my employee didn’t tell anyone she was pregnant until she was about to give birth

A reader writes:

At a previous job, I (a man) had one employee that reported to me. Shortly after she started, she became visibly pregnant.

But she never brought it up. Not with me, not with my boss (a woman), not with HR, not with anyone. Now I’m not stupid, so I didn’t ask her about it, though nearly everyone else in our office asked me. I cringed when I responded – it was obvious she was pregnant but I felt that I needed to protect her privacy. I felt like I was walking around on pins and needles with this very obvious proverbial elephant in the room.

Her job description included occasionally lifting objects up to 40 pounds and the only way I treated her differently was I went out of my way to pick up anything remotely heavy.

I ended up leaving the organization about six months later. Two days after I left, she was put on bed rest. She had her baby a week or so later. I gave my two weeks notice allowing the department to plan; there was no prior planning for my direct report’s departure. She did not return to the organization.

The office was a very friendly place and I know the “office moms” would have loved to have thrown her a baby shower and all those fun things. But I realize I was handed a hot potato, from several different angles. Should I have addressed this directly with her? Or was I fine to ignore it?

I think you were right to ignore it, awkward and strange as it felt. Sometimes when people think someone looks obviously pregnant, they actually aren’t. Sometimes that’s just their body shape, even if it’s new. Other times they’re pregnant but know they won’t be carrying the baby to full term because of a medical situation and don’t want to talk about that at work.

I know the argument here is that the employer needs to plan for the person’s maternity leave (or departure in this case). And generally people do eventually announce their pregnancies at work for that reason. But when someone chooses not to, there’s usually a reason for that choice — and as a manager I’d err on the side of respecting that. There are other situations that can cause someone to suddenly need medical leave without any heads-up or to need to resign without notice, and employers deal with those and make do.

Of course, the counterargument to this is that if an employee knew months in advance that they’d need several months off for, say, surgery, and didn’t bother to tell anyone until the day before, that would be a problem. But again, we don’t know the full story here, most pregnant people do announce their pregnancies, and the fact that she didn’t likely indicates she had a reason for wanting privacy. If we get an epidemic of people not announcing their pregnancies until the day before they go out on leave and thus leaving employers everywhere in the lurch, we can revisit that but right now it’s not typical, it’s reasonable to assume something was up, and I think you were right to err on the side of respecting her privacy.

Also! Note that any concern here should be solely confined to the employer’s ability to plan for her sudden absence. The office’s interest in giving her a baby shower is 100% not relevant. If she wanted that, she would have shared the pregnancy. She didn’t, and that matters way more than anyone’s desire to celebrate with her.

{ 427 comments… read them below }

  1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Nope, nothing else you could have or should have done. A strange situation that you managed quite well.

      1. Mack*

        For all we know, that could have happened with the woman in the letter. She could have been planning to give several weeks’ notice but then the baby came early. She could also have been counting from the wrong date and thought there was more time – sometimes it’s harder to determine.

        1. valentine*

          nothing else you could have or should have done.
          They could’ve planned for the absence.

      2. Lulu*

        Had my baby 5 weeks early too. So much work left undone. My manger was great about and took care of urgent items.

      3. J*

        Mine was three MONTHS early. I was out of work for six months. You never know with these things.

  2. Mike C.*

    Businesses should have plans for the sudden absence of any employee. Folks need to stop pretending that everything is going to be the same as it’s always been and will never change. People take vacation, people find jobs, people win the lotto and people get pregnant.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree with you on a macro scale, but a few of these things are not “sudden”. If the woman planned to leave to give birth and never return, then ok, that’s quitting– but I am personally uncomfortable taking a planned break without setting things up so things go well while I’m gone. I don’t think it’s that far-fetched to expect people to make some kind of plan for an expected absence, and yes, I think this situation is kind of baffling. I don’t think the LW did anything wrong, but I understand why he’s befuddled.

      1. NerdyKris*

        The thing is you should already have a plan in place for an employee suddenly being absent or gone. Documentation, contingency plans, etc. If someone gets hit by a car, you’re going to be in the same boat. Whether or not the reason they’re gone is good enough for you, the effect is the same: That employee is now unavailable and you need to be able to compensate for that. Arguing over the specifics of why doesn’t change the fact that you should strive to always have a backup plan.

        1. Sunflower*

          You should absolutely have a backup plan- but you can’t argue that having months to prepare for a specific person’s leave could ever yield the same result as enacting the last minute, backup contingency plans. There is no way a company can have a specific backup plan for every individual at an organization. Example- many company’s hire temp coverage during mat leave. If you give a company 4 months to find a temp, it’s going to be better than hiring someone in a pinch.

          1. Not a Blossom*

            Exactly. I keep all of my work on a shared drive that anyone in the group can access, have instructions written up, have my e-mail sorted, and have hard copy work on my desk labeled. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, they would muddle through. However, if they had time for me to explain details or for them to ask questions, it would be a lot easier for someone to take over.

        2. AKchic*

          This. All of this.

          The reason *why* the employee is not available (or won’t be available) is irrelevant. Even if, in this particular case, the employee *had* told even one person that they were pregnant and planned on working until their due date of X/XX, it sounds like they left earlier, which still would have left the company unprepared for an early departure.
          Add in the fact that even if the employee had confirmed a pregnancy to one person, that person has no right to confirm it to anyone else, so the gossip-hounds coming to others to try to suss out information (even under the “friendly” guise of “baaaaaby shower”) would still have to be told “I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you even if I did know, as the coworker directly if this is a question on your mind” unless the person told (and being asked) is also a gossip-monger (in which case, it would reinforce the decision of the employee to keep all information quiet).

          The best thing any company can do is ensure they have great In Case of Emergency manuals for each position that are updated, easily accessible, and easily readable for everyone who needs it and have enough coverage/overlap that an absence, unexpected or otherwise, won’t leave the company and it’s staff in dire straits.

      2. Sharbe*

        I think the woman never said anything about the pregnancy because she already planned on quitting once the baby came. She technically had no obligation to give anything more than the normal 2 week notice that all non-pregnant people normally give.

        1. Ali G*

          But she didn’t give her notice. She was put on bed rest, presumably had her baby and didn’t return. You also can’t give 2 weeks notice but say you can’t work because you had your baby. She essentially quit without notice.

          1. Sharbe*

            She could have been getting ready to give her notice but getting put on bedrest unexpectedly eliminated that option. Who knows. Maybe she didn’t plan on giving notice? I’m not defending her, her behavior makes sense, though, if she was planning on quitting all along.

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t *planning* on giving two weeks of notice time. The fact that her medical situation took a turn and changed her plans is unfortunate, but not really an indication that the plan itself was bad.

          3. Autumnheart*

            Maybe this workplace is one of those that starts looking for a reason to fire you as they’re notified that you’re pregnant.

            1. LadyCop*

              We have literally zero evidence to suggest this. It’s far more likely she kept quiet because shes either a very private person, or possibly planned to leave after having the baby from the very beginning. we’re not talking about a long term or even mid term employee who saw pregnant women get pushed out. She became “visibly pregnant ” shortly after starting the job… doesn’t take a rocket surgeon.

              1. Krabby*

                If she was in Canada (where I am) working for 6 months before going on mat leave means you get the benefit of employment insurance for a year. That’s a big incentive to get back in the work force for a little while before giving birth, even if you plan to be a stay-at-home parent.

                Not saying that’s good or bad, just that it’s a phenomenon I’ve seen happen a few times.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yes. Alison often talks about how bad jobs warp your expectations of what’s normal, and I have personally experienced this phenomenon. (Not about pregnancy, but about other things.)

            2. Sunflower*

              The LW mentioned that people would have wanted to throw her an office shower and do things for her. It sounds like the LW would expect a positive reaction to a pregnancy announcement.

              1. HoHumDrum*

                Yes, and that is great but also the LW is a man and a manger and may not be as likely to notice subtle misogyny as a female employee would. The LW sounds very sensitive and thoughtful and so this is not a knock on him, but there are definitely things I pick up on as a woman who has spent her whole life navigating sexism that even my most feminist male friends don’t always catch as easily. It’s hard to say as outsiders what the employee’s experience was, and we don’t know her version of things.

              2. Nesprin*

                Eh, there’s a big difference between a baby shower and being treated like a valued member of the team with accommodation for as needed for health/reproductive events. Benevolent sexism is still a thing: people can be excited about a new baby while sidelining the mom from her career.

          4. TootsNYC*

            but if she was put on bed rest, then that was early. So she may have been planning to give notice closer to her due date.

      3. MOAS*

        I manage a team, including a supervisor and employees. If I die suddenly, OK they’ll deal. But if I know for sure that I’m going to be out for an x # of weeks, I would feel really irresponsible for 1) keeping the acting manager in the dark and not letting him know that his boss was going to be gone and 2) dumping it all on my boss. But if I wasn’t in a managerial position, I probably would be less inclined to tell anyone.

    2. Jean*

      I agree 100% in principle, but pregnancy isn’t exactly a last-minute emergency (the small portion of people who don’t know they’re pregnant until they’re in labor notwithstanding). It’s something that generally gives you significant time to establish contingency plans for work. I would find it pretty odd too if I had a pregnant employee who didn’t appear to be concerned at all about plans for who will cover their work while they are out.

      1. Mike C.*

        It doesn’t bother me that folks find it odd because it is odd, but the fact remains that since any person could just not show up tomorrow means that those plans should be in place. The fact that this situation could have had more notice doesn’t change that fact.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Exactly. Sometimes you get notice, sometimes you don’t. That’s life. You should have a plan.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s true, and it’s a point I made in the post. But it’s also true that employers (and colleagues) would rightly have a problem with someone who knew for six months they’d be out from Oct-Dec for some kind of surgery and didn’t bother to speak up until the day before they left.

          In this case, it’s reasonable to assume the employee probably had a reason for handling it the way she did, but that doesn’t mean it’s the way people should handle it across the board.

          1. Mockingjay*

            I hated disclosing both my pregnancies, because work became about my condition not my performance.

            I was thrown a shower for my first, although I had one with friends and family already, so ended up with a bunch of duplicate stuff I then had to get rid of. There were bets throughout the office as to whether I would return. (!??) Duties were quietly assigned to others, “in case you’re out suddenly.” (Yes I had a contingency plan in place, they knew I always kept daily live status of projects and everything on the server for someone else to pick up, so what they were worried about I don’t know.) People monitored and joked about what and when I ate.

            It was a nightmare each time; the office acted as if the world would end if I didn’t keep them constantly updated on the pregnancy status from 6 weeks on. I went on maternity leave a week early with my second child because I was so sick of the perusal.

            Fred who had a sudden heart attack? No problem, the office managed to figure out what he was working on and keep it going until he got back.

            1. Triumphant Fox*

              Yeah – that was pretty much my experience as well (minus offloading anything to anyone else, it was more like pile it on so I could get as much done before I left). I actually had the HR manager ask whether I was dilated at all in front of literally everyone at an all-company meeting. When I was flushed and probably nonsensical in my response, she pushed with, “Not even a little bit?” and I just wanted a hole in the ground to swallow me. I worked from home the last two weeks because I just couldn’t anymore.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                OH. MY. GOD. I think I need to go retrieve my eyebrows from the roof now.

                I never thought “don’t ask your employees about the state of their cervix” would be a rule that needed to be spelled out.

                1. CollegeSupervisor*

                  People get weird about pregnancy. They somehow think that because it’s a common experience (either because they have been pregnant before or their spouse was pregnant before), that it’s not a personal question. I had one male coworker who was completely clueless about how his comments came across when I was pregnant/pumping. No, I did not need to hear about how he took a nude picture of his wife in late-stage pregnancy for the memories when I myself was in late-stage pregnancy. He made another awkward comment when I stopped by the office to take care of some paperwork during my maternity leave. I was watching the clock and said I wanted to get back by the time my baby woke up for his next feeding and he said something like “Guess it’ll be time to get undressed then, huh?” He’s normally very conscientious about not wanting to offend and avoiding sexism, but that went out the window once there was a baby involved. I still wish I’d had the courage to tell him how creepy those remarks sounded…

              2. allathian*

                What? That’s just so weird… I can’t ever imagine having that convo with my coworkers…

          2. Triumphant Fox*

            I’m in this situation right now and I’m not sure what to do with my employee. He announced he was getting surgery in a week, took off half of that week unexpectedly, came in the day before and didn’t have any idea when he would be back, make plans for when he was gone or complete some essential things we needed before he left. I don’t know how to balance being an empathetic human who is making excuses for him because he was in pain, with the manager who is thinking that this is part of a pattern of not planning/suddenly taking time off/not thinking about the consequences of his actions.

            1. Allison Wonderland*

              But people often need to have surgery suddenly, without much advance notice. I wouldn’t assume that a surgery was scheduled weeks or months in advance and he was just keeping it quiet.

            2. Elbereth*

              I’ve been on the other side of this. I went to the doctor for a simple illness, ended up in unrelated surgery the week after. It happens.

            3. Goliath Corp.*

              I don’t think you can fault someone for not adequately planning for sudden surgery and not “thinking about the consequences.” If there’s a pre-existing pattern of taking off with no notice, that’s your issue to handle, but not this.

        3. Temperance*

          I don’t disagree with the fact that emergency planning should be a priority, but that’s in case of an actual unplanned emergency. Which this was not / should not have been.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        Bed rest for a week before the baby was born means it’s very possible there was high risk to the pregnancy. I didn’t inform anyone in my office about my pregnancy until I was 30wks because I was at high risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, and I absolutely did not want to deal with the potential of grieving a late-pregnancy loss while my coworkers were planning baby showers. Was it rude? Maybe. Could I have given my employer more than 7 weeks notice that I’d be out? Definitely. But my priority was, rightly, my own health and well being.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup. She could have also been high risk and planning to give the baby up for adoption, so if she wasn’t planning on keeping the child, I can see why she wouldn’t feel the need to announce the pregnancy.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            This – or a surrogate parent (an ex of mine had dated someone before me who had done it for a couple she was friends with. It happens.)

          2. pope suburban*

            I feel like there was a letter here from someone who was pregnant and planning to adopt the child out, and they had the exact same set of concerns as this letter writer, just from the opposite side. That makes me inclined to think that this LW did the right thing, and trusted this employee to run their own life. I’m sure it was awkward at times, but good on him for deferring to his employee about her own life.

            1. Blueberry*

              High risk pregancies are fanfiction where you are? May we all be so blessed.
              Also, it’s entertaining to see your comment *right below* a link to a letter about one of these scenarios.

      3. Fikly*

        Becoming pregnant, no, but delivery and pregnancy complications can be. Many babies do not wait for 9 months. There can be sudden emergencies and delivery and then months in the NICU, or suddenly the pregnant person ends up on strict bedrest, with no way to anticipate it before the order comes.

        So yes, you may have contingency plans, but if they depend on the baby being delivered at a predictable time, well, that’s poor planing.

        1. myswtghst*

          This is such an important point. Sometimes babies come early, sometimes they come late, sometimes things pop up unexpectedly during pregnancy that impact a pregnant person’s ability to work, and sometimes circumstances change after the delivery in ways that impact the person’s return to work. Even with something like pregnancy where there is *some* advance warning, it’s in no way a guarantee of a specific timeline, so it’s better to document your processes and have a back up for important tasks regardless.

          1. old curmudgeon*

            And then there are those few women who literally do not know they are pregnant. I worked with one such woman decades ago; she was a larger person, so there was no real visible change, she had always had very irregular cycles and apparently had spotted throughout her pregnancy – and she learned she was expecting a baby exactly one week before giving birth.

            The only way to be ready for that kind of event (or for an accident, a sudden heart attack, or any other unanticipated occurrence) is for everyone in the company to invest the time and effort in documenting all critical procedures, cross-training with others, and generally making sure that more than one person knows how to do every single task.

            When you think about it, it’s not all that different from yesterday’s thread about covid-19 planning, other than the fact that pregnancy usually – though not always – provides visual clues ahead of time.

        2. Marny*

          This. I had a coworker who was pregnant. The company had a maternity leave plan, she’d set a date of when she expected to stop working, etc. Well, stuff happens and she wound up delivering at about 7 months. The baby was in the NICU for a few months, and then when the baby was able to come home, my coworker still had a fragile newborn to care for that she needed to be home with. All the work-related plans went out the window. So, plan all you want but the reality is, you just can’t plan for everything.

          1. Fikly*

            Yup, my mother went to a routine prenatal appointment, ended up going straight to the hospital and had an emergency c-section (and me) 90 minutes later. My dad barely made it in time.

      4. Kate R*

        I agree it seems odd, but aside from all the personal reasons that Alison and others have mentioned for withholding her pregnancy news, I’d think it might be worth evaluating how pregnancy-friendly this company really is. I’m not trying take a dig at the OP, but some of the assumptions he made like that she couldn’t lift heavy objects because she was pregnant or that she’d want a baby shower from the “office moms” are…not great. If she was concerned about her job responsibilities or her reputation at work being impacted by the pregnancy, she may have decided protecting her career was more important than giving the company a heads up to plan accordingly. So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you expect an employee to do what’s best for the company, I think the company needs to return that to the employee, and it’s always worth re-evaluating whether your current policies and culture are doing that.

        1. Tammy 2*

          I was thinking the “office moms” may have been a primary reason she didn’t want to make an announcement. Not everyone wants that kind of attention at work.

        2. MarsJenkar*

          I also wonder if the coworker might be carrying some baggage from a previous employment. She might have seen workers get pushed out for being pregnant (illegally, but with other plausible-sounding excuses as a smokescreen), and assumed that was the norm.

          This is all speculation, though, and there are so many possible explanations that it’s not useful to try and pin down the “why” without more solid evidence.

          1. Kate R*

            Yes, I agree that the exact “why” is unimportant. I was reacting to the idea that just because she *could* have disclosed earlier means she *should* have or that by failing to do so somehow indicated she wasn’t concerned about how the company would handle her absence. I was just trying to point out that there could have been legitimate reasons in addition to the ones Alison and others have mentioned that caused her to behave the way she did, and while speculation to nail down her exact reasons is unhelpful, it may be useful to consider other perspectives to make sure that you, as an employer/business/colleague/etc., are in fact supporting employees so that they don’t feel like they need to withhold information like this. I think it’s always good to reflect on your own behavior before reacting to someone’s weirdness. It doesn’t mean you necessarily did anything wrong, just being conscientious.

        3. Crooked Bird*

          I… really don’t think it’s sexist to lift heavy things for a pregnant woman.
          For every woman by default (or “because you might want to have a baby someday, dear,” as happened to me when I was young), yeah, hella sexist. But pregnancy is a real drain on your body and acknowledging that isn’t some kind of insult!

    3. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. I personally would have had an informal contingency plan in mind in case I was right and she was pregnant and going to be out for a while. My old company had specific policies about FMLA and maternity leave and short term disability. If she doesn’t keep the baby, she may not have needed any of that. Also, bedrest cannot always be predicted. She may not have planned to be out so soon, etc. It does seem like an awkward situation with few good answers.

      1. CollegeSupervisor*

        For the record, FMLA/short-term disability (6-8 weeks at least) is all about pregnancy/birth recovery, which is still a factor even if you are not going to be caring for a newborn on top of it. And the attitude that it’s just for caring for the baby is harmful to anyone dealing with a stillbirth.

    4. Mediamaven*

      I’m not sure how this statement is applicable to the scenario in the letter. Of course businesses are prepared for the things you listed. That’s not the same as someone leaving to have a baby and potentially never returning, but at minimum being gone for several months with no notice!

      1. Nephron*

        The issue an employer has with no announced or planned for pregnancy is getting the work done. It does not matter why the employee is no longer there, or when the employee knew there would be an issue. If the employer has planned for employees to quit with little notice, or get hit by a bus then they have planned for person giving birth or maternity leave.

    5. Mockingjay*

      A pregnancy happens to be “visible.” There are lots of invisible circumstances that employers are unaware of. Those employees leave all the time.

      I am so tired of people “expecting” more out of pregnant workers.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I don’t really see this as pregnant workers being held to a different standard – people with invisible circumstances who leave others in a lurch when there was an option not to are not great either. If anyone has reasonable anticipation of being out of work for a a week or more, keeping that to themselves only creates an unnecessary burden on their team (and employers who create conditions where people can’t be candid about their plans are doubly wrong for forcing people into that corner when a reasonable option exists).

    6. AnotherAlison*

      Plus, in the OP’s case, there was no reason they could not plan for it anyway based on their observation and what they expected the outcome would be. If I had an employee with another visible condition that could lead to their sudden, long-term absence, I could also plan for that. If I had an employee not doing their job and I thought they might quit, I would plan for that. As long as none of this planning results in discrimination, why wouldn’t you do that?

      1. Not Me*

        Yikes. Making decisions (including plans) based on guesses about a person’s health is a dangerously slippery slope. You may not think that results in discrimination but it almost certainly will, especially since you’re *guessing* based on appearance.

    7. Leela*

      I replaced someone at my current job who put in her two weeks notice, which she served. Everyone was freaking out. There was no handover, there was no training plan in place, none of the information that needed to get past down got passed down or documented before I got here, and no one could answer anything because she was a one-woman department who did everything. The business blamed her and grumbled for months but….how do you not have a plan in place to ever deal with someone leaving?

      It’s exactly what you said, they were pretending that everything was going to stay the same. They said things like “her resignation came out of nowhere! we couldn’t have done anything” when I told them “I literally do not know what my basic job duties are right now, and things keep blowing up last minute because of it”. Everyone’s resignation comes out of nowhere. I realize now that they’ve been spending the last few years paring down the barest bones possible and now they can’t absorb a single quit with notice, all of which they blame on the quitting employee

      1. mark132*

        +1, missed you comment when I made mine, and your response is better. It costs money and time to have contingency plans in place for something like this. And in many businesses they have forgone this in order to save money, and that is a an acceptable business plan, just don’t act all surprised when someone leaves and the lack of a plan bites you in the ass.

    8. Majnoona*

      I found out a few months ago that I needed surgery *now* for a precancerous condition that would get worse fast. I had a few days to help come up with a plan and a few days during recovery to come up with more of a plan. Yes, a pregnant woman should tell (although that didn’t go well with one of my pregnancies but that’s another story) but something can happen to anyone.

    9. mark132*

      Most businesses do, but the problem with these plans, is to be effective, it requires redundancy and that costs money, and that’s why many of these plans are a simple handwave “Since we have cross trained on everyone else’s jobs, someone else will pick up the slack.”

    10. De Minimis*

      I love that all your examples are positive. I get tired of “getting hit by a bus” being the only example of why someone would leave suddenly.

    11. Harper the Other One*

      I’m in a very small organization right now and since I’ve started reading this site I’ve pushed my boss to assign time specifically for me to document what I do. I call it the “I get hit by a bus backup.”

      Of course ideally people will give notice for anything they can predict, and I get that people think pregnancy is somewhat predictable because “she knows how it will end,” but even pregnancy has a lot of uncertainty and ANY employee could suddenly face a situation where they have to leave or be off with no notice. It’s a mistake to pretend otherwise.

  3. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    Just think of how painful it would have been if the “office moms” had thrown her a shower for a baby that she desperately did not want, or a pregnancy that had an extremely high chance of being nonviable. You made the right call following her lead, and doing so despite a weird and uncomfortable situation. Kudos to you for that — it’s easy to speculate, especially when the evidence is right there.

    1. Jack Be Nimble*

      It’s also possible that the employee was Jewish, or from another culture that regards baby showers and other pre-baby celebrations as unlucky! There are an infinity number of reasons why someone might chose not to acknowledge their pregnancy in the workplace, and it’s never a good idea to override those preferences!

      1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        Right! And in fact, I think the presence of “office moms” increases the likelihood that someone who would prefer to be low-key about the matter would opt for the full silence route.

        1. Jack Be Nimble*

          Exactly — knowing or suspecting that the “office moms” might let their enthusiasm get the better of them would be a really strong incentive to keep one’s pregnancy to oneself.

        2. Massmatt*

          That phrase jumped out at me also, maybe the OP was just referring to “the women in the office who are moms”, but maybe the direct report felt that they didn’t want to risk possible scrutiny or lack of boundaries of the office mom collective. I think the OP did everything he could. It just brings home the importance of trying to be prepared as possible for employees to leave at short or no notice.

      2. Knitting Cat Lady*

        My gran (roman catholic) is very weird about taking photos of pregnant people.

        Also, people are weirdly intrusive and disregard all boundaries when confronted with pregnancy.

        Best thing I saw was when my mum asked a couple ‘What they were having’, and the father to be answered ‘Oh, just a baby’.

          1. Katrine*

            Someone asked me once what I was hoping for, with that pointed look at my belly. I was not pregnant, just fat.

            I replied “Well, I’m hoping for a kitten, but you never know!” And walked off.

          2. KaciHall*

            My husband used that line a lot during my pregnancy. Every so often, when our kid is being especially loud or shrieky, he’ll ask if I’m SURE we didn’t have a velociraptor.

          3. LizB*

            A friend of mine had an amazing maternity t-shirt that said “We’re hoping it’s a dinosaur.”

          4. TootsNYC*

            My nephew, when asked at age 5 what he thought his mom was having, said, “They won’t tell me. I think it’s going to be a giraffe.”

        1. lab_sally*

          My family was visiting from out of town and came with me to the llama farm I worked on for a morning. I told them that one of the brothers that ran the farm had just had a baby (like his wife gave birth 2 days prior.) When we met him in the driveway my mom said “Oh, we heard you just had a baby!” And he (totally red eyed and groggy) replied “yes! It’s in the barn with it’s mom now! You should go pet it!” We did go pet the baby llama. He was not keeping his partner and child in a manger Jesus-style.

      3. Rockin Takin*

        My guess is she planned on quitting when she had the baby, therefore she wouldn’t need maternity leave or to plan beforehand. If that were the case, she might not have said anything to avoid being pushed out of the job earlier.
        As someone who is currently 30 weeks pregnant and was forced to out my pregnancy at 8 weeks due to some VERY nosy workers, I wish I could have had a team like this that just kept quiet even though it was obvious.

        1. Meredith*

          Yeah, I was kind of pressured to disclose to my boss about a week ago. Very high risk, high possibility of it not working out (I’ll know more tomorrow), and I was about 8.5 weeks. That said, my boss knows about the risks and my struggles to have a successful pregnancy, so I don’t mind. And she’s the only one who knows.

      4. Anneanon*

        There’s a huge difference between not having a baby shower and not acknowledging your pregnancy until you’re giving birth. I know AAM commenters like to take any chance they’re given to show off whatever random facts they know about Jewish and Muslim customs, but it gets old to hear “well, maybe they’re Jewish!” as an explanation for unexplained office behavior.

        1. Eba*

          The point is, we don’t know why she didn’t disclose. There could be many reasons. We don’t have to agree with them, but it’s OK that she made this choice for herself.

          1. MassMatt*

            Is it really OK? Yes, she made the decision for herself, and maybe because reasons, but still, this caused difficulty for the employer. I don’t think she should get a pass for quitting with no notice because she was pregnant.

            1. Nephron*

              As one of the reasons for not disclosing pregnancy is the number of pregnant women that still get pushed out, then yes it is okay. If she was never planning on returning and was afraid that giving her notice 3 months early would mean getting fired, then she made the best decision for herself. She quit without notice, that is something a lot of people do and firing without notice is something a lot of employers do so not okay, not eligible for rehire and probably gets a lukewarm reference. But not unexpected given the current system.

            2. ThatGuy*

              I disagree. Let’s say she wasn’t pregnant. Instead, let’s say that her spouse was expecting a promotion in six months that, if granted, would put them in a financial position where she could afford to stop working. And let’s say she and her spouse had talked about it and agreed that she would quit her job when the promotion happened so she could work on starting her own business. Would you really expect her to give notice that she’s quitting in six months? The standard notice in the US is two weeks. If she gave six months’ notice there’s a good chance her employer would start searching for a replacement immediately and push her out before she was ready. I personally don’t see any obligation to prompt her employer to do that.

        2. Arielle*

          Yeah, and really, if the pregnant person is really from one of the very small subsets of the Jewish community that she literally doesn’t even MENTION pregnancy (as opposed to just being kind of superstitious about baby showers), the likelihood that she’d be working outside the home is quite low.

        3. HoHumDrum*

          This seems like an unnecessarily sharp comment, if I’m reading your tone correctly.

          I think one of the reasons people bring up those cultures is because in America, where Allison and many readers are based, Christianity is so baked into everyday culture that people don’t always realize that the things they assume are normal are actually specific to Christian culture. As a reader of this blog I think that service is important, and challenging norms in general is a good thing. I don’t think people are trying to get SJW points or to one up others in trivia knowledge.

          1. Jack Be Nimble*

            Speak for yourself, but I’m definitely trying to accumulate as many SJW points as possible! I’m going to trade them in at the prize counter for a slide whistle!

            Jokes aside, you’re correct about my intent. A lot of US culture is derived from Christianity, and oftentimes, folks with different traditions aren’t given much grace to follow their own norms. I totally get that the coworker’s decision not to disclose her pregnancy made life more difficult for the letter writer, and I don’t want to suggest that she handled everything exactly perfectly, but I think she probably felt that she was making the best decision she could in her circumstances, whatever those were.

          2. HannahS*

            It’s irritating because myself and other Jews in this comment section (including, you know, Alison) have mentioned that not telling her boss would be odd, even within the observant Jewish community. If someone’s commenting “Sure, your employee did this bizarre, unhelpful thing that’s far outside of the norms of working behaviour, but have you considered that this is a thing that Jews do?” I’m gonna say, yeah, not super helpful. Especially when it’s NOT A THING THAT JEWS DO.

            1. Sleve McDichael*

              Actually, Jack Be Nimble specifically mentioned other cultures as well in the comment above. I got the impression that the mention of Jews was more of a ‘See, I’m not making it up that there are cultures who have members who feel this way, I can name one.’ As a fellow member of a group who get mentioned all the frickin time as some amorphous homogenous entity, I get it. It’s very annoying. But you can’t fix the world today, and shouting at individuals on the internet for the perceived transgressions of the whole is not going to help your cause, especially as in this case other groups were also mentioned.

            2. HoHumDrum*

              That’s very fair! And if that’s what the OP meant I apologize for failing to interpret that/not assuming that as the intent.

              The line about how “AAM commenters like to take any chance they’re given to show off whatever random facts they know about Jewish and Muslim customs” read to me like OP thinks knowing about Jewish and Muslim customs is uncommon and performative, like that those religions are too obscure or weird to be relevant to bring up and that people are only doing it to appear “woke”. I unfortunately know too many people who think knowing about/considering other cultures and customs is just absurd social justice BS and have a hard time understanding that “normal” is subjective, so I may have read that attitude into Anneanon’s comment when they may not have meant that. If so, again my apologies.

              1. Avasarala*

                No, they weren’t saying just knowing facts about various religious customs is uncommon/performative. But bringing up facts when they’re irrelevant is very white knighty, and when the actual religious members say those facts are incorrect, it looks very performative.

              2. Spencer Hastings*

                In some cases, I agree with you, but despite having been raised Jewish, I reached adulthood before I learned that “Jews don’t do baby showers” was a thing at all. A lot of us do, because they’re common in US culture and they’re secular.

                1. allathian*

                  Until very recently, baby showers were almost unheard of in many parts of Europe. I certainly didn’t have one 11 years ago, and my son is the only member of his generation in both my husband’s and my family, as neither of our sisters has any kids and unlikely to have any (age, lack of suitable partners, childfree by choice in my sister’s case). Certainly in the Nordics it’s unusual for anyone but the celebrant(s) to host a party, up to and including weddings. Stag and hen nights are pretty much the only exception…

            3. Jack Be Nimble*

              Thanks for being honest about this. I’m realizing now that I’ve put my foot in my mouth and that my comment wasn’t particularly helpful and fairly off-topic. I posted it early in the day, before I saw any comments like yours, and I just didn’t think critically in the moment. I’ll refrain going forward, and I’m sorry for contributing misinformation!

      5. londonedit*

        Baby showers are becoming slightly less rare here in the UK, but historically they were absolutely not a thing at all (same with a wedding; you have hen and stag parties but those don’t involve gifts, and the only gifts come at/for the wedding itself). Plenty of people – particularly older people – still believe that it’s unlucky to buy things for a baby before it’s born, and even with the rise in baby showers it’s still far more common to wait until the baby arrives before giving a gift.

        1. londonedit*

          And yeah, to pick up Anneanon’s point, it’s definitely not part of British culture to not disclose a pregnancy at all. In practical terms, the rules around maternity leave say that you need to inform your employer at least 15 weeks before your due date, and employers have a duty to do risk assessments etc to make sure a pregnant person isn’t working in an environment that isn’t safe for them.

          1. MsSolo*

            Yeah, with the 15 week thing it’s hard to imagine a similar letter from the UK (though it’s very frustrating that that’s the timing, since it gives you a really narrow window to actually get the form from the midwife!). That said, I’m not sure what would happen if you didn’t disclose, aside from not qualifying for maternity leave. Could an employer penalise you for not making them aware for the risk assessments etc?

            1. Helena1*

              Depends on what the consequences were – the employer could be fined if there were health and safety violations, so yep I can well imagine repercussions if the employee knew full well they were pregnant and didn’t disclose. The employee does have an obligation to disclose relevant health conditions to their employer under health and safety legislation, so that a risk assessment can be done.

              So if you have epilepsy and don’t mention it, and fall off a ladder as a result, your employer will take a dim view of it (because if they had known, the probably wouldn’t have sent you up the ladder in the first place). Same with pregnancy and exposure to chemicals or ionising radiation.

              Standard office work seems harder to make a health and safety case for, admittedly.

            2. Media Monkey*

              15 weeks before your due date is 25 weeks gestation – it’s not a narrow window at all given that the majority (and i know not all – a friend found out she was pregnant at 38 weeks last year!) will be aware and seeing a midwife from 12 weeks!

      6. LavaLamp*

        I’m suddenly reminded of the reddit legal advice threads from both the discriminatory coworkers who pushed a Jewish woman out for not wanting those things, and the delight when that woman found the threads and had all the evidence for her legal claim.

          1. GrumpyGnome*

            I think LavaLamp may be referring to this (I hope it’s ok to post these here, Alison, and if not I apologize and understand why my comment may be removed):

            Thread from the discriminatory corworker: https://www.reddit.com/r/legaladvice/comments/8825e8/threw_an_employee_a_baby_shower_now_being/

            Thread where the Jewish woman finds out about the other thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/legaladvice/comments/89wgwm/tricked_into_eating_something_i_dont_eat_at_work/

    2. Dragoning*

      “We’re going to throw you a baby shower and buy you baby things for a child you’re a surrogate for,” too.

        1. Blueberry*

          * to my previous comment — I just learned (from this very discussion) that the proper wording is “placed for adoption”, so let me amend what I said above with that.

    3. Manon*

      Also, she may have been from a culture that considers celebrations before the baby is born to be bad luck. There are so many reasons she may have not wanted to acknowledge her pregnancy at work.

      1. Geillis D*

        I’m from a culture that doesn’t name babies or celebrate their arrivals before they are actually born; that does not mean people pretend pregnancies and pregnant women don’t exist, on the contrary.

        I’m going against general opinion here – let’s say this pregnancy is not a cause for cheer (let’s face it, many pregnancies are fraught with anxiety). Like any other sucky life circumstances such as divorce, illness or any other personal life issues that will inevitably have an impact on anyone, I don’t see why this can’t be disclosed to the manager, discreetly. I would do the same with any major life event that I don’t want to share with the entire office. When I was going through (in)fertility treatments I definitely didn’t want it broadcast but had a quiet chat with my very understanding manager. I did have to be hospitalized so at least she was not left in the dark.

  4. C in the Hood*

    This makes me think of the person who was giving up her baby for adoption. What if this is the case here? Or that she was a surrogate? You really never know.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I originally removed this comment, citing the site rule about not nitpicking language. Several readers contacted me to ask that I leave the comment up, telling me the the adoption community is strongly opposed to the earlier phrasing. I didn’t realize that and am glad to be educated and to leave it here for others as well. Thank you!

    1. pony tailed wonder*

      If you read Barbara Eden’s autobiography, in it you will learn about one of her pregnancies that she didn’t announce because the fetus died in her womb and she had to carry it out due to her doctor’s advice at the time.

  5. Jack Be Nimble*

    Kudos to the letter writer for managing an awkward situation! I think the only way possible response is to maintain one’s own ignorance and tell question-askers, “if she has news to share, I’m sure she’ll share it when she’s ready” ad nauseam.

  6. Venus*

    > Her job description included occasionally lifting objects up to 40 pounds and the only way I treated her differently was I went out of my way to pick up anything remotely heavy.

    > Note that any concern here should be solely confined to the employer’s ability to plan for her sudden absence.

    In some workplaces there might be health and safety aspects, although I’m not sure if that should be addressed proactively with the employee. Might it be reasonable to mention, maybe in an email to everyone, that if employees need temporary accommodations to their job requirements then management has steps to support this?

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “ Might it be reasonable to mention, maybe in an email to everyone, that if employees need temporary accommodations to their job requirements then management has steps to support this?”

      In general, yes. In this situation, with an apparently obviously pregnant employee…I really think that would be akin to a neon arrow pointing to her specifically.

    2. Ashley*

      I think general reminders like this would be helpful in these situations. In no way targeting an employee but general policy reminders. It was also nice about the lifting heavy things when you are able in such a situation.

    3. blackcat*

      FWIW, I was told by my midwife to “stop if your body tells you to” but otherwise do whatever in regard to exercise. I was entirely capable of heavy lifting through the duration of pregnancy. That’s not the case for everyone, but it is for some. My only restrictions came from the physical obstacle of my pregnant belly.

      1. Ms. Pessimistic*

        Came here to say the same thing! I lift quite heavy and 40 pounds was my light, I’m 35 weeks pregnant weight!

        1. blackcat*

          Yeah. I think the general recommendation is to not *increase* physical activity too much while pregnant, but maintaining fitness is supposed to be beneficial.

          My friend who is a serious cross-fitter kept lifting a ton while pregnant. She slowed down, but not a ton.

          So in general, while I might ask a pregnant-appearing person “Hey, do you want help with that?” I would not take over or insist on helping. It pissed me off a lot when people would do things like really insist on offering me a seat on transit (I was actually more comfortable standing!) or lifting things for me. I was pregnant, not injured.

          Being pregnant means strangers are all up in your business. I totally understand someone who chooses not to talk about pregnancy at work.

          1. Rockin Takin*

            I am 30 weeks and yesterday two different sales people asked me if I was ok and/or if I needed to have water. I don’t wear makeup and look hella tired all the time. I was like Nope I’m fine! I’m just hella pregnant, thanks though!
            Every single day at work my employees treat me like a time bomb and are constantly asking me how I’m feeling. It’s more exhausting than the pregnancy. I am already reminded every hour that I’m pregnant by my lil parasite’s constant kicking. I don’t need everyone around me to remind me too.

          2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            I sometimes ask people if they need help (or need my seat etc), if they seem to be struggling. Not just because someone is pregnant, but I have offered help to people who were pregnant, carrying a load of luggage, taking a giant musical instrument on the Tube (subway) (!), etc. I think if tactfully offered it’s fine but I’d probably feel awkward like you did if people ‘insisted’ on helping. (I can be quite assertive though so I’d be comfortable refusing the help ultimately.)

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

              I think there’s a big difference between asking someone if they want help and then accepting it with no argument if they say no, and insisting that they do whatever you are offering. I’ve started following a number of disabled people on Twitter and it is astonishing how much stuff is done to them despite their protests in the name of “helping”. I do what you do quite frequently (notice someone might need help and offer it to them) but if they say no then I say OK and carry on with whatever I was doing. The person in question is a better judge of their needs than I am.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        Yes, I’ve heard that since many pregnant women are already moms, they are used to lifting heavy things – children, car seats, etc. There’s no hard-and-fast rule on weight limits.

      3. Maria Lopez*

        The ligaments in the body of a pregnant woman loosen in preparation for the expansion of the pelvic bones during delivery, from increased production of a hormone called relaxin (seriously, that’s what it’s named) thus the recommendation to not life really heavy objects. That definition of heavy varies from woman to woman, though. This is why the feet sometimes “grow” during pregnancy, often not returning to their pre-pregnancy size.
        In general, pregnancy is not the time to test what your lifting limit are.

        1. blackcat*

          Eh, I was told to not like… take up a powerlifting hobby while pregnant, but that continuing to live my life normally was *preferred.* I did have to stop some things, but that falls under the general umbrella I was given as “Listen to your body and stop if something hurts.”

          I’m not going to stop a pregnant woman from trying to lift something. If I see them struggling, or eyeing a heavy object looking like they are questioning how to lift it, I will offer help.

          But I wouldn’t pick something up for a pregnant person. That irritated the crap out of me when I was pregnant, so I don’t do it to other pregnant people.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I think you’d have more support for speaking to her personally and saying, “I am concerned about your lifting things. Can we talka bout that?” and then saying, “Well, I can see that your balance is different from before, so I’m going to have someone else handle the lifting of stuff.”

      1. pamplemousse*

        This is actually a really bad idea, legally. Discrimination based on pregnancy in job assignments is illegal, and saying “We just won’t have you do any heavy lifting for the next few months” could be construed as a job assignment.

        A very similar situation (involving chemical exposure instead of heavy lifting) was one of the “what not to do” examples in our HR-mandated anti-discrimination training. Follow the employee’s lead and don’t do it.

  7. Mediamaven*

    This same exact thing happened at a place I worked. The difference was that she wasn’t noticeably pregnant. No one had any clue. Only one day in a meeting did I look at her and go, huh, she looks pregnant. But the birth of the baby was announced the day she had it. We were friendly so I went to her house to see her and the baby and I came out and asked her, why did you feel like you couldn’t tell me? She said it was because she wasn’t sure what she was going to do – she came from a very conservative family and even though she was in a loving relationship she wasn’t sure. So anyway, I still thought it was beyond strange but that was the reason. She’s now happily married with more babies!

    1. Not So Super-visor*

      1+
      This happened when I worked for an event planning company in college with the director. People had noticed she’d gained weight and a few close coworkers asked, but she denied it. She ended up going into labor the day after our major production of the year wrapped. She was so lucky; we would have been up a creek if she’d gone any earlier. Because of her position, level of involvement in the event, and the major impact it would have had on the business if things had gone awry, a lot of people were really ticked off at her because she hadn’t come forward with her pregnancy or made any public contingency plans. As it worked out, she was on maternity during the slow part of the season.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        And this is what Mike C is talking about above. There should always be a plan in place in case something happens. She could have just as easily been in a serious car accident or had a death in the family and not been available.

        1. Not So Super-visor*

          The problem is that she was the events director and an absolute control freak — she would have been the one who would have needed to put the plan in place but she didn’t. It was like she was in total denial.

          1. Mockingjay*

            That’s not a pregnancy issue. That lack of planning or backup is a management issue. Basic good business practices: have a written plan, let everyone know how to access it, cross-train. Identify alternates for key positions. And so on.

            Doesn’t matter if someone is out due to pregnancy or quits with cod, the event is still covered.

        2. Geillis D*

          There’s a big difference between scrambling to find a competent replacement when you’re at your busiest, and methodically setting things in motion. I was hired at my current job to cover a one-year maternity leave. I came aboard during the slow season, had time to get my bearings, and when things hit the fan at our peak busiest I was prepared, familiar with the office procedures, on good terms with my co-workers and generally not overwhelmed. We also had employees take an extended leave during busy season, for various personal reasons. We made do but it wasn’t pretty. There is no way anyone in the office would just up and leave without telling anyone they’re pregnant without burning every single bridge.

          1. Mockingjay*

            Yet people up and quit without notice for other reasons.

            Somehow there seems to be extra onus on pregnant workers to start planning for coverage 9 months out, which is RIDICULOUS. In most cases, people plan a few weeks ahead for vacation coverage. People give two-week notices when quitting. People undergo surgery with extended recovery times, often without notice. (“Wow, went to the doc and then next thing ya know, I’m in the hospital.” My husband is home on extended leave for this very type of thing.)

            A month or so prior to the due date should be sufficient to plan maternity coverage. Ask the employee how long she intends to be out and plan accordingly. But you don’t need to start planning in the first trimester or even the second.

            1. Avasarala*

              Yet people have babies 1 month early all the time.
              Especially in countries that offer actual, substantial maternity leave, you really need to plan in advance.

              My company offers up to 3 years of leave (not all paid) which is more generous than the country average of 1 year, and we were shocked when the US leader of a big project was due right after the project would launch… and then she suddenly had her baby a month early and had to scramble for coverage. Like, you didn’t see this coming??

              1. AnonToday*

                I was deeply in denial about my firat pregnancy until I was about 30 weeks along, took even longer to admit it to others, and I had to be induced at week 36. It happens, and I promise it was harder for me than for any of my coworkers.

              2. allathian*

                Yeah, same here. By law, employees are required to notify their employer 2 months before their due date so that coverage can be arranged for maternity leave.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into it (I sometimes do) but I think it’s really interesting that you said that “she” was lucky she didn’t go into labor until the day after the production, because “we” would have been up a creek if she had. I know you explained it a bit after, but my hyper-aware-to-possibilities mind is going to: “in what way would it have been ‘unlucky’ for her if the baby had come earlier?” (other than people being mad.)

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Reading this back I don’t think it’s clear what I meant. Sorry. What I meant was it seems like there were some possible bad consequences for her if it had happened differently?

          At the same time though, I can understand people being upset that she had, essentially, ‘gambled’ on the success of the production.

        2. Geillis D*

          This is crunch time in my industry – February, March and April are crazy busy. For the last two years co-workers have had deaths in the family, in February. Others had sick kids or were sick themselves. We are a small practice with a tight margin. Others had who had to work longer hours and weekends. OF course no one placed blame on co-workers who dared had a parent die during tax season. It was just stressful.

    2. Temperance*

      Something like this happened at my high school. The girl looked like she was growing a belly, and she was pretty thin to begin with. She didn’t know for 7 or 8 months that she was pregnant, and then BAM she popped and came to school the next week hugely pregnant.

      1. Anonny*

        My mum knew of a girl when she was in her teens. She was a fat girl, and one night she started complaining of severe stomach pains one night and her parents called an ambulance. And that’s how she found out she was pregnant. Bit of a shock for all involved, really.

        1. Avasarala*

          When I was a teacher, one student (13!!) definitely looked pregnant. For months and months and months. I never heard anything about it. Then she was out for a few months and came back looking normal. I heard she had a massive cyst. Still don’t know if it was true or not but damn.

          1. allathian*

            That can happen. Happened to one of the girls in my class in middle school. She was slim and athletic, didn’t look pregnant or anything, but she was gone for a month or so, but cysts can affect any girl or woman past menarche.

    3. Denial Denita*

      I had a friend that found out she was pregnant but pretty much ignored it, until she was in labor. She didn’t drink or smoke but didn’t get any pre-natal care either. Some how she hid her belly from almost everyone. She was in denial the whole time, and was convinced it would just go away. Thankfully everything turned out alright. Denial is a strange and powerful thing. Its possible that she was in denial, until either something happened with the bed rest or close to it.

      1. Maria Lopez*

        Same here. My friend already had one toddler, was thin and had a small tummy from the previous birth. We were all changing clothes together in a hotel room and two weeks later her sister tells me X just delivered a baby! Up until then (I was 23) I would never have believed a nine months pregnant woman could not look pregnant. She had not told anyone, not even her sister, and wasn’t in denial. She just didn’t want anyone pestering her about the pregnancy.

    4. TK*

      A similar thing happened when I was working in a childcare facility. We had a new staff member who was obviously pregnant, but didn’t mention it to anyone. We assumed it was because she was new and possibly afraid of being let go, but we were also a childcare and very understanding of the need for new parents to take time off. We decided not to say anything at all until she brought it up herself.

      She ended up telling my supervisor a week before she was induced. She only took one week off because it turned out she was placing the baby for adoption. You just never know what someone’s situation is.

    5. Glitsy Gus*

      I understand that choice. I mean, it was clearly a really rough decision for her. I’m sure, had she decided to put the baby up for adoption, the very last thing in the world she would want would be to come back to the office and have to answer 800 “how’s the baby??” questions.

  8. Elizabeth Proctor*

    [Content Warning: pregnancy outcomes]

    She could have been planning to put the baby up for adoption, or she could have known she was going to deliver a baby who would die shortly after birth.

    I think you did the right thing in not mentioning it to her, though I wonder if as her boss you could have put some thinking into a contingency plan (that you kept to yourself, or maybe shared with your own boss but not her colleagues) in the case of her likely at least two week absence or longer maternity leave.

    1. Annony*

      Yep. It is entirely possible that there was something wrong and she didn’t want to celebrate or disclose why she wasn’t happy. In many states women who find out that their baby will either be stillborn or die shortly after birth do not have the option of abortion because by that time they are too far along. Asking a woman if she is pregnant, even if it appears obvious, has way too much potential to cause pain, especially if she is obviously avoiding talking about it.

      1. Double A*

        Yes, especially as laws are moving to essentially force women to give birth to non-viable babies in a lot of states in the US, this kind of thing could become more common as women literally have no other option than to have the baby and watch it die.

        1. JoAnna*

          Um, the magical pregnancy fairy doesn’t whisk a baby out of a woman’s uterus if the baby receives a terminal diagnosis. Women need to give birth to non-viable babies regardless. The only difference is whether or not the baby can be killed prior to when the woman gives birth, which is what the laws address (and there isn’t a single law in the U.S. that currently prohibits same).

          1. Helena1*

            I think the argument is about at what gestation the non-viable pregnancy is ended – it is much easier to delivery a dead 20 week fetus than a 40 week one, as well as less traumatic (carrying a fetus that is dead or cannot possibly survive birth, waiting to deliver it, is one of the most awful things I have experienced, and certainly not something I wished to prolong for a further five months).

    2. Lynca*

      My first thought was that it was a high risk pregnancy and she obvious didn’t want to discuss it. My pregnancy had some complications in the last month. I didn’t discuss with anyone other than to tell them I’m starting maternity leave sooner than later. Thankfully no one pressed.

      It sounds like this office is a lot like mine where people might probe about the situation. They’re caring and nice, but this wasn’t something I could handle discussing with them.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      I do think that a general contingency plan chat with your boss could have been an option if you were concerned. It might not have been a bad idea anyway, since, as many have mentioned, people can end up out for a length of time with no notice due to all kinds of reasons. So, a basic, “what is everyone’s back up plan and how long is that tenable?” conversation might not have been a bad idea regardless of your report’s decisions based around the pregnancy.

    4. Blueberry*

      Yes, this. Not saying anything is easier than asking people to cancel the baby shower.

  9. Employment Lawyer*

    Well, this is the perfect opportunity for the famous Dave Barry quote:

    “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”

    ― Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns Fifty

    Seriously, though: You were right to hold off as it’s a tricky issue, but it would have been appropriate to involve HR. It is actually a complex field of law which has employer minefields: You don’t necessarily want to ask, but you also don’t want to be liable for (say) neutrally enforcing things like weight-carrying or breaks on someone who is really obviously pregnant, because a jury can say “what, you didn’t notice?”

    Moreover, a failure to discuss it may also be because someone is afraid of discrimination etc.; again, HR (if they’re competent) can help alleviate that in a discussion context.

    A good HR rep will try to bring up policies, options (work from home, part time), leave (FMLA or state), ADA (light duty?), etc.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      You know the law better than I do. But it seems crazy that an employer can be held liable for something that an employee had not disclosed, even if it seemed obvious. I think it would be one thing if the employee in question did not want to disclose the pregnancy but went to OP and said “I have a medial condition that requires me to not lift anything over 10 pounds and I am requesting an accommodation.” But if the employee did not make any request at all employers should not try to guess what accommodations employees need or don’t need.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        But it seems crazy that an employer can be held liable for something that an employee had not disclosed, even if it seemed obvious.

        It seems crazy, and it is crazy, but……juries.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        People basically expect folks to not act like idiots. Otherwise, employers would fire them for taking an extra 5 minutes to sit down. “How was *I* supposed to know they were disabled, it’s not my business why they were in a wheelchair.” Etc.

        This hard-line rule is present in criminal law with things like your right to a lawyer, where you have to be VERY explicit, and saying “Yo, I want a lawyer, dog” is magically held not to express a desire for counsel.

        Employment law is more employee-friendly than that.

        Employment is a two-way street. You can’t discriminate against pregnant folks, but if they’re obviously pregnant it isn’t unreasonable to have a quick HR “do you want help, is there a plan?” check in.

        1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

          That’s why I think the OP did the right thing. He didn’t make a big deal about pushing her to say she needs an accommodation, he just quietly made it unnecessary by making sure she was never put in a position to have to lift anything heavy. He took that on himself, and she was his only direct report, so it’s not like he was making other coworkers who are equal to her do more than their fare share so that she could do less ( which could be problematic with other coworkers if she didn’t have a formal accommodation).

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          But then (not sure if it’s relevant in this case, but I’m a very curious person with an active imagination) – what if there is a quick “HR ‘do you want help'” etc check in with someone obviously pregnant and the employee denies needing any accommodations, doesn’t give up the information that they are pregnant, etc?

  10. Lena Clare*

    Yep, you did the right thing. And, for what it’s worth, it’s irrelevant that you’re a man in this situation.

    1. Kiki*

      Sometimes when things are awkward or not ideal in a workplace, it feels like you personally need to do something. But sometimes you really can’t change anything about the situation and that’s okay. Especially when it has to do with the personal goings-on of employees, sometimes you just have to step back.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Well, maybe, although I admit I did cringe a bit at the “office moms” phrase. Although again, you may be right that his being a man doesn’t matter and I would have cringed at that phrase anyway.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        It’s unclear to me whether that meant “people in the office who also are moms” or “people in the office who will act like they are the mom of the others in the office (whether or not they are moms IRL)”.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        > I did cringe a bit at the “office moms” phrase

        Eh.. I don’t use this wording myself, but I definitely have it in my vocabulary and as a concept. (What’s the equivalent of “lexicon”, but for the totality of concepts you have in your head even if you don’t have a word for it? If anyone knows this, please answer!)

        It seems to be a pretty standard thing in offices. I actually don’t have a group of “office moms” in my current workplace, which is a very male dominated technical environment (I’m female, but I’m the antithesis of the ‘office mom’!) but there are a couple of “office mom” types.

        I have encountered them in previous workplaces though! Story time: In one situation, (I’ll leave out identifying details as I don’t know how obvious it is), I had experienced ‘some not very serious physical injury’ and had ‘some medical device’ to temporarily help out with the injury once I was back at work, which I was fully capable and medically approved to do.

        The recommendation was that I should use the device as often as practically possible or when needed but it wasn’t mandatory 100% of the time. So sometimes I took the judgement, based on how I felt with the injury, not to use it.

        One time I went to a meeting including “people more senior than us” without the device because I didn’t feel it was needed (nothing to do with ‘optics’ of who was in the meeting) and the resident office mom *interrupted the meeting* to tell me, in front of a bunch of other people, that “you’re not using the device! Go back to your desk and get it!”

        To the commenter below it is the second definition – people acting like they are the mom of the office, whether or not they are moms IRL.

        Actually in my ‘anecdata’ experience all of the office mom types are biologically moms, but could be just a coincidence.

    3. Fikly*

      I suspect it was brought up in the context that he intially thought employee might not have been comfortable talking to him about it due to his gender, which is why he mentioned that his boss was a woman, but employee also did not disclose to her.

      1. Blerpborp*

        Seemed possibly relevant to me- I know ideally we would all treat each other respectfully in the workplace and a pregnant employee shouldn’t feel at all awkward talking to her male boss about her pregnancy but that’s not the world we currently live in. Some women will feel uncomfortable talking about that with a man (especially if there’s more going on than just a physically and emotionally healthy wanted pregnancy, the details maybe were even more sensitive.)

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Yes, I also thought this was fairly apparent. The OP seems a sensitive (in a good way), tuned-in sort of person but feels that biological gender may be a barrier to the employee feeling comfortable bringing it up to him. But then she also had the opportunity to bring it up to the grandboss, who is the same gender as her, and still didn’t. I guess it’s like the way many people are more comfortable with doctors of their own gender when the medical complaint is something of a ‘personal’ nature.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, absolutely! I obviously didn’t object when the ob/gyn who helped deliver my baby safely happened to be a man, but I’d never go for my annual checkup with a man, not in a million years. In fact, I find it distinctly weird and, if I’m honest, a bit perverse that any man would want to be a gynecologist (for that matter, I feel the same way about female urologists, too). Personal quirk, I guess, but this is one of the few cases where I think sex discrimination is OK. It’s perfectly fine to prefer to be treated by a person of your own gender.

  11. Bobboccio*

    Surprised Alison didn’t mention the religious aspect… some sects of Judaism do not mention the pregnancy before the birth. Not to the mom, not to the boss, no one says anything to the mother, and she says nothing to anyone. Could be the case here. And obviously not something the boss wants to interfere with.

    1. ProdMgr*

      I’ve never heard of this. Many Jewish families don’t do baby showers or set up baby furniture or talk about what you’re going to name the baby, but arranging maternity leave is totally a thing you can do. It’s on par with talking about the pregnancy with your medical providers.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Some of our Jewish friends hold celebrations after the baby is born and one family did not disclose the child’s name until after she was presented to the minyan (I think) and officially named in a ceremony.

        1. iglwif*

          Both of those things sound pretty ordinary to me (I was raised in a Conservative congregation and now belong to a Reconstructionist one, and I have a non-trivial number of Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox friends).

          Not telling people you’re pregnant and making no plans around mat leave is a little less ordinary–I am aware that there are ultra-Orthodox groups who take on those kinds of customs, but I feel like if that were the case, this behavior would not be the only visible indicator?

      2. Apocalypse How*

        The Orthodox people I know who followed this tradition had ways of talking around it. For example, one friend basically announced her pregnancy by asking on Facebook, “If someone needed to buy a crib by [Month Year] in [City], where should she go to find one?”

    2. ArchivesGremilin*

      I don’t want to assume anything but maybe she didn’t know. I didn’t know that until I read this thread!

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m Jewish and do not believe in discussing the baby before it’s born– it’s superstition more than anything– but we do mention pregnancy. As in, I will ask a pregnant friend how she’s feeling, and I know she’s expecting, but I will not ask her about the baby specifically. In my tradition we do not have baby showers or decorate baby’s rooms before they are born, and yes, many people will not reveal a name until the baby is at least a week old. But we don’t hide the fact that we are pregnant.

      I have never heard of anyone not mentioning a pregnancy at all, especially since there are a lot of ritual issues that must either be performed or avoided during pregnancy. So someone has to know. I think if that is a tradition in some sects, women in those sects don’t work in secular environments.

      1. HannahS*

        Yes, this. You might not see, like, sonogram photos on Instagram or baby showers, but even in what you might call “ultra-Orthodox” environments, I’ve still heard women say that so-and-so is expecting. It’s complete hyperbole to say that no one mentions pregnancy at all.

      2. iglwif*

        Yeah, this is not just not telling people the baby’s name or not keeping baby things in your house before the baby’s born, this is something else. I wouldn’t jump to “must be a Jewish” thing as an explanation.

        I mean, #NotAllJews, obviously XD

      3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Can you give an example of things that ‘ritually’ have to be performed or avoided during pregnancy? (Outside of standard stuff like not smoking or drinking alcohol, I assume!) I’m just asking from a position of curiosity.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I’m not sure about all of them, and it’s pretty off-topic so I don’t want to get too far into it, but for starters, some pregnant women don’t/can’t drink wine, which is part of our Shabbat. Pregnant women don’t traditionally go to cemeteries. Some women say special blessings or their husbands/partners say special blessings during the pregnancy. Some people make use of ritual baths at various points for various reasons, and if you’re pregnant, your preparations might be different than they would be if you weren’t. Stuff like that.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m Jewish and I’ve never heard of this. I think you might be confusing it with other Jewish customs around baby showers and not announcing the name before the birth. But who knows, there are lots of ways of practicing, with any religion.

      That aside, there are dozens of reasons why this employee might not have announced her pregnancy and the goal of the post was not to list them all, as they don’t change the answer. But one day I will write a book of all of the highly specific things commenters have declared themselves surprised or disappointed I didn’t include in an answer.

      1. Annie O Mous*

        I work at a Jewish Organization and we have baby showers for people all the time. I know 2 women who were Jewish as well.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It definitely happens, but for a lot of us, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. :) When my cousin’s wife had a baby shower– she was the first person in my extended family to do so– it was a very tentative experience for a lot of the family. We had absolutely no idea what to do.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I find this oddly adorable almost verging on condescension (for which I apologize). I’m trying to recall my first seder, and how little I knew about what was going on.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To be clear, I’m only talking about the “do not say anything about the pregnancy ever” piece. I’ve never heard of that, but it’s certainly possible some people practice that way. I wouldn’t want non-Jewish readers’ takeaway to be that it’s common for Jews in general though.

    5. Temperance*

      I work with some fairly conservative Jewish folks, and even the women who don’t formally announce a pregnancy will plan for a medical leave.

    6. londonedit*

      I mentioned above but traditionally in Britain people thought/think it’s unlucky to buy things for a baby before it’s born. Baby showers have been creeping into the younger generations over the last, maybe, 15-20 years, but they’re still not a big thing at all and plenty of people do feel strange about them. The tradition here is that you give a gift once the baby is born. Many people also don’t disclose the name they’re planning for the baby until it arrives – I’m always slightly weirded out whenever I see American bloggers etc talking about how they’re ‘excited to be planning for when baby Fergus arrives, can’t wait to meet him’. It would be very, very odd for someone here to refer to their baby by name before it’s born.

      However, it would also be extremely odd here not to disclose a pregnancy at all. People may not talk about a name or throw a baby shower, but it’s not a cultural thing to keep a pregnancy under wraps. From a practical standpoint employers can get into trouble for not conducting H&S/risk assessments for pregnant members of staff, and there are rules around maternity leave/pay that say you need to notify your employer at least 15 weeks before your expected due date. Also, you get protected paid time off for any pregnancy-related medical appointments, so it’s in your interests to tell your employer as soon as you’re ready to, so that you can make sure you get all of the benefits you’re entitled to.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I’m not superstitious in general but there is a strong part of me that would view it as unlucky to give presents before the baby arrives in case something goes wrong. It’s just not something I’m comfortable doing. It’s like you don’t count your chickens. It’s more usual to sign a card and take up a collection with a view to sending a card and gift once the baby arrives and all is well.

        That said whenever I’ve had pregnant staff they’ve told me as soon as they were comfortable doing so in order to get the necessary forms filled out. We’ve usually at that point discussed maternity leave (as in how long they think they may want), time off for appointments, and any reasonable adjustments they need. I would check whether they wanted anyone else to know or not and if they didn’t then I would be respectful of that.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          I’m another UK-er (I assume from your user name)… and I’m not sure I would use the word “unlucky” myself, as I’m not superstitious whatsoever, but I do know what you mean. It seems to be assuming a sort of certainty about the future that isn’t actually there (as you said, “don’t count your chickens”). What a presumptuous viewpoint (some might say)!

          Actually now that I reflect on it (I’m not big on reflection in my life, probably to my detriment) I’m not sure what’s the difference between what I characterise as “superstition” (don’t walk under ladders on Friday 13th!! [Good news, I’ve got some DIY work at height planned this Friday, actually….]) and something like “fear of what could happen in the future that I would then feel guilty about because I kind of pre-empted it but didn’t wait for it to happen and got ahead of myself”.

          I mentally give a kind of “all being well” caveat to any future-orientated statement I make like when leaving work at 6 “I’ve got a date at the supermarket and then I’m seeing so-and-so at 8.00” or whatever.

          Maybe superstitions look different to all of us.

          1. UKDancer*

            I think you’re right that superstitious is perhaps not the right word. It is perhaps more that you don’t tempt fate and your idea of fear of what could happen is a good way of putting it. It’s just there are some customs in my life that are not logical but instinctive.

            I can’t tell you why I would feel uneasy about giving someone a gift before the baby is born any more than I can tell you why if someone gave me a knife I would give them a penny for it. I know logically giving the gift won’t affect the baby. I know logically that receiving a knife won’t cut the friendship.

            It’s just there’s a part of me that feels this even though there is no rational explanation.

            1. nonegiven*

              Superstition

              When I was a kid, I had an aunt that, whenever she mentioned something that was expected to be happening, she’d say, “Knock on wood.”

              So talking about the good thing might make it not happen, so you had to knock on wood for good luck.

        2. MsSolo*

          Our workplace has shifted towards giving the card and a physical gift on the parent’s last day, which I think is some babyshower culture creeping in, but also a conflation with other going away parties, where you’d give the leaver a box of chocolate / bottle of wine on their last day.

      2. 'Tis Me*

        I’m in the UK, heavily pregnant with my 3rd, and the name we’ve picked isn’t a secret. But saying that, I discovered that some of my coworkers literally didn’t know I was pregnant when I was 35 weeks… (It is bizarre talking to somebody, them asking about the crutch you’re leaning on, responding “just pregnancy pelvic issues” and having them do a double-take because they somehow missed the bump when you feel ready to pop!)

        I think having a name makes it slightly more real and less abstract for the bigger two (5 years and 2 years, respectively) – both of whom will chat to the baby, cuddle my bump, etc <3 And expecting a 5 year old to keep a secret would be ridiculous. She literally introduces herself to people in the street, introduces her sister, then tells them there's another baby in my tummy and introduces them too…

      3. allathian*

        Agreed, the same thing is true in Finland where I live. I have a singleton so I’ve never faced the issue of making a baby more real for an older sibling. Some parents have a “work-in-progress” name for such cases, often incorporating both a male and a female name, such as “Elsa-Allan”. It’s becoming more common to want to know the sex of the baby before birth, but our NHS won’t tell you, unless it’s really obvious when they will confirm if you ask. If not, you need to book another appointment and go private to find out, so most people don’t bother. I wanted to keep it a secret even from myself until the birth.
        Baby showers feel weird to me, although they are increasingly common here among the 20-somethings especially (I’ve never attended one, but one of my younger cousins had one). But I find gender-reveal parties to be incredibly tacky and a gift grab…

    7. MOAS*

      This is interesting. I’m Muslim and while most people I know don’t do extravagant things lke big parties or photoshoots (nothing wrong wtih those!), a quick “yea she’s expecting” is common. Now, it’s another story that ultrasounds are not done in my country due to infuriatingly stupid cultural mentalities, but mentioning it is allowed.

      I did see my therapist last week and he’s Jewish and exaggerated-whispered “congratulations.” and explained they don’t talk about it. We didn’t talk much about my pregnancy.

    8. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I didn’t know this, so TIL!

      Do you happen to know the reasoning why? Judaism (and ‘comparative religion’ in general, actually) isn’t something I know very much about, but it seems really interesting that “some sects” of Judaism (but not all, I guess) don’t mention the pregnancy before the birth.

  12. Roeslein*

    Different situation, but my manager at my previous job basically bullied me into announcing my pregnancy during a team meeting (think 20 people) before I was ready. I declined, but she kept pressuring me to do it (“we are like a family”), even though I had already been mentioning my upcoming leave to those who for whatever reason needed to know. In my case there were no special circumstances, I am just a private person and I preferred to discuss these with each project team as the need for planning arose.

    Of course, the same manager informed me when I was 6 months pregnant that she would not be renewing my contract due to “poor performance” and “poor culture fit”, took away all my projects and badmouthed me to others in the company. At that point I had just been off sick for two weeks due to severe iron deficiency – and I have never had any other complaint about my performance either before or after, in 10 years of full-time employment. She has two teenage children, by the way… OP, you handled it well.

    1. Jack Be Nimble*

      In a former job, I had a coworker pregnant with twins whose boss announced her pregnancy to the entire office as soon as she disclosed it. She was a very private person, and definitely unhappy to end up the center of attention — fortunately, her husband also worked at the company, and was able to divert a lot of the attention/fussing to himself (he actually attended the baby shower in her place, she somehow ended up with a lot of medical appointments scheduled that day and couldn’t be there).

      1. alh*

        My manager announced my pregnancy by email to the entire department by sending out a call for interest in replacing me while I was on maternity leave. I wasn’t keeping it a secret and I was past the first trimester, but it was still not how I would have chosen to share the news!

  13. hbc*

    I didn’t hide my pregnancies at work, but I would have if there was a culture of “office moms” waiting to give me a baby shower and whatever “all those fun things” are. I begrudge them for no one, but being the object of attention in a personal situation like that is a no-go for me.

    But anyway, I’d say the one thing that could/should have been done is working with your boss in general on how much backup you had in place for emergency situations. It feels different because you kind of felt like you knew this was going to happen, but you should have had some preparation in case she hit the lottery or quit with fish or something else sudden. It’s especially crucial in a small department, even if the plan is “Write everything down and hire someone who can fly by the seat of their pants.”

      1. an infinite number of monkeys*

        What was your previous plan, and was it in any way related to the fact that you are now in exile?

        :)

    1. emanon*

      Yes to this. I was going to ask why “office moms” was even a thing that was allowed to be normalized in the company culture. Common enough maybe, but still lacking professionalism.

      1. AKchic*

        “Office Moms” tend to be allowed because the ones doing the momming tend to mom enablers in just the right way so it is seen as “helpful” or “beneficial” to the ones in power (management), and they then see no reason to shut it down because they lose out on the “perks” of having the Office Moms.
        What are the perks of an Office Mom for management? Baked treats, never losing your favorite mug, your dishes washed, the office cleaner than if the cleaning crew were doing the whole task themselves (yeah, some Office Moms will clean), a maternal fussing that you can 100% control (read: stop if it gets embarrassing), a personal secretary who isn’t actually your personal secretary…

        To everyone else, they are annoying, they seem like brown-nosers or spies, or overly fixated on being motherly in the workplace (or a whole host of other terms), but to the management team that benefits from it, they don’t care. They are reaping rewards from it, so they have no desire to stop the misplaced maternal output. Some of these Office Moms are good at their jobs. Some aren’t. All a person can do is set their own boundaries with this kind of person.

      2. Jean*

        Yeah that landed weird for me too. Me and a lot of the other women I work with are parents, but it’s not really a “thing” beyond just the fact that we have kids. We wouldn’t think to like, band together and do mom shit to our co-workers. I’m sure OP didn’t mean anything by it, but it’s probably good for him to think twice about using that term.

    2. CoveredInBees*

      Yeah. I didn’t like the way wedding/baby showers were handled at a previous employer. Neither was applicable to me when I was there, but I would have been so uncomfortable to be the subject of them. Additionally, my husband comes from a culture where baby showers are totally avoided and in mine, they are done in a specific way. However, the “office moms” would have thrown me one in their own style over my objections and then complain about me being ungrateful.

    3. allathian*

      Oh definitely! I don’t count the coffee-and-cake event my boss hosted for me for our team on my last day before I left for maternity leave. I told my boss in private about pregnancy at about 27 weeks when I gave her the certificate I needed to apply for maternity leave and the rest of my team at our next team meeting the following week. They were fine about it and occasionally asked how I was feeling, but didn’t make a fuss and for that I’m grateful.

  14. TimeCat*

    It can depend on the job. I used to work in a chemistry lab where we worked with some gnarly stuff. We 100% could not have ignored someone being pregnant because we worked with teratogenic chemicals, our safety certification could have been lost.

    Similarly I think since she was lifting heavy boxes you needed to have a conversation with her. Imagine if she had negative effects from lifting heavy boxes, sure she should have brought it up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a workplace liability issue.

    1. hbc*

      My understanding is that the policy at places with those chemicals is that you *have* to notify, and that you can discipline an employee for not sharing that info. But that employee could and should also have the reason behind her duty change kept private, should she wish.

      For lifting, I’m a lot less happy with interference there. Doctors have all kinds of general recommendations about what to do and not do during pregnancy, and forcing that on someone like me who was 100% capable of lifting those weights (and was regularly hauling around bags that heavy at home) is a step too far. You might as well deny someone access to the regular coffee or refuse to order them sushi.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        There are stories of baristas refusing to serve pregnant/pregnant-looking women coffee… Some people have no idea about reasonable boundaries (and possibly don’t realise that most* pregnant women who drink coffee before pregnancy are allowed to continue drinking it in moderation).

        *Some women get/start having migraines related to pregnancy hormones and some of them may find caffeine is a trigger; there are no doubt other incidental reasons other women can’t tolerate caffeine in pregnancy.

        1. Helena1*

          Oh god yes I had that! Also had somebody refuse to sell me alcohol for a Christmas party (which I was hosting), because “I shouldn’t be drinking in my condition”. I actually had no intention of drinking any of it myself, but even if I had been planning to drink it all in my own in one sitting it had nothing to do with him.

        2. allathian*

          I’m a coffee addict normally, but in the first trimester, just the smell of percolated coffee would make me nauseous. Fresh coffee was bearable, but not the stuff that had been standing on a hotplate for more than five minutes. At the time we had percolators at work, with a couple of admins whose job descriptions included making coffee for the breaks at 9 and 2. I just tended to avoid the breakroom for those few weeks.
          My husband had to resort to a kettle and instant coffee for his morning fix, while I settled for a cup of Earl Grey. I was so happy to get over the nausea so I could have two cups of coffee a day again… And luckily I just felt queasy, I never actually threw up during my pregnancy.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’d trust the employee to know her ability.
      I used to regularly lift 60 pound containers, so a carton of copy paper was no big deal until it was spatially awkward.
      (My balance was another matter…never try to pull things out of someone’s hands if they say no. Someone did and that’s the one time I nearly got hurt.)

  15. Don*

    This woman chose not to talk about a personal medical matter in her place of work, which is mostly treated as okay. But then there’s the section that drops a pretty serious judgment, contrasting giving notice with “ there was no prior planning for my direct report’s departure.”

    To me the reasonable question here is “exactly why was there no planning for this person’s departure?” As Mike C says above, it’s the responsibility of an organization to plan for employee turnover. It’s bad practice to have all your eggs in one basket regardless. At my past organizations we’ve referred to a project’s “lottery index,” meaning how many people could win the lottery and jet off on a round the world trip before we had a critical pay problem.

    It would have been a trivial matter to continue to honor this person’s choice of privacy while still planning for a possible departure. Kick off a department-wide project documentation project. Start a policy of cross-training. Now with COVID-19 in the news you can talk about a quarantine preparedness stance.

    Institutional continuity is the responsibility of the institution, not the individual.

    1. Nita*

      True. Management could have started planning for the employee’s possible departure even without confirming with her that she’s pregnant. Not in the sense of “we’ll 100% need to replace her soon” but in the sense of having someone else know what she’s working on, and hopefully having some ability of the remaining staff to take on her work, at least in the short term, until a replacement is hired. Bad documentation and insufficient staffing can be bad for a business in so many situations that don’t involve pregnancy – accidents, illnesses, people leaving for other jobs, retirement.

    2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      I like the “lottery index” — that’s a great way to frame preparedness. Overall, this is a great comment — OP, something to consider for the future! Plans are best made well before they’re needed.

    3. Policy Wonk*

      The lottery index is good. We use the “get hit by a bus” scenario. Yours is far more positive! The bottom line is that you have to be prepared to lose any employee at any time without warning. This means at least a bare minimum of cross-training to prepare for the sudden absence of any employee, but particularly for those whose positions don’t have built-in redundancy.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        For a while my workplace combined the two and the phrase was “in case X gets hit by a bus in Tahiti”.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ve recently been using a phrase I learned from this commentariat: “hit by the lottery bus.”
        It went over well at my company, so thank you to whoever used it.

    4. Mazzy*

      Speaking of that, are we assuming the OP is very low level then? Remember that the subjects of these letters have a decent chance of actually being on the management side, or in a senior level individual contribution role, in which case they should bear responsibility for the planning you mention

    5. myswtghst*

      “Institutional continuity is the responsibility of the institution, not the individual.”

      Can I just say that I love this? Yes, it’s nice if an individual can give advance notice of upcoming time off, but it’s not always going to be possible, so best practice is for the organization to be prepared to handle it if someone is out unexpectedly, regardless of the reason.

    6. KaciHall*

      You know, my last boss might have been less horrified by the idea of planning cross training if I’d referred to it by ‘lottery index’ instead of ‘bus number’ where the number is equal to how many people can be hit by a bus before the office melts down. (Granted, since at the time I introduced the idea we were at negative one, because the long time office manager had just quit and she had kept everything very close to her chest, apparently because she used such convoluted Excel spreadsheets no one else could understand them.)

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      “Bus factor” of a project is the much more widely known term. The size of the set of people of which one could be hit by a bus from X project and the project could still continue successfully.

      Obviously (based on this definition) a bus factor of 1 is bad (but sadly more common than we would like to think) and a bus factor of a larger number is better.

      Now that I think of it I haven’t seen it used here much.

      I suppose “lottery index” (LI) could be the inverse of bus factor (BF) in that LI = number of people on project – (minus) BF.

      Conversely “number of people on project – BF” = LI, which is why so many companies restrict membership of lottery syndicates!

      I hadn’t quite put it all together until I typed it now but I see it is the case.

      1. nonegiven*

        It don’t matter if I’m hit by a bus or win the lottery, employer is f*cked, cuz I’m no call, no show.

    8. De Minimis*

      We are currently suffering from lack of organizational planning for this, and it seems to be creating a domino effect where others are leaving too [including me.] Employers need to get this right, and not allow situations where only one employee has the ability to do certain tasks or has access to information.

      We had a manager fired and she had nothing documented and didn’t train others on anything [this was by design I think in an attempt to protect her job.] Months later, her replacement is still trying to pick up the pieces and it’s not working out.

  16. Phony Genius*

    Let’s say she had tried to lift the heavy object without the writer’s help, and something bad happened. What would be the liability to the employer if she never officially notified them, but it was visible?

    1. Tuckerman*

      I just want to point out that lots of women are comfortable lifting heavy throughout most if not all pregnancy. Going to the gym and lifting weights was the only thing that kept me sane during pregnancy. I did sometimes request help carrying heavy things that were an awkward shape but I always asked if I wanted help. It was uncomfortable when people assumed I wanted help.

      1. Leisel*

        I think that’s a big distinction – awkward shape. Weights at the gym are ergonomically designed for lifting. Heavy boxes that are just a dead weight on the ground are a different story for anyone, not just someone who is pregnant. If it helps you physically and mentally to safely weightlift through pregnancy- go for it!

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Also, a lot of people who work out during pregnancy, had been working out before pregnancy and are maintaining. While people whose job involves sporadic heavy lifting, might be more leery about doing so during pregnancy because it’s not something their body is accustomed to.

      2. MOAS*

        A lot may be comfortable but then there are those who are instructed to NOT lift heavy or exert themselves. My doctor specifically said walking is OK but nothing that vastly increases my heart rate (interval training, spinning, weightlifting etc). I had mobility issues prior to pregnancy, when I was getting better but then got worse and then found out I was pregnant.

        I would be pretty pissed if people were shoving me because I’m walking slow and expect me to carry heavy things or walk as fast as a non-pregnant, physically fit person just because they saw other pregnant women who were active and healthy who hated people asking them for help.

      3. Old Cynic*

        My veterinarian lifted my 80 pound Golden Retriever onto the exam table when she was something like 8 months along.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          This image really makes me smile. You win the internet…and I’m shutting down for the night because that’s an image I’d like to have in a dream: Happy golden retrievers and strong capable women.

  17. Catalyst*

    My mother had her adrenal glands removed, and gained a bunch of weigh afterwards that made her look pregnant, and lots of people commented (especially since she was in her 60’s) which made her feel even worse and more awkward about the weight gain. So besides all the other obvious reasons to avoid asking women if they are pregnant, I think OP did the right thing here in leaving it be.

    1. Nita*

      One of my husband’s coworkers at an old job also looked quite definitely pregnant – which was very unlikely, as she was in her late 50s or 60s. I can’t imagine she wanted to discuss that no, she’s not pregnant, with all her coworkers. She just said nothing about it, and most coworkers took the hint and didn’t ask.

    2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      I’ve also heard that hysterectomies can look an awful lot like a pregnancy during the early recovery process — swelling where it was taken out, rather than where there’s something new in. So — yeah, definitely don’t go there.

    3. Fikly*

      I am on oral steroids for this exact reason (I have my adrenals, but they aren’t making what they need) and all of the weight is in my stomach. I get asked when my baby is due constantly.

      Let’s just say if I were pregnant, it would be a miracle the church would be interested in.

    4. RC Rascal*

      I’m glad you brought up that there are medical conditions that can make someone appear pregnant.

      We had a situation where a young female employee had a stomach condition that caused her to become very bloated. She eventually had surgery for the condition and tragically, died of surgical complications. I don’t know what the underlying condition was–she never told, and no one knew it was a potentially fatal situation until she died.

      She was in a different department and I assumed she was expecting until her stomach was large for a long enough period of time it seemed like there should have been a baby.

    5. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      I have zero medical problems and look like I’m pregnant. I used to get asked all the time which I found astoundingly rude. I’m a completely healthy weight right now and I still carry more fat in my midsection. People just need to not ask. I’ve never been pregnant and never will be by choice.

  18. The HR Bee*

    Not to play Devil’s Advocate here, but legally, if she wanted to take FMLA, she is/was required to give the employer a “reasonable” notice or the FMLA leave can be denied. Day before birth obviously isn’t reasonable. Obviously, she left the org entirely so it didn’t matter. However, I feel like this is the grey area of FMLA where its like well you really knew, but you didn’t know. Ahhhhh HR.

    1. Just Another Techie*

      Depends on if the baby arrived pre-term or not. When I was pregnant I checked our documentation very carefully. “reasonable” notice was 30 days before the expected due date. Expected due date is calculated at 39 weeks. But a LOT of babies are born before that. If her baby was four or more weeks premature, she didn’t violate FMLA requirements.

      1. Mama Bear*

        And it still goes back to we don’t know if the baby was not expected to live, if she was a surrogate or placing the child for adoption, etc. FMLA may not have applied.

        Even if she kept the baby, people sometimes change their minds about work. A friend of mine’s husband was given a huge promotion during her maternity leave and they decided she could afford to be a SAHM so she resigned.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          FMLA covers medical situations. Giving birth is a qualifying medical reason for FMLA, regardless of what happens with baby–a woman still needs to recover from birth. At least, that is my understanding of FMLA.

        2. pentamom*

          Not having a living child or having someone else raise it does not mean you don’t need maternity leave.

      2. Awkward Interviewee*

        Yup. I had a baby that was 5.5 weeks premature, and filed FMLA paperwork a few days after the birth. It was fine. (My boss and colleagues knew way before that, I just had dragged my feet on the paperwork.)

    2. Turquoisecow*

      I assume the employee in this story knew she wasn’t going to be returning to work and therefore didn’t care about FMLA requirements. It’s possible she didn’t know in advance, but the fact that she didn’t tell anyone at work at all seems to point toward the fact that she wasn’t planning on returning, because she didn’t make any post-baby plans with the company. I’d expect that most expecting women at least start thinking about post-baby life and how it’s going to fit in with their job – different hours, working from home, coordinating with babysitters or daycare. It seems like this employee didn’t do any of that because she knew it wouldn’t be a concern because she wasn’t going back to work.

    3. MOAS*

      That’s exactly why I disclosed to HR once I hit 13 weeks. I needed to get FMLA in place so I would still have some pennies during leave.

    4. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      I don’t think she is covered under FMLA because she was there less than a year.

    5. WorkingGirl*

      Maybe she didn’t notify anyone because she knew she was planning to leave, but wanted to wait till the last second to do so?

    6. iantrovert (they/them)*

      Given the LW’s statement that “Shortly after she started, she became visibly pregnant,” I assumed the woman in question wasn’t eligible for FMLA since that only kicks in after a year of employment anyway (barring special cases like airline flight crews).

  19. mnthoughts*

    We had a deaf employee (relevant to this story) who was obviously pregnant and had not told anyone. One of the women who sat near her asked if she was pregnant, got confirmation, and then planned a surprise baby shower without further consultation. People brought all sorts of lovely baby items to the shower. At the start, the sign language interpreter hired for the event said this “[person] thanks you for this party and all the gifts. She will be giving the baby up for adoption and will pass on the gifts to the adoptive family.”

    I personally had two miscarriages at 18 weeks and had a very risky pregnancy with my first child. I did not want to discuss my pregnancy with anyone at work other than my supervisor and at a later stage, the team affected by my leave. You would not believe the comments and anger (!) directed at me when it became obvious I was pregnant for not sharing my good news.

    Don’t ask and don’t assume people are always brimming with happiness. Pregnancy is a mixed bag for many people and the outcome may not be what you assume.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Ouch. That had to be hard.

        Come to think of it, one of my coworkers is probably pregnant but I haven’t heard from her directly. I figure it’s not my business and I don’t work in her department.

    1. KC*

      I’m currently pregnant for the sixth time. I’ve had five miscarriages before this. I won’t be telling anyone until I’m required to, which if I want Parental Leave is six weeks in advance of the due date per my union contract. I just don’t want to have any conversations about this and don’t feel I should have to. For me, right now, being pregnant is not good news. It means pain and sadness at some unknown point in the future that I can’t plan for.

      1. MOAS*

        I really pray that things work out for you. I’m exactly at where you are, prior losses and went through entire first trimester in fear and anxiety. Sending you good wishes

        1. 'Tis Me*

          Wishing you both the best and hoping the people in your lives are showing you love and compassion

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Wow – both stories here were sad :( People really do need to stop being so dang nosy.

      I’m glad yours ended on a positive note and hope your former coworker’s did as well.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      The entitlement people feel when it comes to other people’s pregnancies is just astounding. I’m sorry you had to deal with other people’s anger on top of your own stressors.

    4. MOAS*

      Angry???? I can’t believe people are so entitled to know!

      I’m so sorry you went through that.

    5. 'Tis Me*

      That sucks!

      This time around I somehow managed to forget to mention that I’m pregnant to one of my best work friends (who now works on a different team so I don’t see her as often) and she only heard through the grapevine when I was about 7 months along… She was more amused than anything.

      But yeah, I thought it was pretty obvious but I had 4 people talking to me face to face last week and not realise so evidently not even though I’m pretty much ready to pop…

  20. Annony*

    I think that the only thing to do in that situation is evaluate the contingency plan for when someone is out for a long time unexpectedly. Make sure you are ready since that is always a possibility.

  21. Grbtw*

    Same thing happened at one of the places I worked, but there was a good reason, the owner hated her and was looking for reasons to terminate her employment. She tracked her hours and noticed he was shorting her, she addressed it and he hated her after that. I even heard him brainstorm ways to fire her, HR had to tell him he needed cause. His response was, usually “they” are grateful for jobs like this(by they, he meant people of her ethnicity). She didn’t come back after having the baby, she found another job.

    1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      A friend of mine disclosured her pregnancy early on because the work we did sometimes was physical and could be dangerous. We had plenty of people to switch out roles with (including those who got switched for their own pregnancies). Didn’t stop the owner from threatening to put a $10/hr employee on unpaid leave for daring to have morning sickness and asking for a coworker to cover the dangerous stuff while she worked in the office LIKE EVERY OTHER WOMAN HE LIKED GOT. It actually encouraged another employee to quit because she didn’t want to deal with that nonsense when she started her own family.

  22. MissDisplaced*

    So… My niece was a surrogate, after having her tubes tied after her third kid was born. She was huge with twins! But of course they weren’t “her” biological kids so I imagine things could’ve been very awkward at work to have to keep explaining all that, except that she actually works in medical.

    I think you did the right thing OP. For whatever reason your employee didn’t want to discuss her pregnancy. At best all you could have done is perhaps let her know it’s ok if she needs to discuss anything, she can do so freely.

  23. Jam Today*

    Maybe the circumstances around the pregnancy aren’t happy ones and she wants to be left alone.

  24. Amy*

    Slightly off-topic. But my boss accidentally saved my babies’ lives. I’m sure this is not common, probably more like once in a million, but this fact doesn’t make me any less grateful.

    I was supposed to go on week long business trip/ 5 hour flight while 28 weeks pregnant. My boss, probably due to a combination of business liability and actual care, asked that as a favor to her, that I just get clearance from my doctor.

    I grudgingly went in to the doctor that morning before an afternoon flight. I was shocked to learn I was already dilated and in early labor. There had been no previous issues with the pregnancy. They put me on bedrest and 5 weeks later, my water broke while at home and I gave birth 5 minutes later without making it to the hospital. My babies survived at 33 weeks. I’m less sanguine about 28.

    Yes, it was a bit patronizing. Yes, it was mostly to do with liability. No, I don’t think pregnant women should be treated like they are helpless or dumb. No, I don’t think extra requirements of pregnant women should be standard policy. But I can’t change the fact that my boss really did make all the difference in my babies’ lives. In my specific case, I’m glad she knew.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      Oh wow!! Very glad things worked out for you and your little ones!

      I think some airlines and possibly travel insurance policies can require doctors’ notes to fly later on in pregnancy in the UK; I think the cut-off varies though, and in the US where flying internally is more common I’m not sure if it’s different?

  25. Jennifer*

    This is one of those situations where you have to hold more than one thought in your head at once. Yes, all companies should have plans for what would happen if someone just suddenly stopped coming to work, or did something so egregious they’d need to be fired on the spot. None of us know if we’ll be able to come to work tomorrow. We all assume so, but life happens (or doesn’t, not to be morbid).

    No, the issue here is not the baby shower. Even if she was happy about the pregnancy she may not have wanted one for a variety of reasons.

    Yes, it’s typically rude to ask someone if they’re pregnant unless it’s some kind of emergency situation and you’re on the phone with 911, so I think the OP was generally correct in not asking this employee directly about her pregnancy.

    Here’s the issue for me. Of course, unplanned absences happen, but if someone knows that they will be out for an extended period of time months in advance, or even if there’s a chance they won’t be returning to work, it’s unkind to their bosses and their coworkers to stay quiet about it. I wonder if there was a way the OP could have brought this up, without actually bringing it up. It’s weird and awkward when someone is sitting there with what you’re fairly certain is a huge, pregnant belly that they’ve never brought up, but I think he could have met with every employee privately and just asked if they are planning on taking any time off in the future. My boss does this before the summer because many people go on vacation during that time.

    The issue here isn’t whether or not she should have shared personal medical information, but leaving everyone in the lurch when it was avoidable.

    1. Jennifer*

      To add, the question about future PTO could be done on the pretense of getting the calendar organized for the rest of the year.

    2. Mazzy*

      Thank you for this comment. It’s not odd at all to mention the baby shower aspect, but it’s weird that so many people apparently think that’s the main concern going on here and that it’s been mentioned so many times! There are much bigger issues going on here besides the possibility of you’re coworkers maybe making an awkward celebration at work and giving you stuff you’ll mostly use or at worst, donate away

    3. Sunflower*

      Totally agree. I don’t see why this can’t be treated as any other leave issue. I understand that pregnancy can have mixed feelings associated with it- but so can every other medical condition and I don’t think anyone ever enjoys these conversations. I can’t imagine needing surgery and just not ever saying anything to your manager.

      1. Jennifer*

        Exactly. You don’t have to give every detail of your medical condition but if you have a chronic illness that requires frequent doctors’ appointments, you should give your boss a heads up about that. On the flip side, if you have an emergency that you couldn’t foresee, they shouldn’t give you crap about it.

      2. allathian*

        There’s a difference between pregnancy and most other medical issues, though. Even planned surgeries are usually done because it’s necessary, but they aren’t celebrated. The only possible exception I could see is somebody celebrating that they’re going for gender realignment surgery. Even that is far from universal.

        The assumption is usually that a pregnancy is planned and a baby is wanted. I can very well imagine that if you’re facing an uncertain future because of an unplanned pregnancy, run the risk of discrimination if you disclose it, or are planning to place the baby up for adoption, etc. that you wouldn’t want to tell until the last possible minute. Or if you’ve had several miscarriages and feel insecure in your pregnancy and don’t want to face the commiseration of your coworkers. If there are employees in the office who want to force a baby shower on an unwilling person and they don’t disclose it because they want to avoid that, who’s to blame them?

    4. hbc*

      I agree with this. As an employer, you should be prepared for emergencies and for people who have good or bad reasons for not helping you plan for their departure. As an employee, you shouldn’t take advantage of the fact that your employer should be prepared to be blase about running out the door.

    5. myswtghst*

      While I generally agree with this, I do think it’s important for the employer to create a culture where people feel comfortable and safe disclosing an upcoming leave or departure. People often have very valid reasons for concern – they may suspect that they will be penalized (have projects taken away or their role/responsibility changed) or encouraged to leave sooner than they planned for (and are able to manage financially).

      In my last job, I was very cautious about when I gave my notice – I made sure I had a signed offer at my next job, and was prepared to be shown the door early, just in case. Things fortunately worked out well, but I’d seen enough signs to be concerned that I might be encouraged to leave right away, and didn’t want to risk that happening at a time I couldn’t afford it.

  26. Buttons*

    If she was put on bed rest and had the baby a week later, I wonder if the baby came early? Maybe she was planning on telling HR or her manager when she was a month from her due date. A month would allow for a transition plan and FMLA to be applied for.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      That occurred to me as well. She could have been even 3 months out and have this happen. Some people “show” very early depending on previous pregnancies, body type, and random luck.

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah, that was my thought. She may have been planning to give appropriate notice, but ended up delivering early for whatever reason.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I didn’t even interpret that as literal moms. Perhaps that woman in the office who thinks she is everyone’s “work mom”. Either way, these people exist in offices. It was nice that the OP was able to keep that shut down.

      1. Eba*

        I think AdminX meant that there wasn’t a reference to “office dads”, so it reads as sexist, the assumption that women would be doing the party planning.

        1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

          Eh, it’s also likely to reflect the existing dynamic in that office, where there are one or more people who have designated themselves “everyone’s mom” and act accordingly. It’s not an unknown phenomenon and doesn’t reflect sexism on the OP’s part.

  27. Millie Mayhem*

    At a previous workplace, I had a new coworker who called in sick after she had been with us for about a month. It turns out the reason she was out is that she was in labor and having a baby! None of us knew she was pregnant (even my boss), as she wasn’t really showing and wore loose scrubs. Her status was up in the air for a while, but she ended up not returning to work.

    I have no idea what her situation was, but I remember feeling bad for her. I also can’t believe our manager told us what was happening… It really was none of our business! I still think about that coworker from time to time and hope she is doing well, wherever she is.

  28. Turtle Candle*

    This is one of those cases where it’s simultaneously true “she doesn’t have to disclose and you were right to not push” and “but you are not delusional for thinking it’s pretty odd/unusual.” I congratulate you on handling it well and also validate your “…whut?” :D

  29. Lurker2209*

    For LW #1:

    When I became pregnant I told my employer fairly early on, we developed a plan for my maternity. I had just begun training a coworker to fill in for my position. Suddenly, with no warning signs, I developed severe pre-eclampsia and gave birth at 26 weeks (just past 6 months). I was immediately gone for 6 weeks to recover from the c-section, worked part-time until my daughter came home from the NICU (she was there over 4 months) and am taking the rest of my maternity leave now that she’s home.

    My employer has been incredibly flexible, but if they weren’t able to, I probably would have had to resign with little transition time. My point is unexpected things happen, around pregnancies and other circumstances. There’s not always a way to be prepared.

    1. Jennifer*

      That’s true, but I also think people know that due dates are far from set in stone and that babies can come early for a variety of reasons. At least your employer was on notice.

  30. name too long to type*

    I wonder if she was planning on putting it up for adoption. That would make it so you don’t necessarily have to go on maternity leave. Or if she was a surrogate.
    Someone may have already said this but I haven’t read through all the comments :P

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yes, though I would assume it’s easier to get recovery time when you’re not recovering in between feeding and changing a fussy baby, right?

        1. Jennifer*

          I don’t know. Depends on the pregnancy and delivery. It can take six weeks to fully recover from a C-Section, according to my understanding. There are also mental health issues involved.

        2. aebhel*

          It heavily depends. With my second kid, I was pretty much completely physically recovered within a few days; it was just the lack of sleep that got me (and it obviously took longer than that to lose all the baby weight). With my first, that was definitely not the case, though.

  31. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    You did the right thing. I worked with a woman a few years ago who looked ‘visibly pregnant’ but she absolutely was not – it was a medical issue causing abdominal swelling. She looked about seven months gone for nearly three years until she had successful treatment, and she would get very upset if people asked her when she was due or offered her a seat on the Tube.

  32. MOAS*

    I don’t think OP did anything wrong — but the pregnant employee, I’m kind of wondering why she kept it so secret. Not for any other reason except htat heavy lifting was part of the job and she might need accommodations? Or may be hte lifting was so infrequent that she could make an excuse to not do it, which i can see easily happening. (not saying she made a bad choice, just mildly curious).

    I’m not really announcing mine, but my boss was the first person after my husband I told only because this was a high risk pregnancy and I would be having frequent doctor visits that could go beyond my hourly break and I’d need a little bit of time flexibility. So far so good (!) and I’ve told a few people here and there but that was my choice ya kno?

    But even my boss was saying I don’t have to tell anyone and I could literally bounce the day before my due date and the company will have no choice. I wasn’t going to do that (!!) but shows that his mind is also in the right place IMO.

    1. Nita*

      I can think of so many possible reasons – a massive dislike of being subjected to “How’s the baby?” multiple times a day, fear of discrimination, denial, something wrong with the baby or the relationship the baby came from. I mean, OP will never know what really happened there but I doubt the employee kept quiet for fun. She was probably aware that not saying anything makes her the target of rumors, may cause some inconvenience to her team, and doesn’t really “hide” the pregnancy.

      1. Jennifer*

        She could have said it to the boss privately so they could have arranged for her absence and asked him not to say anything to anyone else beyond the planning for her absence.

      2. MOAS*

        I understand keeping it a secret from everyone, but if there’s a part of a job that you wouldnt’ be able to do (i.e heavy lifting), wouldn’t the person go to HR at bare minimum? But I re-read hte letter and it said that it was occasional so I assume that it was so occasional that she always got out of doing it.

    2. Anon for this one*

      Another possibility: a strongly held belief that normal childbirth isn’t actually a “medical condition” needing special accommodations, pre-natal visits to doctors for scans etc (how recently has this happened? the last 100 years?) hospital treatment and so on. (e.g. many of my parents and grandparents generation were born at home and there wasn’t any kind of “medical” intervention.)

      Someone like this probably wouldn’t attend pre-pregnancy scans etc either (has she had any random days of or medical appointments like that?)

      I once at my company became “unwell”, had a medical recommendation (not related to pregnancy) that the doctor recommended to my employer, but I “lost” (shredded) that medical note and went to work anyway. – What a mystery! I’ve no idea where that sick note went! Maybe UFOs took it? Just saying.

      I could have been signed off work, but getting the work done was contingent on my being back at work.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        >…born at home with no medical intervention
        Sidetrack: but it was also painfully common for our grandparents generation to say they were one of x number of babies *who survived *. Modern medicine is a good thing for many many women.

        1. allathian*

          Yes. Or that the commonest cause of death for women until the late 19th century was complications during and following a pregnancy. That’s still the case in many countries without decent ante-natal care.

      2. V8 Fiend*

        Except that childbirth really is a medical condition? Yes, things like pre-natal visits and sonograms are recent interventions, but many, many women died from childbirth and many, many babies didn’t survive past their first year.

    1. EAB*

      Sure there are. Women are people, and if they are pregnant, “pregnant people” is a perfectly grammatically correct way to describe them.

      Even leaving trans issues aside, I really like the framing of “pregnant people” (especially in a work context) because it reinforces the idea that pregnancy is something that happens to people and doesn’t implicitly other-ize women.

      Also, this was completely unnecessary, unkind, and rude. Literally nobody asked you for your opinion here.

      Also also, trans rights are human rights.

      1. Batgirl*

        As a woman who would rather prefer to be classified as a person whenever possible, this is a wonderful comment.

  33. BTDT*

    IME the employee who doesn’t discuss their pregnancy despite being near term is most assuredly not returning to their job. Plan on it. It is peculiar behavior.

  34. Hazy Days*

    Not relevant to these specific circumstances, so it’s a ‘just for interest’ thing, but I think this might have to be treated differently in the UK. The employee would neither have given notice of their intention to take maternity leave, or to resign from the organisation. They’ve not requested maternity pay either. What do others think?

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yeah, it is different – you have to let employer know 15 weeks before expected due date, and give 28 days’ notice of planned start of maternity leave (or change to it).

      (If baby is premature, maternity leave starts then :) )

      But also it’s got other benefits to say earlier – I know when I (in UK) was pregnant I did disclose asap so that I could get paid time off for any medical appointments!

    2. mrs__peel*

      It’s a *very* different culture here in the US- most people giving birth aren’t eligible for paid parental leave, most people have very minimal job protections/ no union protection/ no written employment contracts and can be fired for basically any reason, and temporary maternity cover positions are pretty unusual. (It’s more common for additional work to be foisted onto existing coworkers than for a temporary person to be hired for say, six months or a year).

  35. Akcipitrokulo*

    It does occur that the “office moms” may have been one reason to avoid disclosing…

    You did the right thing. The only thing I might suggest – for the future and NOT related directly to her – is to have a think about if there are any reasons in the office that would discourage people from disclosing, and work to fix them. Like if pregnant women don’t get the good projects, don’t get to go to the good conferences, get pushed out early or just get treated that bit differently.

    (I also may have got maths wrong, but from your timeline you could tell from when she was 3 months pregnant? You left firm 6 months later and she had baby a week after that? I think that also ties into the “don’t assume” area – at 3 months you really can’t tell (speaking as someone on the larger side who could be mistaken for having a baby in there).)

  36. Mary*

    In my country you need to inform your employer in writing 4 weeks before the doctor confirmed due date in order to avail of state support for maternity leave. once you have informed your employer they do a H&S risk assessment.

    Other than that there is no requirement to announce a pregnancy. The reasons why people do or don’t are very varied. Most people do announce before they are visibly pregnant so as to avoid the akward questions but I as a manager would never ever ask.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s an anti-trans brigade that’s suddenly showed up to post this over and over. I’m removing it and if it continues, I’ll switch all comments on this post to go through moderation. That is not OK here.

  37. Girl Alex PR*

    My son died shortly after he was born and we knew that was going to be the outcome at about 18 weeks gestation. I was active duty military, which has a policy in place that requires notification of the chain of command. Once we found out we wouldn’t be bringing Jake home, I would have given anything to have been allowed to have kept it a secret. It was torture coming back to work and being asked about a baby I would never hold again, and then the way people treated me like I was fragile or like having a terminally ill baby was somehow contagious. If she was dealing with something like that, I don’t blame her at all for not wanting to share.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry.
      Also sorry you had to carry the pregnancy to term. A fetus is physically easier to deliver at 18 weeks than a baby is at full term. I can’t imagine the horror of carrying a dead baby, or feeling the kicks and knowing that the baby wouldn’t survive outside the womb.

    2. FormerAFOfficer*

      That’s not a military policy issue, that’s a leadership issue. Clearly your commander (or whomever was in charge at the top of your unit/squadron/whatever) chose to disclose far more – and very private and personal – information and unnecessary detail pertaining to your very sudden and tragic loss. That officer or NCO probably shared those highly private details the spirit of “unit cohesion”, “our unit is a family” or some other similar mil-speak rhetoric without first giving any thought of, let alone your permission, in doing so. They most certainly didn’t think through the many, many potential traumatic, invasive and obtrusive repercussions you would inherently experience as a result from their (more than likely well intended but piss poorly executed) oversharing of this personal event on your unbeknownst behalf.

      Your family’s tragedy should have been managed on a strict need to know basis in your direct chain of command, not fodder to update during general morale welfare or recreation news amongst your fellow service members as a whole. They totally overreached. Shame on them for spotlighting your tragedy. Not shocked, unfortunately.

      I am so very sorry for your terrible and tragic loss, and I’m so sorry that you were failed during this unimaginable period in your life and during your service.

  38. Llellayena*

    Is there room for a conversation with the employee (after they are fairly obviously showing) that says “Should we be planning for you to be out for a bit in the near future?” Does not mention pregnancy as a reason, provides opportunity for the employee to say no or to explain what kind of time they might be anticipating (one week just for the birth, several months, no time at all, etc.). As long as there is no change in how the employee is treated after the conversation (unless accommodations are requested) I could see that conversation being prudent.

    I had to deal with this recently and my approach was…awkward. It involved obvious glances and the employee anticipating my question before I could form it. In that case, she told someone above me who didn’t bother telling me that my team member would be gone halfway through when I needed her on the project, so my annoyance is more at him, but I’d love to have a way to phrase the question so I can plan my projects ahead of time. Having someone drop off too suddenly can mean deadlines are delayed while you find someone else who can work the project.

    1. Batgirl*

      Would mapping out a project on a calendar have been an option? That way employee could have said “Oh I told Jake I wouldn’t be here then” instead of you going in on the angle of their body which is just always going to be awkward.
      Course you might get an employee who just nods and continues to say nothing but you can at least say “If any of these dates don’t work for any reason just tell me”.

      1. Llellayena*

        Employee who nods and says nothing is about right. I reviewed the schedule and got no indication that she wouldn’t be around for part of it.

  39. Mavis*

    I know the LW no longer works there but another reason she may not have disclosed her pregnancy is that the associated benefits weren’t great or perhaps non-existent? That would have been a thing to focus on as a higher up – ensuring that the company was making employees feel secure in their jobs regardless of medical conditions.

    1. Batgirl*

      That’s a really good point – when people dont disclose stuff, yeah it may just be privacy. But you also need to ask questions about company culture that go beyond staff friendliness.

    2. PrgrmMgr*

      I suspect this may have been the case. If she started showing shortly after starting, she may have been pregnant when she started, and she’d be technically ineligible for FMLA as she would not have been with the employer for 12 months yet.

  40. Batgirl*

    The employee was running a few risks here; so my take is that the situation must have been sensitive enough to warrant those risks for her personally.
    She could have offended someone she needed as a referee, or offended someone who ends up in her future network; she might have needed medical accommodations.
    The mature thing is to give her the benefit of the doubt while she takes the risk that people might not give her that.
    Privacy pipped the need for help and celebrations and it was always her call. (I personally think baby showers are hell on earth- especially the ones that men can get out of).
    As for business planning, saying nothing does make her look less than professional (another risk) but the truth is you had a visual warning, which is more than what you get with most upcoming medical emergencies.

  41. Musereader*

    Here in the UK it is procedure for pregnant women to apply for Statutory maternity leave and you have to give 15 weeks notice of your due date, and for Statutory maternity pay you have to give proof of pregnancy 28 days before the intended leave, (and you still get SMP and SML if your baby is still born after 28 weeks or born early) If you don’t give the required notice, you can still get Maternity allowance, but the employer has to fill in a form stating the reason they can’t give SMP/SML, so a manager not knowing someone is pregnant is mind boggling.

    However they could request that the manager keep it quiet, and it is not unknown for manager/HR to be the only people who knew and there are rules about not discriminating during pregnancy/SML so I guess people could be more comfortable about telling management.

    1. londonedit*

      It was definitely a thing for a whole series of Episodes – there was a character who was very obviously visibly pregnant but who refused to acknowledge any mention of it, right up until and including actually giving birth.

  42. Green Goose*

    A few months ago I would have thought that the employee’s behaviour was really odd but in the last year two very close friends of mine lost their babies late into their pregnancies. It was extremely traumatic for them. One of them had waited until after 20 weeks to tell her employer because she had recently started a new job and then had to go through that awfulness with near-strangers while she still looked visibly pregnant for months. So OP, you definitely did the right thing. Your employee could have had various difficulties going on behind the scenes that she did not want to discuss.

  43. saby*

    Well, due to this I checked and found that where I live legally you only need to provide two weeks’ written notice for taking a parental leave! (It can of course be done retroactively if things happen earlier than expected). (The employer is obligated to hold your job for 12-18 months while you’re on parental leave so they do need to have it in writing that you intend to come back at some point).

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      If they employee was not planning on returning all along, I’m guessing they weren’t too worried about the parental leave aspect?

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah, but would (I assume) want to get paid (if somewhere that gives paid maternity leave).

      2. saby*

        Yes — I was just curious based on some of these responses on what the actual legal obligation is here in my country, because we have a reasonably generous parental leave.

        But presumably they would still have been planning on the standard two weeks notice before quitting?

  44. Happy Pineapple*

    Alison, thanks for mentioning that some people may look very pregnant when they actually are not. Unfortunately I often fall into that category due to a chronic inflammatory bowel disease and also carrying most of my weight in my midsection. It’s really uncomfortable when people assume I’m 6+ months pregnant because I’m already self-conscious, likely in a great deal of pain when it’s happening, and it’s just another reminder that I’m sick for life and my body doesn’t look “normal.”

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      As someone who has similar issues, I completely understand. I hope you’re doing well otherwise.

      1. Happy Pineapple*

        Thanks, Diahann. I hope you are too.

        Also worth mentioning that I have fertility issues, although I feel fortunate that I have never wanted children. I can’t imagine how painful it would be if I desperately wanted to but couldn’t get pregnant, and then have strangers ask me about “the baby.” This is why I never, ever ask strangers about their reproductive plans or current state. You have no idea what someone is going through.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          I hadn’t seen a colleague for ages and didn’t realise she had been going through something similar; it had also meant she lost weight elsewhere to go from slim to thin so the abdominal swelling was more obvious than it would have been. It definitely meant she looked like she could be about 4 months pregnant…

          I asked a mutual friend if I’d missed an announcement rather than asking her directly, though, because if she was then sharing’s something she gets to do on her own time line, if she wasn’t then the question would not have done wonders for her self esteem, and putting somebody on the spot about a personal matter is kinda rude.

  45. YoungTen*

    It’s always best to at least keep the people you report to informed. There not need to give details really. Keeping them guessing is not the most professional move. It would be the same if a person had a visible foot issue and it was obvious that it would need surgery to take care of it. Acting like everything is normal and there is no upcoming absence, would make me question how serious the person is about the job.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      How would you know that someone “obviously” needs surgery unless you just saw a construction beam fall on their foot or something? Plenty of people have chronic or degenerative conditions for which surgery isn’t an option.

      I agree that all else being equal, you should really give advanced notice for maternity leave or surgery or anything like that, but the reasons for why someone might not want to are pretty much all horrible other than “doesn’t give a crap about the job”, and I’d generally like to err on the side of assuming someone is going through stuff I don’t know about, especially if they don’t have a serious history of flakiness.

    2. mrs__peel*

      Pregnant people get fired and discriminated against often enough in the workplace that you can’t categorically state what’s “best” for them to do in that situation. (Especially in the US). Plenty of people have very good reasons to be nervous about disclosing that information.

  46. AnonToday*

    Years ago, pre-FMLA, one of my colleagues in a retail job was pregnant. She was a part-time employee, full time student, and not protected by any kind of leave policy. She was also planning to give the baby up for adoption. She was not “out” at work about her pregnancy except to a handful of people (myself, our boss, maybe one or two others) in large part because she was afraid of judgement. It was not obvious that she was pregnant until maybe 8 months along. She gave birth and returned two weeks later. A shower would have devastated her!

  47. Essess*

    As others mentioned, there are many possible reasons and everything is speculation. You handled it correctly. She did not discuss her pregnancy with you, therefore it was a health issue that was her private business as long as she was able to do her job tasks appropriately.
    She might have not been planning to leave. She might have been planning to leave but needed her job (and health benefits) until she gave birth.
    She might not have wanted that baby shower (or deal with having one pushed on her) if she planned to put the child up for adoption, or if she was being a surrogate for another person. She might have planned to come back to work but complications with the baby set in (or she chose to keep the baby that she originally hadn’t planned to keep). So many possibilities and most of them are far too personal to be discussed with an employer.

  48. Goya de la Mancha*

    Forgive me because I’m probably reading this wrong, but my brain has stopped working today. Why would it not be OK to not saying anything about an upcoming surgery, but OK to not say anything about the pregnancy?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This can vary by workplace, but a lot of jobs get weird about pregnant women–there’s a whole wide variation on how they’re treated, and some folks might want to avoid that when they can.

  49. pie vs. cake*

    Never assume anything. My son’s very wonderful birthmother told me that she had not told anyone at her job that she was placing her baby for adoption because she feared judgmental responses. Several well-meaning, oblivious people at her job threw a surprise baby shower for her, and she smiled and accepted it graciously, but it was secretly deeply distressing to her. She sacrificed SO MUCH to give the baby she carried a good life. Her pregnancy was a complicated, difficult, unsupported, and emotional time for her, and I can only imagine how excruciatingly that was for her in the workplace when people continually trampled her wishes to not discuss her pregnancy.

    Also, the reference to “office moms” made me cringe.

  50. HRAwry*

    There’s a notice period here which you need to give to go on maternity and/or parental leave. There would also probably be an accommodations conversation given that we are obligated to speak to employees to see if they require accommodations.

    We also have leave for employees who loose the baby/fetus etc…while not a “sexy” leave it’s so necessary.

    This would be so odd to me that I don’t know how I’d react.

  51. Lauren*

    If I get pregnant, I will be high risk. I have no intention of telling anyone until my 5th month at least and even then – will have to tell people how high risk I am so they don’t constantly bring it up.

  52. Maxie*

    I agree with most of Alison’s response, as always. In addition to the reasons Alison and others brought up for why the person wanted privacy: she could have been raped, maybe her partner/spouse is not the baby’s father.
    OP, I ask you to take a look at your categozing profesional women as office moms. It’s inaporopriate and offensive. These employees (maybe your direct reports), should be referred to in a professional context: the go to person in a crisis, subject matter specialist, unreliable for deadlines. Your mindset makes it less likely these employees will be given high level projects or promoted. If a few men organize after work happy hours or plan lunches at the great new restaurant, do you think of them as the office social secretaries? The timing of the pregnancy also makes no sense. Thre months is very early for a woman to be visibly, clearly pregnant. It makes me think he is studying her body in a really inappropriate way. Maybe he nade her uncomfortable. Then 6 months later, she is not full term? Please use this as a wake-up call on how you think of and treat women.

    1. allathian*

      “Office moms” to me are the sort of people regardless of gender, although most of them present as women, who will force baby showers on pregnant people and generally make a fuss of them, whether or not the one who’s pregnant wants to be made a fuss of. Many don’t. I can easily imagine that a very private person, especially one who hasn’t been in the workplace for very long, wouldn’t want to have that fuss made of them.

  53. KP*

    My cousin had a baby that she knew was going to die before her first year of life. (Chromosomal mutation). I did not know she was even pregnant until I was told about the baby’s funeral.

    My cousin was protecting her baby, her family, and herself the best way she knew how. If someone doesn’t discuss their pregnancy with you, there could be very real and painful reasons for that. Don’t take it personally.

  54. Late to the game*

    Observant Jew here…if we are ever so blessed i will quietly whisper it to HR along with a brochure of Orthodox traditional customs around pregnancy with “no baby showers” highlighted. :)

    I’ll invite them all to the naming/bris though.

  55. MissRed*

    Oddly enough, we had the reverse happen in our office.

    Had a coworker come bouncing up excited for an in office, make shift birthday celebration to tell us that not only had he re-married, he might have to duck out early because his wife thought she might be going into labor. It gave all of us a bit of whiplash since he had only been divorced a few months ago, but he seemed happy and the baby was a sweetie.

    Otherwise, there really are so many reasons for wanting to keep things private (and as someone who has been asked when the due date was when I wasn’t expecting) that it sounds like you made the best of things, OP.

  56. Ttttt*

    OP! You rule. Maybe she worried about losing her job, maybe she wasnt sure she would carry full term, maybe being pregnant made her uncomfortable to discuss it – you handled it perfectly. Very much a bravo.

  57. MizA*

    I work in healthcare as a nurse. When I was in a frontline leadership position, I had a miscarriage, got pregnant again, and disclosed to my manager. She let slip to my staff that I was expecting. Unfortunately, I had a really rare complication at 23 weeks which led to a stillbirth. Having to deal with people’s questions and congratulations when I returned was… traumatizing.

    Point being: People have reasons to not disclose. Just respect that.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that. The stillbirth was bad enough, but I wish you could have been spared the reactions of your coworkers.

  58. GreenDoor*

    “She did not return to the organization” after having the baby. This might be a clue, too. I had a coworker that didn’t return after having a baby. Unbeknownst to anyone in the office, she gave the baby up for adoption and, according to a coworker friend of hers, couldn’t handle the thought of having to explain why baby wasn’t coming home with her. Not that this is your employee’s situation….but just that you were right to err on the side of respecting her privacy. You may have kept her from dealing with a lot of akwardness.

  59. Lucette Kensack*

    Yikes all around.

    This company needs to consider why a pregnant employee felt compelled to keep her pregnancy a secret from her manager. What’s the culture around pregnancy, maternity leave, and opportunities for women in general?

    And organizations should be prepared for sudden exits of employees; this shouldn’t cause a breakdown in production or performance.

    But employees shouldn’t turn a planned leave into a sudden leave. If she had stayed with the organization, I would have been probing to find out why she behaved the way she did, what we could have done to prevent it, and — depending on her answers — I would have been pretty concerned about her engagement and trustworthiness as an employee.

  60. ynotlot*

    Life is complicated and it seems like everyone (every employee, every employer) handles this differently and has different feelings about it. Part of me still feels that this is unprofessional. It’s possible to inform your employer of your future plans without revealing more than you want to. I’m guessing that part of why she didn’t disclose her pregnancy is that it happened before or soon after she was hired there. Not great timing, but not unheard of. She basically handled it by quitting without notice for something where plenty of notice could have been provided. Compare this to something like an employee knowing they are planning to start grad school, choosing not to let their employer know, and then no-call no-showing on the first day of grad school and never coming back. (NOT a direct comparison, but helps me to think through a similar issue with the pregnancy element taken out) Like, yes, there are things that could go wrong, there are traditions and personal feelings, there are many reasons someone might want to keep the announcement on the down low, but simultaneously, it’s a strange way to handle a very common occurrence. In my opinion.

  61. Womb for Lease*

    I was a surrogate twice to two different couples. I didn’t announce my pregnancy to my coworkers, because the bundle of joy wasn’t mine and I didn’t want them throwing me a baby shower for a child that would be going home with wonderful parents who just needed a little help to start their family.

    I only told my supervisor, so that I could arrange leave for after the birth and a three weeks to recover. But it never crossed my mind to announce it to everyone, because it wasn’t any of their business….

  62. Nessa*

    We just had a coworker go on maternity leave earlier than expected. She was going to work up until the due date, but she needed a procedure to turn the baby that required her to be on maternity leave. She let our boss know as soon as she knew herself, which was only 1 week notice. He was pretty miffed about not getting the full 6 weeks notice, but she was within 6 weeks of her due date anyway, so it’s not like we didn’t know she’d be gone soon.

    I’m also 10 weeks pregnant myself, and due to a miscarriage last year, I don’t want to officially announce anything until my 12 week ultrasound. I have some friends at work though, and when they asked how my appointment last week went, I quietly confided that it was a 9 week ultrasound and that things were looking really good this time. I think my boss overheard my coworker congratulating me because he later came to my desk and asked me how my “starting a family was going” and that he wanted to make sure we keep an open dialogue and that I need to give 6 weeks notice.

    It was awful! I felt like I was being pressured to share news I wasn’t ready to share with him yet! He knew about my miscarriage last year, but still decided to press me on it. My response was that things are going very well and that I hope to have something to officially announce soon. We’re a small company and don’t have an HR, so I don’t have anyone to complain to about the invasive nature of his questioning.

    With the coworker who recently went on maternity leave, I brought some cookies and cupcakes for her last day, bought her a gift card and a blank card for all of us to sign. Just as a nice little farewell party for her (everyone but our boss knew she wasn’t coming back from maternity leave). Everyone EXCEPT my boss signed the card and he didn’t so much as wish her well. He awkwardly ate cake and cookies while the rest of us wished her luck. At least I now know what to expect when it’s my turn to leave.

  63. Anonforthis*

    This exact thing happened at our office a few years ago, and we handled it the same way. The employee was so obviously pregnant — like, wearing tight leggings that showed her new body shape, slippers in the office, and tops that fit super loosely. She was a thin woman, so it didn’t look like she was just carrying extra weight. No possible question that it could have been anything else. None of us ever asked her directly. We all knew because we found her baby registry, but no one ever confronted her about it because she never volunteered the information herself. She left the office on a friday, texted her boss that she was “sick” and then never returned to the office. She didn’t officially quit, either. Her boss texted and called her several times the following week to see when she would be coming back, and got no response. A mutual contact confirmed that she did have the baby and was doing well.

    We suspected that she panicked because she was pretty young (early 20’s) and wasn’t married and thought people would look askance at her (we live in a more conservative area).

    She eventually came back — her old boss ended up rehiring her later after she apologized for essentially ghosting the company, but she only stayed for a few months. I did think that it was very gracious of them to give her a second chance, even though it didn’t work out long term because she had some reliability issues. I feel like the company handled things well.

  64. FuzzFrogs*

    There was a Reddit post that was floating around the internet last year that was about a very similar situation. In that case, it was actually a religious reason; certain versions of Orthodox Judaism don’t believe in confirming a pregnancy until the baby is born, and don’t do baby showers, etc. Unfortunately the Reddit post was by a coworker who helped plan a surprise baby shower anyway–if I remember, it was revealed in replies that the workplace had reacted badly to the fact that coworker had very, very minor cultural differences to her coworkers, and threw the shower in an attempt to force her to fit in.

    This is all to say that really, the only thing you can do is say nothing and do nothing, because there’s any number of reasons why you shouldn’t.

    A question to the floor! Would it be reasonable to pull an employee in this situation aside and ask if they had any planned sick leave in the future? I’m not sure how legal it is but it seems like a chance to at least give them a chance to discuss the leave aspect without directly discussing the pregnancy.

    1. ynotlot*

      That is absolutely what I would do. I wouldn’t bring pregnancy into it verbally, but I would say “Will you be needing medical leave in the near future? When? How much?”

  65. Holly*

    Allison, I think OP might have done the right thing for the employee’s privacy, but I’m not sure from a discrimination law compliance standpoint its necessary the best. Shouldn’t OP have had a private conversation with the employee to ask if she needed any reasonable accomodation or other assistance, or make it clear that OP could take time off for doctor’s appointments as needed, etc? None of these questions have anything to with prying into whether OP is happy or not happy about the pregnancy, just puts into the record that these were offered to her. Especially if it’s a physical job where the employer had to carry heavier items.

  66. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the comments yet. But one thing jumped out at me:

    The office was a very friendly place and I know the “office moms” would have loved to have thrown her a baby shower and all those fun things

    That may have been a large part of why she refused to talk about it. There are a lot of activities that many people are not so comfortable with yet when certain types get their teeth into the idea that this SHOULD be done it gets very uncomfortable.

    Given the fact that she wound up on bed rest and had a baby a week later, it’s almost certain that this was not a simple pregnancy. While I obviously don’t know her reasoning, I would be very surprised if this issue did not play a role in her decision. Or maybe she just wanted to avoid all of the medical advice and judgement that would come along with the situation.

  67. GrievingMom*

    As someone who recently lost a child during a pregnancy, literally 2 days after it was announced at work) a next pregnancy will not be announced until there’s a baby. I can’t explain the heartache that goes and having to have it so open is painful at work, when it can be your only escape sometimes.

  68. Rexish*

    Ok, so if you are prenant and don’t tell at work. Do your job until due date and deliver the baby. What happens then? You show up to work next day? Call the work and use your sick days? Request unpaid leave or PTO? Then make a request for maternity leave? I’m curious what “pot” the absesnce would come from and if this is actually possible to do (assuming returning to work). I understand not announcing it work, but if there ever was a plan to return I don’t understand not telling manager. Even if there is a increased risk of Still birth, adoption, surrogacy etc. you need the recovery time. I don’t really get how you could get away with not telling anyone at any point unless this was classified similarly as sick leave.

    1. ynotlot*

      Yeah. Because what happens then is that they quit without notice via job abandonment and should almost certainly never be hired back to that company. I was v surprised to see in another comment that someone who did this DID get hired back (and it didn’t work out because of reliability issues, quelle surprise!)

    2. Observer*

      It’s not job abandonment if you call your office and say “I’m in labor and will be out for at least the next X days.” It certainly SHOULD be treated as sick leave.

  69. KK*

    We had something similar happen at my office. The employee told no one anything. The information was gathered from a phone conversation that she did not try to keep private.

    A young college student became pregnant with a guy that she had no prior relationship with (sounds like a one night stand) and her parents did not like. Her plan was to give the baby up for adoption. She did not give her colleagues nor the manager any notice about being out to have the baby. None needed apparently; she had the baby on a Thursday evening, called in sick on Friday & was back at work on Monday.

  70. European*

    Wasn’t there a commenter in an open thread some time ago that was actively planning on doing this?

  71. Sydney*

    The minute anyone learned I was pregnant (3 months along, I worked at… lets call it mubway ) I was immediately scheduled for less than half of my usual hours and was fired at 6 months along, while on approved unpaid vacation time, for texting my manager ( which was customary) to ask for the schedule for the following week.

  72. Youngin*

    I actually chuckled reading this one! There is an episode of the show ‘Episodes’ where an assistant is sooo pregnant but doesnt say anything and no one on the staff feels they can acknowledge it. Highly recommend watching it. Hilarious imagining it in real life with that episode in my head.

  73. Lily*

    There’s also the possibility that she herself didn’t realize that she was pregnant (or didn’t want to realize it). This happens occasionally; sometimes pregnant people don’t realize that they are pregnant until they go in labour. If this was the case, maybe she didn’t come back because she didn’t want people talking about her.
    (Also, in that case, telling her that she was pregnant wouldn’t have changed it; she would simply have denied it.)

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