entirely possible you might have another pregnant person on the team now that doesn’t want to disclose and needs accommodation. My relative had the worst pregnancy symptoms (vicious morning sickness that lasted quite a long time) very early on in her pregnancy. We’re talking within the first month. So, definitely at a point that a person wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing, but she’d probably still need accommodation.

    Please make sure your personnel know that you are accommodating for all medical issues, because some people may be suffering and just not telling you after the crackdown that just occurred. I’m also thinking of a few chronic issues that mess with sleep cycles while medications are adjusted. Or even a new potential cancer diagnosis where an employee needs time off to get tests to confirm but doesn’t want to mention it to anyone at work (hell, they probably don’t even want to think about it themselves).

    Obviously you can’t let everyone work from home forever, but there’s a happy medium.

  41. NW Mossy*

    I can see how you stumbled on this one, OP, and it’s a good lesson: sometimes leadership is about knowing when to follow someone else.

    Our roles as leaders condition us to take charge, which in most work contexts is a reasonable and appropriate course. But when the situation at hand is a direct report’s medical condition, the normal rules are flipped. Now, they need to lead you. They set the tone for what accommodations and supports they want/need, how and when information about their condition is shared, and what they choose to do for their own care along the way. Let them own this, because it’s theirs. Their body. Their mind. Their choices. Stepping in to steer those choices, however well-intentioned, can be really disempowering in a situation where they may already be feeling a lot more powerless than usual.

  42. Rockin Takin*

    I am early in my pregnancy but have been very sick, and a lot of my employees decided to gossip about it. I did not want to tell anyone at work besides my boss and co-supervisors until my 2nd trimester, but then I had a worker come up to me and congratulate me for my “good news”. When I asked her who told her I was pregnant, she said oh people have been talking and she could tell because I’ve gained weight and have that look.
    She said this in front of 5 other employees, and I was forced to out my pregnancy.
    Having someone tell me that they think I’m pregnant because I’ve gained weight was very upsetting.
    Having people at work gossip about why I’m not feeling well/going to the Dr was upsetting.
    Having to announce my pregnancy a month before I planned to was upsetting.

    In general, be supportive of others if they need it, but please do not assume you know what’s going on with someone’s health.

    Also earlier in my career I had to fight pregnancy rumors a LOT. I have acid reflux and just tend to puke a lot, but people refused to believe me and assumed I was pregnant.

    It sounds like you have a good relationship with this worker and everything’s ok, which is great. But it could have made her very uncomfortable.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Argh, in front of FIVE people? And not one had the idea to speak up and tell her how inappropriate she was being. Ick.

      My response to people who do this kind of thing in public is to say “This is really none of our business until the person it directly impacts decides it is.” But I’m also a bit of a bull in a china shop and don’t even try to fix it.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        No. Because the people she said it in front of were all part of the group that had been gossiping about me. And when I was upset about it, they didn’t get it. None of them. They were just like “well you should be excited” and “we just mean we are happy for you”. Since I’ve been pregnant I feel like my autonomy has been stripped and I am just a walking uterus for people to discuss.

  43. Sighhhh*

    To be clear, I 100% do not agree with the way you worded this to her–as other commenters have said, it carries a tone of, “I was sleuthing out your medical issue/I know your little secret” and runs the risk of falling anywhere between inappropriate to incredibly upsetting depending on whether or not you’re correct.

    That being said–I get the feeling behind where you are coming from, and that’s because I work in a similar office environment. I think a lot of commenters on AAM are either past the days of working in a position for a company that requires butts-in-the-seats, or never worked in that type of industry or workplace before. It can be hard to understand why places operate with such ~archaic~ structures, /especially/ when many toxic workplaces just so happen to operate similarly. But–it’s a reality that many of us face! And in workplaces like this, especially when many of the employees are younger or feeling too comfortable or even burnt out from overwork, etc, the urge to flex hours or call out for “non-important” reasons multiplies tenfold. And yeah! I work in a place like this that requires one to wear many hats and be physically present in the workspace (small company, one of my first jobs out of school), and I can empathize with the frustration OP is feeling. When my coworkers are hungover, or “sick,” or they “just don’t feel like” coming into work, it can be kind of frustrating to me, because those seem like bullshit reasons to not have to drag your butt in when I have to, too (we’re all “hungover” and “sick” and “just don’t feel like it,” you dig?). Ideally, we’d all just come in at 9 and leave at 5 like we’re supposed to, but life happens, reality isn’t like that. And you know what? Some of those aforementioned coworkers are actually some of our best workers, but they’re leaving the company, slowly but surely, citing a desire for more flex time rather than a “butts-in-the-seats” approach to business. So, while I totally understand the impulse to want to decide which medical conditions receive flex priority and which don’t, I would urge you to reconsider. I know small orgs (especially non profits) don’t always have the option to offer flex time, but these sorts of things drive folks away. And also to not try and guess your employee’s medical concerns.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, please don’t call it archaic. I can’t do my job from and I very much appreciate that my work hours are clearly circumscribed so I can’t be bothered by clients in the evening, etc., and have zero trouble making a clean break from my job at the end of the day. Limited, predictable, business hours can serve good purposes, too.

      1. Sighhhh*

        Agreed. There are many, many jobs that require on-site presence. Even the most senior members of my department have to be in office–it’s just how our industry works, and we don’t even meet clients or work in customer service! Having WFH allowances or flexibility is so great–I have some flexibility at my job, too–but I feel like there is such an insistence nowadays that we’re moving towards a truly remote-work future, which is wild. I’m so glad that this works for others! If you need that flexibility, I’m glad your industry is able to accommodate it. I guess all we can do is continue to make our needs clear when interviewing candidates so everyone finds their right fit!

      2. SpaceySteph*

        Excellent point about fixed hours. There is a benefit to being able to work from anywhere, anytime… but there’s definitely a downside, too.

    2. Rockin Takin*

      I work in the science industry and we are pretty strict with start times because it is required. Someone has to be here to do the work, because there are time limits to a lot of the stuff we do. And there is no option to do remote work, this is hands on manufacturing.
      But- we do offer a lot of sick time and flexibility for life situations. We get that it happens. But if someone starts to abuse that, then we usually talk to them.

    3. Jamie*

      especially when many of the employees are younger or feeling too comfortable or even burnt out from overwork

      One of these things is not like the others. Being burnt out from overwork is a real thing and if people don’t take care to head it off it can derail careers and/or negatively affect quality of life so significantly it can cause very real health problems, both physical and mental.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      When I think of “butts in seats”, it makes me think of how you get policed on if you’re away from your desk/work station verses being there on time. Or being strictly “clocking in at 9:01 is unacceptable and will result in termination if not fixed immediately. OH and BTW, don’t think about clocking in at 8:59 either. It’s 9 or DIE!”

      If you are having issues with staff showing up within a reasonable time period or for their jobs that require coverage, like a front desk. It’s on the company to make it easy to accommodate these requests. My thing is I loath that a lot of receptionists are slatted to be there at 8am. Which is actually when the office opens. So they get to walk in, sit down and are faced with customers. They don’t even have time to turn on their GD computers! That’s on the COMPANY! You should have someone starting at 7:30 so they have time to get the lobby ready and computers booted, etc. But no, cheap companies love to try to have their cake and eat it too. [Yeah I was super mad when I was told to be at the doctors office for 8:15 checkin. I thought that meant that it was an 8am opening for the reception crew. Nope. They were coming in right at 8:10 and when things were being opened up for us finally, nobody was available until they you know, got their computers fired up. RAWR.]

      So it’s all about being reasonable in the end. If you need coverage or you have operating hours to hold because you’re dealing with customers who know that you are there 8-5, there’s no reason to scorn the setup by any means. It’s necessary and regular. You always have to build in the idea of “We are dealing with humans and these humans are dealing with other humans, how do we work out this structure to benefit us all the best.”

      When I think about flexibility, I’m thinking 10-15 minutes instead of hours like others seem to do.

      The real issue is that people were working from home without it being an established accepted practice. The right approach to end that is to tell someone who responds with “Oh I’ll work from home” is “We don’t do WFH, you’ll need to take a half day/full day off [whatever their PTO works like], so would you like to use paid time or what?” [Also why are they in a position they can access their jobs outside of the office if they aren’t supposed to be working from home?! Yikes!]

      And then you work with each person who is developing a habit of the coming in when they please. Not a group setting, where you then need to pull an individual aside and say “Not you, your situation is totally different FYI.” Triple Yuck!

  44. Bluebell*

    I had a situation like this but was on the fence and I think I asked about it in a Friday open thread. In the end, I waited until the staffer told me. I never let on that I’d figured it out a few months beforehand. Things were a bit complicated because another staffer was struggling with infertility.

  45. 1LFTW*

    I was pregnant last summer. When I was tired and needed to get off my feet, nobody batted an eye. The speculative looks began when I started missing work for medical appointments. Unfortunately, that was due to complications, and then a miscarriage. If my boss had told me they’d “figured out my medical issue, nudge nudge, wink wink!” I’d have been devastated and furious.

    It sounds like everything has worked out well so far for your employee, and I hope things continue to go well, but you could have broken her heart in that moment; and that’s just one of several possible bad scenarios that other commenters have discussed. In the future, please do not play these kinds of guessing games with the health and accommodation needs of your employees.

  46. iglwif*

    So, I get what you’re going for, OP? But … how do I put this … it is almost never a good idea to suggest to someone that you think they’re pregnant.

    Because they could be sick in any of a bunch of other ways, or they could be missing work because they’re doing IVF (or some other form of infertility treatment that involves frequent blood tests or whatever), or they could be having a miscarriage, or … they could be kinda fat. (I was asked a few years ago if I was expecting, when I 1. was definitely not, 2. was 40+ years old with a teenage kid, 3. had been surgically menopausal for a really long time. It was embarrassing for both parties, and gobsmacking for the innocent bystanders.)

    I think your heart was in the right place here but hard agree with Alison that this was not the right approach.

  47. Jesicka309*

    I’m currently pregnant, 12 weeks, and if my manager said anything of this effect to me I think I’d want to crawl in a hole. I’m on contract and waiting to hear if I go permanent. If people suspect I’m pregnant I’d be so worried that, if I didn’t get made permanent, I’d be scared I’d been discriminated against. I’ll be 5 months pregnant and job hunting. I’m sure people have noticed (second child so definitely showing a bit) but if my manager pulled me aside for this conversation, I’d assume that any decision re my contract has a “she’s pregnant” lens over it. Lots of reasons for not wanting to disclose until later.

    I’ve also worked with a creepy manager who confessed to me a few years ago that he could always tell when his female employees were pregnant because their boobs got bigger. Vomit. No matter what “clues” your employees are dropping, you shouldn’t comment on your employees bodies unless prompted. Good on you OP for wanting to be flexible, but just be accommodating without the commentary. You can later tell your employee “I suspected something was up so I gave you more flex” but that’s a stretch at most.

    1. Rockin Takin*

      Wow. So that manager pretty much confessed that he was staring at boobs all day. Beyond ick.

    2. So sleepy*

      Honestly, I keep wondering if the only reason OP knows she was right is because the employee felt obligated to disclose as a result of the conversation. I mean, did she tell you this week because she wanted to, or because she felt obligated to after the conversation you had with her?

    3. Maeve*

      No manager should ever comment on anyone’s boobs for any reason, but also my boobs got bigger when I want on birth control!

  48. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    OP, you clearly had good intentions here, but have commented in a few place about details not in the letter that made you really certain you had reached the right conclusion. I think it’s important for you to realize that you could have seen a positive pregnancy test with her name on it in the trash at her desk, and still should not have started the conversation with this. You are lucky to have been right and to have an employee who understood your intentions and appreciated your offer of flexibility as presented. There are many many people (see all of the comments), who would have found this wildly invasive, even where you were 100% right in your conclusion. You had direct knowledge from the employee that she was dealing with medical appointments, so there was no need to have a shared understanding of the purpose for those appointments beyond their being medical. All you needed to say to be proactive here was, as Alison advises, “this crackdown doesn’t apply to medical appointments and they way you have been handling those lately doesn’t need to change. I hope you will let me know if there is anything else you need.”

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      THIS. Your having excellent reasons to be sure does not excuse it. You STILL don’t make reference to it until she does. Ever. At all. Yes, you. No, seriously.

  49. TheCommenterFormrlyKnownAsRUKiddingMe*

    As an aside completely off (any) topic(s).

    Alison my comments are sowing up again, in real time (for now anyway LOL) so whatever moderation magic you pulled off…thank you so much!!!

  50. GoMonkey*

    I was behaving exactly like your employee this summer, OP–frequent appointments, sudden call outs for ‘illness’, long lunch appointments that went well over expected time…I was working with a care team on a complicated and potentially terminal diagnosis, and a lawyer on my estate plans should worst come to worst.

    Please don’t assume. You can’t know.

  51. CMR*

    I had a micromanager that once jumped in with “oh, I think I know what you have going on *wink wink hint hint*” when I let her know that I would be attending regular doctor’s appointments for a period of time. I was livid. She had no right to jump to conclusions about my family planning, which is clearly what she assumed I was doing because I was a young, recently married female. Not to mention she was (probably still is) a terrible person and manager and I will never forgive or forget the stress/trauma she caused me while I was in a job that I actually enjoyed, which made it even worse for her prying comments. I didn’t tell her, and I never wanted to tell her, that I had regular doctor’s appointments for an ACCUTANE PRESCRIPTION because I was mortified to be a 28 year-old woman dealing with horrendous acne. [Mind you, this was the second time in my life that I had to use extreme medication for acne] So yeah, don’t do that to someone. From your letter, sounds like you’re not the vicious micromanager that I had but if you’re employee is not supplying you the details, even if you’re an excellent manager, it’s not your role to imply, pry or make assumptions. Support your employee to the best of your ability and they will seek you out if they have questions/concerns. I now have an amazing, supportive boss and whenever I’m dealing with personal stuff, I willingly dialogue with her so she knows what I’m dealing with, how it’s impacting my work, etc. There’s a trust in our relationship that I am comfortable and confident in providing more details (careful not to be too many) and it allows me to seek clarification if I’m concerned about her expectations of me as an employee, flexibility for scheduling, or whatever it may be. Give your employee that same opportunity.

  52. Ruthie*

    My husband and I are hoping to start a family soon. My work focuses on pregnancy and infants and I have a lot of anxiety around my colleagues piecing together when I’m (fingers crossed) pregnant. The last person to make a pregnancy announcement in my department was met with “Oh, we had no idea–nice work!” She was actually very proud revealing all her secrets, including making special arrangements with the bartender at our conference.

    I’m basically expecting my colleagues to catch on right away. What I’m hoping is that they feign ignorance until I’m ready to discuss. Though I think OP was very well intentioned here.

    1. i forget the name I usually use*

      I was really surprised, no one at my work noticed at all and I was barfing every day. The one person I thought was onto me was actually the most surprised and found out basically last.

      It is really fun to reveal! I would definitely not assume people know, because people are way more self-involved and probably not keeping much track of you, no one is watching your stomach. Beyond the obvious stop-drinking-coffee/booze things — when I got coffee with people, I would decide on a “whim” to get food instead, and drinking is not big at my work, but I gave the excuse that I wasn’t finished with things and had to go back to my desk after the happy hour, and just ate instead.

  53. Morning Reader*

    What is most confusing to me is the idea that a pregnant person is in need of immediate accommodations. I would agree with this if the person had requested them, but, as far as I recall, a pregnant person is completely capable of doing a normal job with a normal schedule under most circumstances. Of course, there may be more than usual medical appointments, but those shouldn’t require “accommodations” beyond normal practices at any workplace with decent PTO.
    Yes, there is the birth and leave afterward to consider. But unless there are special circumstances like being on bed rest, pregnant people are not disabled. Maybe spending a little more time in the bathroom, puking or peeing, than usual.
    When I was pregnant, in my first trimester I was nauseous frequently, not limited to mornings. I was also exhausted. I worked 8-5 and I think I slept 7-7 most nights. But I went to work like normal. At the last two weeks before birth, I was in the bathroom every 20 minutes or so and I’m sure that affected my productivity, but, I went to work like normal. I do realize everyone’s experience is different and some pregnant people may sometimes need accommodations for medical needs. However pregnancy is not illness or disability and this whole thread feels like it is setting back the woman’s movement 50 years with the assumption that pregnant women are fragile creatures. Remember Cagney and Lacey? Lacey worked right up til her bulletproof vest wouldn’t fit any more.
    I am very confused why, other than planning for parental leave, there is an assumption that a pregnant employee needs any accommodations beyond the usual “I’ll be out for a medical appointment.”

    1. I'm just here for the comments*

      I didn’t get that impression from the comments. It’s more that the OP made some pretty big assumptions about her employee’s health when offering her flexible work arrangements, instead of respecting her employee’s right to medical privacy. I don’t think anyone is stating that the employee NEEDS accommodations (which comes in many different forms), just that the employee should have been the one to start that conversation.

  54. LGC*

    OP, just throwing in my support (and I’m glad you’re taking the posting well – and that the employee took your conversation with her well).

    It sounds like there was a lot of other things that factored into it, and…like, it almost sounds like you guys are friends, almost? (As much as that’s reasonable.) But also, I’d feel off about suggesting that I thought one of my friends was pregnant without her telling me first.

  55. Blue Horizon*

    I think of this as the polite fiction of privacy. It’s the difference between “Manager has figured out my condition, and is initiating a conversation that I may or may not be ready to have” and “Manager has probably figured out my condition, but is pretending they haven’t while finding plausible excuses to bring up topics that will be highly relevant.”

  56. MK*

    I feel like OP is getting a lot of credit for being well intentioned, but intentions don’t matter when the impact was to be sexist and condescending. I worked a long hours, high pressure job while pregnant and would have been FURIOUS if my boss suggested I needed special handholding due to my “condition” or was unable to request accommodations if needed, like any other adult.

    1. MyDogIsCalledBradleyPooper*

      Yes, intentions don’t matter. But I also think that there’s no need for everyone to beat up the OP about this. That is in the past, the best response would be to help the OP handle this differently in the future.

      1. MK*

        It’s also important for OP to realize why it was a mistake, e.g. because it perpetuates harmful backwards stereotypes

        1. LGC*

          I think that also, a lot of people are calling out OP for her actions as well! I mean, it was somewhat jerk behavior, but after the first twenty people tell her the same thing (that she was being a jerk), what’s the point of repeating it a 21st time?

          And yeah, I’ve skimmed the comments. You’re right in that a lot of them are “coddling” OP, but also there are quite a few that point out her behavior is problematic.

          (You can argue the same thing about giving her credit, but I’m far more cautious about being critical, personally – since people tend to remember criticism far more than praise.)

  57. Former Employee*

    I would be horrified if someone told me that they had “guessed” my medical condition. Why are you playing detective with my health? This is not a game!

    Second, how embarrassing it would be if the OP continues to believe that the employee is pregnant while the (not pregnant) employee thinks that the OP has figured out that she has “X” and has offered to be supportive while she is undergoing treatment.

  58. MyDogIsCalledBradleyPooper*

    Another way to look at this is, what would you have done if this employee was a man? I assume you wouldn’t have gone with pregnancy. The conversation might have been better framed as, “I see you been needing a lot of appointments lately, or you’ve been missing a lot of work. Is there something going on, I there anything I can do to support you better?” You’re not asking for specifics. You are just opening the door in case they want to discuss it.

    I did not even think about tightening up on other attendance issues. That’s not relevant to this conversation. You have an employee here that for whatever reason is out frequently your just checking in that everything is alright.

  59. i forget the name I usually use*

    “…so she didn’t have to spend the next few weeks hiding it from us and trying to figure out how to balance her work and her medical appointments”

    I’m currently pregnant and working, and honestly, it’s up to me to manage both of these things, not for someone to guess and manage for me. I didn’t tell anyone until I was ready to tell people. I did not WANT things to be different — I was throwing up every day, and still went to work and wanted it to be normal, because that felt the best to me. (My decision, I’m sure others handle it their own way.) I still use PTO/flex time for doctor appointments because that’s my company’s policy, and I don’t see why it should be different for me because of the REASON for the appointments, unless I needed it to be and asked for that. I feel like anything that smacked of “you are special because of this, above and beyond the accommodations you actually need/are requesting” would really rub me the wrong way. Like, I’m pregnant not incapable of making decisions about what I need and advocating for myself…

    Sorry I feel like I went a little off the rails there! I feel strongly for her.

    But, I feel like it you wanted to relieve her stress around hiding it, let her hide it successfully! It was way easier to hide it from EVERYONE than hide it from some but not others. I felt really secure when I had not told a soul at work, but once it was “out there” but totally announced, I would be a lot more on edge, watching if people treated me different and whether they knew, etc.

  60. Compassion*

    Oy, OP. I know you’ve already heard enough, but I want to add:

    Whatever clues you gathered, or heard, or that she shared in conversation: you still don’t know. There are people who have every symptom of pregnancy, nausea, missing periods, and discover that they have uterine, ovarian, or endocrine tumors. There are people who have every symptom of pregnancy because their hormones are going haywire due to any number of illnesses.

    Just, as a general rule, please never make assumptions around pregnancy.

    1. Quandong*

      This x 100000

      Managing cancer and pre-cancerous conditions of the uterus involves a lot of appointments and scans, and blood tests, and procedures described as ‘day surgery.’

      This pattern of management can resemble what people go through when they are pregnant.

      It’s imperative that people stop making assumptions and jumping to conclusions when speculating about the health or pregnancy status of others. Especially people in positions of power at workplaces!

  61. Emma*

    OP, I appreciate that you were trying to be nice And supportive, and that you feel close with the employee, but I think this was pretty inappropriate.

    Even if you are right and she is pregnant – when pregnancy is going well, generally there aren’t very many appointments at the beginning. People don’t even see the doctor for the first two months, and then they are only going in once a month. When pregnancy is not going well, then they go more frequently.

    As someone who had four miscarriages, two of which required surgery, I would be so upset if my boss had said anything to me about thinking she knew what was going on.

    I’m glad the employee took it well in this case, but I hope you will think twice next time.

  62. Quandong*

    OP, what you said to your employee was so far past the line that the line is no longer visible.

    During my working life I’ve attended specialist appointments that ran hours overtime, to manage serious medical conditions.

    My medical conditions made my body look like that of a pregnant person but I was never pregnant.

    Nevertheless I had to contend with many intrusive and hurtful comments from people at work, while maintaining professional relationships and remaining civil. It was incredibly hard and upsetting, especially the times when I was struggling with infertility treatments that I kept secret from everyone at work. My fertility treatments were ultimately unsuccessful so eventually the remarks about my ‘pregnancy’ stopped, but the harm was already done.

    Please reflect on how this may affect your employee, and other people you manage in future.

    If you were my manager, and I was in that meeting, I would seriously consider resigning as well as reporting you to whatever HR exists at your organization. I would feel as if my body was under scrutiny, and that my privacy was invaded, no matter what your intentions may have been.

  63. Cats and dogs*

    People are being too hard on OP. Their heart was in the right place and they said ONE sentence that was truly inappropriate within the context of trying to do the right thing.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Disagree, it’s exactly the followup posts that make it seem they have no learned the right lessons at all.

    1. SpaceySteph*

      One’s heart can be in the right place and they can still be doing something incredibly hurtful. OP needs to understand that even though things seemed to work out ok this time and employee wasn’t bothered by it, it could have turned out much differently.

      Look at the stories from dozens of women on this blog who have complicated infertility and pregnancy histories and would not have responded well to this same conversation. Further, consider that woman are socialized to keep these things secret, and are sharing our stories (semi-anonymously on the internet as it may be) in hopes of saving other women from experiencing something harmful. Maybe don’t tell us we’re overreacting.

  64. Brandy*

    Circling back to add—another angle to consider. If she is a close friend, perhaps she wanted the fun of announcing this to you. You kind of stole her thunder!

  65. CanCan*

    “I think I’ve figured out your medical issue” is not good!
    What if her medical issues involves embarrassing symptoms that she is hoping no-one will notice? This will make her think you did. What if it’s excessive flatulence, urgent needs to use to washroom, persistent halitosis, or horrible body odor? Even if it isn’t inherently embarrassing, if it’s a major medical problem that occupies her mind, her thoughts would be: “Oh, no, I really wasn’t ready to share that yet!”

    In any event, wouldn’t you be prepared to be as accommodating for appointments for any medical reason, just as you would for pregnancy? So no reason to speculate what the medical issue is.

  66. thethoughtoflilacs*

    Oh my god, NO. I have been struggling with infertility/IVF/pregnancy loss for over three years, and have needed to go to many, many appointments like the above. If my boss had said anything like what OP did, I would be HORRIFIED.

    In fact, when I had a miscarriage the day after Christmas and decided to share with my boss later down the road (I couldn’t handle going to a baby shower for another coworker), my normally great boss asked excitedly if I would try again (not that simple, thanks though). After egg retrieval #3 when I mentioned I had recently gotten great news, she excitedly asked if I was pregnant. NOPE, STILL NOT PREGNANT THANKS.

    OP, please for the love of god, do not do this anymore.

  67. boop the first*

    Heh I would be terrified if someone said they “figured it out” and then DIDN’T EXPLAIN….


    I can’t speak for everyone but I would wager that most people would be too surprised to ask you to clarify, and instead spend the rest of their day (and then some) trying to figure out what you think you figured out.

    Especially when you consider that there is an entire gigantic textbook of possible conditions… hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of possible conditions… and the only one women ever seem to assume is “pregnancy”. There are not very many unique symptoms to pregnancy, which is annoying in itself.

    She’s probably in her office all week thinking “Oh god, has he been monitoring my toilet usage? Does he know about my chronic diarrhea??” Or possibly “Oh god, has he been following me to my many interviews and is now scheming to fire me before I get an offer?”

  68. Morticia’s cheekbones*

    OP – what if you had been wrong?

    I know you weren’t, and I’m not going to speculate on whether the employee in question was really cool with it or not. The actual real life facts of this situation aren’t the problem being raised here.

    What if you had been wrong?

    Did you consider that possibility? If not, it might be worth thinking through why. There’s no way you could have been sure—what was your plan for recovering from this if you were mistaken? If you didn’t have one, that’s worth examining. Just because it turned out well this time and you had good intentions doesn’t mean this is a feasible, effective or long-term method of relating to your employees.

    You will be wrong. You’re a human. We are all wrong from time to time. How would you deal with learning you’d misunderstood something like this? If you hadn’t thought it through, why?

    No situation relating to this kind of private, intensely personal information is something you can wing and hope for the best. If and when you are wrong about something like this in the future, the negative impact could be devastating to somebody and you have no way of knowing whether that will be the case.

    Even if you did have good reason to assume, you should try to get into the habit of not assuming as a general rule. You mitigate the risk, however small it might seem, of badly hurting someone by guessing wrong, and in my view I’d have a lot of respect for a manager who did so.

    This situation went well….this time. What about next time?

    (Please note as well that many kinds of headaches, like the migraines I gave suffered my entire life, are literally disabling. If I don’t have the extra time to sleep off a headache, I feel hungover at best, and at worst a 24-hour migraine turns into 72+. If they ask you for flex time so they can sleep off a headache, they may well have chronic headaches that necessitate just as much accommodation as any other health problem—I.e. within reason. I was let go because I couldn’t stay consistent with the schedule they needed for me due to my migraines, and that was entirely fair due to the nature of the work, but if you are able to make that accommodation you’ll make life a lot less excruciatingly painful for any migraneurs on your staff. There are lots of factors that aren’t always detectable externally.)

    I believe you had good intentions, I’d just like to see more care taken to consider alternate possibilities. That’s something that will serve you well in all aspects of life.

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