my boss is discriminating against my pregnant employee

A reader writes:

We have a colleague who has just left to spend a year working remotely (well, we’re all working remotely now!) so he and his wife can live near her family for a year. We needed to split his role into two anyway, so we hired someone, “Jane,” to take over his day-to-day work, and he is working on more independent projects while he’s away. I’m her direct manager, but both the director/owner (“Ron”) and I agreed that she was far and away the best candidate we had.

Two weeks after Jane started, she told us that she was pregnant and due about six months later. Ron was very, very unhappy. He felt tricked (she says she didn’t know at the first interview, but he’s not sure he believes her), and annoyed that we then had to find a replacement for our replacement. For my part, it was a bit frustrating, but that’s life. I like her personally, and she’s a fast learner and a good employee.

The problem is that, ever since then, Ron has been very cold to her. He’s asked me to keep a record of every time she says she’s exhausted or takes time off (which she is legally entitled to, paid) for doctor appointments, and has asked me if she’s making up the hours for those appointments that she’s legally entitled to. We had also talked about eventually transitioning her onto our B2B sales team (she worked on the side that we sell to for years, has great contacts, and is the right personality), but now he’s saying that when she’s a mother, she won’t be able or want to go out and schmooze with the customers anymore (it’s a schmooze-based field). Also, we interviewed a young woman for the maternity cover position, and he made multiple comments that probably this woman would announce her pregnancy as soon as she started. In the end, I pushed and we hired her, but I’m certain if we’d had two equal candidates, he would have gone with a male candidate or someone who he didn’t think was likely to become pregnant.

I’ve felt pressured to make sure Jane is working every hour she’s meant to. For example, she had a doctor appointment at 3 pm. She was planning to take lunch from 1:30-2:30 pm, travel to the appointment from 2:30-3, and then spend an hour at the appointment, and another half hour traveling, so finished by 4/4:30. I asked what time she thought she’d be signed back into work, and she seemed very taken aback that I wanted her to come back to work for the last hour of the day. Ron would absolutely be upset if he knew she’d just taken the last hour off, and I thought it was a bit cheeky to just assume she didn’t need to come back to work, but I felt uncomfortable nickeling and diming her time, when I know there are weeks she’s worked extra because we had so much work. In the end, she didn’t take a separate lunch break and ate during her travel time to the appointment, but didn’t come back to work after.

Another example is that she had a day recently where she said she was feeling unwell. I told her to let me know if she needed to rest, but I know that’s not how Ron would have wanted me to handle it. In the past, Ron has made comments like “legally, how far do we have to accommodate her if she can’t do her work?” and insinuated that he wouldn’t accept her pregnancy interrupting her work. In other cases, he’s been very insistent that employees under the weather take time to rest.

For the record, her due date is in a month now, and she starts her maternity leave in two weeks.

What is the best way to push back when Ron’s decisions are clearly colored by her pregnancy? I want to make sure that we have a workplace that is welcoming to women, especially since this kind of behavior is not uncommon in our field. I would like to have a child myself in the next few years, so it’s also in my own personal best interest to make sure we have a good culture around it.

Also, how could I have handled the doctor appointment situation better? What’s reasonable accommodation when she’s feeling unwell from the pregnancy? In general, she’s a hard worker, and I don’t think she would ask for special treatment unless she was actually feeling very unwell. I don’t think it’s a pattern of slacking off that needs to be addressed.

WTF Ron.

He’s asking how far the law requires him to accommodate Jane, so you should tell him. (You should tell him regardless, but he’s making it easier by posing the question himself.) He needs to hear about the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the federal law that forbids treating an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of pregnancy or childbirth. It forbids discrimination based on pregnancy in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits (like leave and health insurance), and “any other term or condition of employment.” It also says an employer can’t treat pregnancy differently than it treats other conditions — so if Ron wouldn’t be nickeling and diming the time of someone with a broken leg, he can’t do it with Jane either.

Ron has been violating this law all over the place. Specifically:

* If he wouldn’t have hired Jane if he knew she was pregnant (which his comments about feeling tricked imply), that’s illegal. He’s allowed to be disappointed that he had to find a replacement so soon after hiring her. He is not allowed to use the pregnancy as a reason not to hire her at all.

* Being cold or hostile to Jane because of her pregnancy is illegal if it affects her working environment in a severe or pervasive way.

* Keeping a record of every time Jane says she’s exhausted or takes time off for doctor appointments is illegal if he wouldn’t do the same thing for an employee with another medical condition. Making it harder for her to use the paid time off your company provides, simply because she’s using it for pregnancy-related things, is illegal.

* Nickeling and diming her on her schedule because of her pregnancy if you wouldn’t do that to other employees is illegal.

* Changing her work assignment (not moving her to your B2B sales team as planned) because he doesn’t think she’ll be suited for the job as a mother is illegal.

* Given all the rest of it, those multiple comments he’s making about how the woman hired for Jane’s maternity coverage will probably announce her pregnancy too? Probably part of a hostile environment around pregnancy in general — also illegal.

* Any and all other signs that he’d prefer to hire male candidates, all else being equal? So illegal.

None of this is your fault — it’s all on Ron, and you clearly are upset by it — but be aware that you’re starting to let your knowledge of Ron’s strong feelings on this influence the way you manage Jane. That’s really common (it happens all the time when a manager’s manager is toxic), but you’ve got to be vigilant about not letting it happen or you’ll be complicit in both his illegal pregnancy discrimination and his discrimination against women in general.

So, how do you push back?

First, sit down and have a conversation with Ron. Say this: “You’ve asked how far the law requires us to accommodate Jane. The law says we can’t discriminate against someone because of a pregnancy. We can’t consider it as a factor in hiring at all. We can’t make job assignments based on pregnancy or childbirth, like not moving Jane to the B2B sales team after she has a child. We can’t track her time off in a way we don’t track other people’s, or hold her to different standards on her schedule, or otherwise treat her in a more restrictive manner because of her pregnancy.” You could add, “Obviously we have to follow the law or we could rightly be sued. But even beyond that, we need to make sure we’re not discriminating against pregnant women or being hostile toward pregnancy in order to be a good workplace for women in general.”

I doubt a single conversation with Ron will be enough to solve it, although hopefully it will put him on notice that this is serious and the law isn’t silent on what he’s doing. You’ll likely need to keep reminding him in the future. For example, if he again makes a comment about feeling tricked by a pregnant candidate, you should say, “We weren’t tricked, since it would have been illegal for us to have considered her pregnancy anyway.” If he asks you to track every time Jane is exhausted or asks for time off, you should say, “Unless we are doing that for everyone, we can’t legally do it just because of Jane’s pregnancy.” And so forth.

In your own management of Jane, make sure you’re not playing to Ron’s prejudices. Treat her the same way you’d treat anyone else. If you’d be fine with someone else not returning to work after an afternoon doctor’s appointment — especially someone who has put in extra hours at other times — then be fine with it for Jane as well. If you feel hesitant because you know Ron would be upset, remind yourself you’re following the law and Ron presumably would be more upset (or at least should be more upset) if the company got sued and/or became known as a place that illegally discriminates against women. Remind yourself that you don’t want your name attached to those complaints either.

You also asked what reasonable accommodations are when Jane feels unwell from the pregnancy. The legal answer is: anything that helps her to perform the essential functions of her job without causing genuine undue hardship to the business (and the bar for undue hardship is pretty high; something like Jane getting to leave work early when coverage isn’t an essential part of her job won’t be considered undue hardship). Ask yourself how accommodating you’d be to someone who had a broken leg or the flu; be at least as accommodating here. (Frankly, you might even need to be extra accommodating to counteract Ron’s actions.)

Good for you for wanting to stand up to Ron. I wish I could say his views were shocking, but there are still a ton of people who think like this. All of us need to ensure they hear, “No, absolutely not, we can’t and won’t do that.”

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 368 comments… read them below }

  1. Jake*

    I feel for Jane so much. My wife had to deal with so much of this from her boss when she was pregnant as well. It was worse when she returned from maternity leave though. Maybe having the reasonable OP between Ron and Jane will allow Jane to have a reasonable return to work.

    1. Momma Bear*

      And some women will decide not to return b/c of this behavior, thereby losing a good employee. It’s not just Jane. If OP is watching this behavior, I guarantee others will be noting it as well. Unless the company wants to alienate all people who want to be parents (though Ron seems to be focused on women), then Ron’s behavior needs to be stopped.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        And Ron will say “see, I knew she wouldn’t come back,” never admitting that he drove her away.

        1. tangerineRose*

          And Ron will lose good employees (and have fewer good people apply for jobs) because of this.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            But he won’t recognize that. He’ll just feel wronged by a “woman” and her pregnancy. This will only feed Ron’s sexism and vile behavior towards women in business.

            1. Luna*

              Unless he’ll also lose male employees, who might take paternity time-off or otherwise plan on having a baby on the way, and don’t want to work with someone who treats women horribly for it. I doubt Ron would be okay with a man taking time off to take the baby to a doctor’s appointment or otherwise needing some accommodation because new family member needs a bit more attention.

        2. Sam.*

          I’m a 30-something woman who does NOT want kids, and this kind of behavior would still make me leave on principle (and he’d 100% make the same comments about me regardless, because his problem is with women, not pregnancy…)

          1. earl grey aficionado*

            I’m in a similar boat. No kids, nor desire for kids, but this would make me run for the hills. The fact that OP says that Ron has been good about sick leave in the past is fascinating to me; in my experience, pregnancy discrimination sits at the nasty intersection of ableism and sexism, and I would expect employers who were terrible towards pregnant people and their needs to also be terrible about sick leave. If Ron respects sick leave but this much of an ass about maternity leave, I have to imagine that that speaks to some pretty extreme sexism on his part. I’m curious if this comes out in other ways – is he hesitant to hire mothers generally (because he views them as uncommitted)? Would he refuse to hire a woman wearing an engagement ring because he assumes she’s going to have kids right after marriage? Just…ugh.
            Good for you for wanting to stand up to Ron, OP. I’m just worried that you’re going to find that this is the tip of the iceberg.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              No, plenty of folks are fine with sick leave, but bristle at pregnancy accommodations. IMO, it seems they see sickness as something that happens to you, while pregnancy was your choice; so you can’t help being sick, but how dare you choose to inconvenience the company by getting pregnant.
              Obviously, this is ridiculous. A person’s choice to reproduce is a personal matter and has nothing to do with the company. But that seems to be where it comes from.

              1. earl grey aficionado*

                Fair! I think you’re dead on about people viewing pregnancy as a choice. I’ll say that as a chronically ill woman (with a gyn-related illness, no less), the issue of “choice” and sympathy/support gets more complicated than the broken leg example Alison mentioned. Luckily it’s not been an issue in my work life, but in my personal life, people have made some pretty shocking comments about my “choice” to have a major gyn surgery (that was absolutely, 10,000% necessary for my quality of life, despite it being technically elective). I think that women are subjected to far more scrutiny about their health than men are, period. I don’t want to take focus away from the specific harms of pregnancy discrimination, but I hope the OP views this as a signal to take a bigger-picture look at Ron’s behavior to see if there are other forms of discrimination happening, too. These things do tend to be tightly coupled.

              2. Jake*

                That is exactly how my wife’s boss looked at it. You made a choice that made my life miserable by being away from work for 12 weeks. As such, I will not speak with you, I will not work with you, I will not include you in meetings, I will not include you in decision making, etc. Maybe after I feel like you are as miserable as me, I will back off.

      2. Artemesia*

        It is so short sighted. My daughter was pregnant when she took her most recent job — the business not only gave her maternity leave, although obviously she had not been there a year, but is now quite flexible about the current COVID child care difficulties for their employees. The result. They have a top performer who has made major contributions to keeping the company afloat during this crisis. If you have strong employees, making it possible for them to lead a normal life is in your interests.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Are pregnancy discrimination and FMLA protections the same?

      My understanding is FMLA gives people up to 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave for medical conditions (pregnancy being one of them) and they have to be given an equivalent position/pay on return. But FMLA only applies to companies over 50 people in an area within 75 miles, and an employee has worked over 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. In this instance the employee has not met the requirements for FMLA so could the employer deny the leave? If it is denied would the employee have to quit, or only be allowed to use whatever paid time off they have accrued?

      Or to avoid pregnancy discrimination issues the employer has to hire them, but they are allowed to not give them leave as long as they do the same for people with other medical conditions?

      1. Ann Perkins*

        IANAL but pregnancy discrimination can still come in to play absent FMLA protection. A doctor would typically take a woman off work for 6 weeks for vaginal delivery and 8 weeks for c-section. If an employer let a different employee with a surgery take off their 8 weeks but not the woman who needed a c-section, pregnancy discrimination could come into play there.

        1. HigherEdAnon*

          So, my employer (large large large urban school) used to do this. 12 week FMLA was paid by using your sick and vacation time. For maternity leave under this FMLA, women could ONLY use sick time to cover 8 weeks of that leave for delivering vaginally or 10 weeks delivering via c-section. The rest was covered by vacation.

          At that time, you could also bank 90 days of sick time. That’s 18 weeks. So, conceivably, for ANY OTHER REASON for medical FMLA other than delivering a child, you could use all sick time to cover an FMLA. But the only sex-based restriction on the usage of the time was for childbirth, active childbirth. Broken leg? Can use all sick time.

          I pointed this out repeatedly to our central HR that this was discriminatory; unfortunately they took several years to update the policy (after I had my child, natch). Now only two weeks need to be covered using sick before short term disability kicks in for the remainder of the FMLA.

          1. Clisby*

            Are you talking about medically-indicated FMLA? I mean, 8 weeks for a vaginal birth and 10 for a C-section seems pretty reasonable as a default *medical* leave for childbirth. If it didn’t allow for the full 12 weeks if there was a true medical reason for more, that would be a problem.

            1. HigherEdAnon*

              No, I mean that for a medical leave, if someone broke a leg they could use all sick time to cover the leave. For pushing out a kid you could only use 8 or 10 weeks of sick time to cover those portions of the leave, the rest would be covered by vacation. That’s discriminatory. If I’m taking a medical leave, I should be able to use all sick time to cover it. Not only a part.

      2. CrapIForgotMyAwesomeUserName*

        Nope, not the same. Pregnancy is covered under the ADA, which employers have to follow regardless if they have 1 employee or 1 million employees.

        The employer here could deny a longer leave, but would still have to grant leave according to what the employee’s doctor dictates. For example, if the doctor says she needs 6 weeks off, she must be allowed 6 weeks off and return to the same job (or equivalent).

        I had an employer try to pull this one on me – I wasn’t eligible for FMLA since I hadn’t worked there a year. Sure, but the ADA still applies and you can’t make me quit. (I did, but only because they sucked majorly anyhow and I found a better job.)

        1. Just Me*

          The ADA and Title VII require 15 or more employees, but local or state laws may have lower thresholds.

      3. Dilly*

        Also, Jane will have been there less than a year and probably wouldn’t be eligible for FMLA. In order to be eligible for FMLA the employee has to work 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave. Also the company has to have a certain number of employees at that location (or within 75 miles)

  2. NOK*

    Just speaking as someone who’s in the sales industry, the strongest salespeople I know are working mothers. They don’t screw around.

    1. NerdyKris*

      There’s not much difference between convincing a child to eat vegetables and convincing someone they need your product.
      Well I guess except for making the airplane noises.

      1. Susan*

        I don’t know about that; I am pretty sure airplane noises might be just the thing with some clients!

      2. Ophelia*

        My background in marketing is why my kids eat pink fish (salmon) and pizza chicken (chicken parm) :P

        1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          “Pizza chicken” immediately made me think of a chicken who works as a pizza chef. For some reason I pictured her wearing sunglasses. Maybe because she has a cool job?

        2. LooLoo*

          Excellent! That’s how we got my kid to try salami. He loved turkey, so we called it turkey salami. Instant success! Though I had a bit of a face palm when pointed to the title of a book a wanted to know what it was and I spent a few seconds mulling over should I tell him it’s copy, text, or name the font…until I realized he wanted me to read the title to him. D’oh.

      1. Dr Useless*

        Am I the only one weirded out by this? Surely employees being scared of not being able to support their families is a bad thing?

        1. Kaitlyn*

          Even as a metaphor, using the words “hungry” and “employee” weirds me out. The only time I want to see it is if it’s like, “Our employees get so hungry for our weekly catered lunches!”

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Except maybe the employee who doesn’t have a spouse with a backup income.

          Let’s not go here, OK? There are many reasons people can be eager to make a decent living.

      2. nona*

        You mean, like a single person with no children, and is therefore entirely responsible for funding their entire retirement by themselves without any grown children to fall back on if things get rough towards the end. (Yes, I know kids are not a retirement plan).

        1. Annette*

          Yes nona. Odd comment. Claiming that parents are better workers than non parents because they need money more does not = progress. Check yourselves.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          Actually, humans being what we are, I think that the immediate need would be more urgent than a “later on” need. We are really not very good at treating the future as a real thing, and this actually makes a lot of sense given that we are animals with animal needs.

      3. A*

        Right. Cause my single and childless self doesn’t have nearly as much motivation to pay the mortgage that I alone am responsible for, or ya know – having to save for retirement on my own, be my own safety net, etc.

        Tone deaf.

    2. OP*

      I think she’d make an excellent salesperson, and will 100% push for her to join the sales team down the line. At the moment, the entire B2B sales team is furloughed, since COVID-19 has badly affected that side of the business, so we can’t really say when we’ll be able to expand the team, but I think it’s a no-brainer, given her network. I do expect Ron to have a list of reasons why we shouldn’t move her, but I think Alison is right and it’s time for a frank conversation about how illegal it is to make any decisions based on gender or motherhood.

      1. CAAmazonQueenVelociraptor*

        Good luck, OP! Thank you for speaking up. As a female veteran who now works for the gov’t, I see something along these lines weekly (daily when #metoo was front page news). Just know you are not only making life better for Jane, but all women who come after her, so please please please stick this out and keep at Ron until the situation is better all around, not only in regards to company policy/procedure, but how Ron treats women on a daily basis. Again, good luck!

      2. Nonny*

        You should make sure to keep an eye out as well for retaliation from Ron down the line– I certainly know women who were fired suddenly in the months/year after they returned from maternity leave, long enough after that they couldn’t quite make a pregnancy discrimination case, but with context that made it clear that was what was happening.

  3. Threeve*

    What’s particularly ridiculous is that Ron also has a MALE employee getting special treatment because of family obligations. The hypocrisy is infuriating.

    1. Observer*

      That was the first thing I noticed.

      OP – You should bring this up with Ron. Because if he gets sued there is no way he would ever be able to claim that he just doesn’t like people expecting the office to accommodate their family obligations. Not after he just literally changed the essential functions of the job to accommodate a man!

      1. Dagny*

        From a legal standpoint, this provides an outstanding apples-to-apples comparison of how men and women are treated differently.

        Might be worth it to bring up to Ron.

        1. WellRed*

          Well there’s certainly irony but it’s not really apples to apples, is it? If the male coworker is otherwise working full time, not taking time off for appts or feeling unwell or taking a maternity leave?

          Ron is still and ass.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            The scope of his job changed, though. It’s not like he’s doing everything he did before at the same level and on the same schedule but just doing it from a different location.

          2. LawLady*

            Yeah, but his whole job was reworked so that the parts he’d no longer be able to do (because he’s away to be close to family) are being handled by someone else. That’s a substantially larger accommodation than just someone taking some time off for appointments and not feeling well.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              But OP said they needed to split that job anyway, not just because of the distance. It’s not apples to apples.

              But I bet OP can find a man for whom it is apples to apples – someone who’s got medical appointments or surgery. And I bet OP will find that man doesn’t get nickel and dimed on his time. Because Ron’s totally being sexist.

          3. sara*

            That kind of logic is what leads to gender discrimination, though. It’s how employers justify treating new mothers and fathers differently. Yes he isn’t taking time off for appointments (although actually, he probably should and could take time off to also be present for appointments) or feeling unwell, but that’s because his wife is doing that part for him. From my perspective, it’s not really any different than fathers advancing at work because their wife picks up the slack at home caring for their children, so he never has to sacrifice or skip out on opportunities.

            Not to even mention Rusty’s point that his work has still absolutely been affected.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              His job was changed to preempt those needs. Accommodations made before he needed to ask.

          4. Aquawoman*

            What? It’s only not apples to apples because it’s so much worse in favor of Ron/against Jane (not faulting Ron). Ron is spending zero hours on this job and the replacement is spending close to full time hours on this job. Ron’s accommodation is also probably not required under federal law, unlike Jane’s. Ron’s accommodation is not related to a health condition.

            1. WellRed*

              Ron is the boss. If accommodated male coworker is spending his hours in his new or revamped role than he’s working and it has nothing to do with Jane. Where do you get he’s working zero hours?
              It’s gross as hell the way Jane is being treated, but my point is, Ron keeps nitpicking Jane’s hours, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to use the accommodated male coworker as the best example if he’s otherwise working as scheduled. The broken leg analogy works better.

    2. Claire*

      Precisely–if anything, Ron should be hesitant about hiring men because they might want to take a year, which is significantly longer than the average maternity leave, to live near their wives’ families (for the record, I am being sarcastic and do not actually think Ron should do this)

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yup, changing a job to accommodate a man’s family needs? Fine. Accommodating a woman’s needs? Oh no, how dare she get a job while pregnant!

      /rages in feminist

      1. Eva Luna*

        True story: at a prior law firm job, management called in a consultant to conduct what they called “harassment training.” There were separate sessions for lawyers and non-lawyers. I am not a lawyer, but one of the lawyers reported back that they had a role-play in which an obviously pregnant woman comes in to interview for an admin job. Afterward during the Q&A, one of the lawyers apparently asked why a pregnant woman would even be looking for a job. Ummm, maybe because she is not independently wealthy? The kicker: he was a family lawyer!

        1. Rose*

          This is mind boggling. Is there some maternity salary that no one told me about?! WTF are these guys even thinking

    4. blepkitty*


      Ron is a sexist piece of garbage, and I hope in a future life he’s treated the way he treats women. Or he goes to a hell where he’s treated the way he treats women.

      1. YetAgainEvenAnotherAlison*

        Completely agree with you. Discrimination against women in all forms is serious. I always tell people – the hell with the old “well, there is nothing you can do about it – that is the way that it is” is CRAP. Pay discrimination means reduced MONEY for me and you don’t mess with my money.

    5. OP*

      I don’t think it makes much of a difference, but Ron has also been very negative about his move as well. This employee (let’s call him Matt) who has been at the company for 5 years, came to Ron and said he’d love to stay at the company but needs to move for year, and essentially said he’d be giving his notice if he couldn’t take a leave of absence.

      Rather than lose him (it’s a tough role to fill), Ron suggested working remotely, as we were going to split Matt’s role anyway and his new role could be done entirely remotely. Since then, Ron changed his mind several times and has recently told me that he doesn’t think it’s working (I’m not sure why- from my perspective, it’s working fine) and wants to end the arrangement and possibly find a replacement for Matt. I’ve been doing the best I can to talk up both Jane and Matt’s work (all true, they are both great employees).

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        Ron’s an asshole, is why. Have a frank talk with him about pregnancy and gender discrimination, but you can’t manage him into being a decent boss.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          The fear that Matt’s chair will come for Ron’s butt if Matt isn’t there to sit in it is real!

          Seriously, Ron sounds like a mess, and as owner he has unfettered discretion to turn the business into a mess, too. I’d wait until my 1,097th day on the job so I don’t get accused of job hoping and move on.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Ah, I’ve known Ron’s, only they weren’t rip roaring sexist like that.

        They have a very clear definition of what they want and are put out when they’re challenged. BUT they’re lazy AF when it comes to people challenging and changing their ultimate vision of their jobs. So he gives in but he gripes about it and drags his feet and thinks about changing it but it takes for-frigging-ever…then they’ll underhandedly find a way to fill the job in a way they deem acceptable, only to drop the axe on Matt when they finally get around to it. or they’ll just keep Matt and continue to complain about the setup to everyone else, that happens to because again, L-A-Z-Y and usually slightly narcissistic

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            The best way to talk to them is to sympathize that it’s had being a “boss” and having to deal with those “pesky employment laws” but alas, you are there to “protect his best interest” and it’s in his best interest to stop being a dick about something that’s so illegal.

            You’re in a position where Ron probably trust you a heckuva lot more than most. Story of my life. It could also be that you can’t work for Ron for the rest of your career and yo don’t want to. But for now, you reel him him as much as you can.

      3. Observer*

        That’s not going to fly in court. At minimum, he showed that when it comes to a guy, he’ll make an effort, but with a woman he is PREEMPTIVELY penalizing her for what he perceives will be a problem.

        He’s also a jerk, apparently. And definitely a bad boss, not just in terms of human decency but in terms of understanding what makes a good employee.

    6. Batgirl*

      Yes (sarcasm alert) but women don’t have to be responsible, trustworthy breadwinners for their family… something something….. pin money …. affects how seriously they take the role …..besides men don’t LIE about what might happen to their bodies!

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        People wouldn’t have to hide their pregnancies when they’re interviewing for jobs if the Rons of the world would stop trying to discriminate against them for it. Ron’s mad because he thinks Jane “tricked” him into hiring her by not announcing her pregnancy as she walked into the room for the interview? It’s his own damn fault.

  4. Sarah*

    Any ideas on how to approach this if you’re the target of this type of behavior? Aside from documenting instances where you feel discrimination is an issue and presenting to HR, is there any other course of action? It’s frequently a”gray area” or an inkling that something is off. Asking for myself…

    1. Katrinka*

      Sometimes, your best bet, if HR isn’t helping, is to point out the law to your manager. To the point of bringing in a printout of it, if need be. While a good HR and good owner would make sure all of their managers are trained on such laws, not all HR/owners are good. A manager may be unaware of what they are legally obligated to do. Or they assume employees don’t know.

      1. Momma Bear*

        There should be the rules and guidelines posted in a break room or something. We have a whole board of workplace regulations. Copy it.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Yes, they list the rights of employees and the obligations of employers. Employers will still violate them, even on an industry-wide scale. What can you do when the employers in an entire industry will ignore the law even when it’s posted on their own premises?

          Example: there is a law in California that employers have to provide the tools and equipment that are necessary to do the work. This includes things like hand tools and kitchen knives. The specific example given in the law itself (and printed on those big fine-print posters in break rooms all over the state) is that restaurant cooks must be provided kitchen knives by the restaurant. Seriously, that’s the example they use. What a joke! Cooks and chefs all use their own personal gear and will absolutely not lend them. And no, restaurants do not provide them, or have literally one knife shared by the entire kitchen (pretending to comply, I guess) and in fact the head chef at my last restaurant job had a little side business selling knife sets to new hires.

          I pointed this out once, early in my time there, that the law as posted in the break room required the restaurant to provide these tools, and was basically blown off. Chef just shrugged and changed the subject. They never hinted that my job depended on it but they didn’t have to: I needed knives to do the work, they didn’t have anything like what I needed and wouldn’t buy more. I could make do with that ONE knife and suck at my job or I could buy my own and do it well. They seemed cool with the former but I hate sucking at my job. So I bought a small set of professional-quality chef’s knives (that ate up my entire meager prep cook’s paycheck that week), did the job well and then in less than a year I left the industry entirely, vowing never again. (This was actually a pretty good restaurant to work for as such go but the industry itself is just garbage to its own people.)

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            The head chef had a side business selling essential job tools (knives) to the people he supervised?!

            That is the very definition of a conflict of interest. Also, it’s extortionate. He needs to be fired, and he should never have another position of authority again.

            1. Pizzaboi*

              I mean, absolutely. But that is far from the only extremely shitty working condition in professional kitchens. When people say line cooking is a profession of passion, they mean it. Even at the top level in most kitchens, even as a chef with 15 years of experience, there is a real chance this chef is making $40k and working 70 hours a week. Not saying it excuses it, but kitchens are at large a very awful place to work.

              I’ve been in the industry for 13 years and every time I get a kitchen manager job or the equivalent the first thing I allocate for is a knife service. If folks prefer their own knives (it is a point of pride and preference for lots of people!) they can use them, but I believe wholeheartedly that everyone should have access to good tools that make their job livable and dignified. Nothing more embarrassing and dangerous than having all your cuts look like shit because because the house knives are terrible or you had to borrow the reject knife your coworker keeps for newbies. I’ve seen a lot of awful skin lacerations for that shit.

              And this, among other things, makes me a radically compassionate KM. Ugh.

    2. Ann Perkins*

      The nickel and diming on time happened to me a lot during my first pregnancy with an overzealous office manager. Figure out who in authority over you is reasonable and play to that. In my scenario, head boss could not have cared less if I left for a 3 pm appt and didn’t come back, so long as I was getting my work done. So if office manager complained or started bugging me about when I was “making up the time” (knowing full well that I’m exempt and often work more than 40 hours), I would simply respond that “Head/mutual boss and I are comfortable with the arrangement” and she would leave it alone.

      If it IS the owner/manager that’s nickel and diming you and you don’t have much capital, that’s a lot trickier. But I would go with Alison’s advice of being very matter of fact, with an attitude of “well of course we won’t have an issue with these lunchtime dr appts because that would be silly”.

      If it’s going to affect long-term work assignments and promotions, that’s an area where I would be job searching.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      With addressing conflicts, there’s 2 possible stages:
      1) Address it directly with the person conflicting (may be skipped if behavior is egregious, or there’s power differentials)
      2) Go above their heads (repeat as needed)

      To address it directly: All the advice here – be matter-of-fact, discuss how you’re making up the hours / work. I don’t think discussing the law with your manager who’s discriminating will be effective in the long term, I think it’ll just move the discrimination to things that are more subtle. But that’s a call individuals should make, assessing the discriminator and exactly what they’re doing.

      To go above their heads: Find the reasonable person in authority, work out the agreement with them, invoke as needed (Like Ann Perkins’ advice).

      If you can’t reach a reasonable person, document – date, time, witnesses, conversation as closely as possible. This would include not just their treatment of you, but the comparative treatment of other people who are not pregnant. ie, if Joe takes a long lunch to get a haircut and the manager doesn’t say anything, but does critique your long lunch / drs appointment, confirm with Joe if manager said anything and document that non-reaction.

      Also, if you trained Joe and he gets promoted, document that for sure.

      Use examples like these to confirm the feeling that you’re being treated differently, and take that to someone in authority, mentioning the Pregnancy protection law.

    4. ElleKay*

      Hi! I was in a very similar situation to OP in my last job and did all Alison’s suggestions- it made no difference. I took it straight to HR & told them “if she sues you will have no grounds to push back and will end up settling for some HUGE amount.” They spoke to the manager guy once, basically with the reminder that Alison gives about the law, and never touched it again.

      Despite my efforts I don’t think the pregnant employee ever filed an official complaint (do that if you can and haven’t) but document, document, document and find a lawyer now. My former colleague is still getting treated poorly for in a continuation of patterns that started when she was pregnant and it is an illegal mess of a situation. But until she gets fired or sued I don’t think there’s anything that will be done.

      Basically, don’t hesitate to get a lawyer, get their advice & take action. An official “Stop it right now” letter from a lawyer might have more impact than reminding them of the law, since that’s already being ignored.

      Good luck!

  5. Office sweater lady*

    Ron sounds like a micromanager in other ways too. In the long run, this manager should try to carve out more independence for her team and her own style. If she can show she’s getting the results Ron wants in a business sense, she could more aggressively push back on his unreasonable behavior. In the long run, sounds like this will be necessary if she wants to stay there anyway, and progress while having a family. Might as well fight this battle now for your employee.

    1. OP*

      Yes, he is a micromanager in a lot of ways. I try to measure work based on performance (as I learned from Alison), but he likes to focus on behaviors. For example, he didn’t like that one employee had a weekend job as a server because he feels that would take their focus off their job with us and they wouldn’t be rested enough. As a manager, I would be fine with a second job as long as I was happy with their performance. If their performance suffered, then we’d address that. Also, people can spend their weekends doing non-restful recreational things, and I wouldn’t ever feel okay telling an employer they couldn’t take part in stressful competitive basket-weaving competitions on the weekend. Or caretaking for relatives, or childcare, or any number of things that mean someone doesn’t have a restful weekend.

      1. ElleKay*

        Yes! This is also why people don’t/shouldn’t tell their bosses things. If I’m worried you’ll hold my weekend job against me, I’m not going to tell you about it! This is not how you build a happy and successful team and workplace environement!

  6. Myrin*

    I literally just went online and I already want to turn off my computer again. WTF Ron indeed.
    (Sorry for not having anything productive to say but the brain is fried; but I wanted to post as a vocal supporter of OP’s nonetheless.)

    1. bluephone*

      So like, does Ron LIKE being sued or what??? Because Ron is going to get his butt sued to the stone age and back. And if he doesn’t, the devil is still gonna come for him in his dreams.

  7. Kaaaaaren*

    Wow, Ron. WOW. All of what OP wrote is egregious and illegal but I think the worst parts might be:

    1. Denying Jane a role she’s amply qualified and well-suited for because she will be a mother, meaning his problem transcends feeling “tricked” by her pregnancy into a longer term problem with her family situation and, by extension, the family situations of any female employee with kids. Is he equally concerned that fathers can’t do jobs?

    2. Asking OP to let him know when Jane feels “exhausted” due to her pregnancy. Why does that matter? If she expresses feeling tired but pushes through and does her work, why is that any of Ron’s business? What if a male employee were feeling exhausted due to some medical condition? Would Ron expect that employees supervisor to inform on him to Ron, too? Or is male exhaustion or non-pregnancy-related exhaustion okay?

    I admire OP for wanting to stand up to Ron over this, but I get the sense that OP should expect consequences for doing so, just based on how vindictive Ron is being about this issue.

    1. Observer*

      Is he equally concerned that fathers can’t do jobs?

      Obviously not – he just changed the structure of a job for a MALE employee! This is discrimination in its most raw and basic form.

      He’s lying when he says that he cares about the disruption to the business. Maybe he’s lying to himself, too. But still not being honest.

    2. MsM*

      Yeah, I feel like the fact OP doesn’t feel comfortable simply saying “WTF Ron” and expecting Ron to back down (even if he does grumble a bit over it) doesn’t bode well for her planning a future at this company if she also wants a family in the near future.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      OP, what’s your sense on this? If, say, a new dad showed up at work one morning talking about how the baby cried through the night and kept them all up and he’s exhausted, would Ron be mad about that, or would he commiserate?

      1. OP*

        We have one father of young children on the team in B2B sales, and he also does not go out often and do the late schmoozing. His sales are less than stellar, and Ron and I have been trying to work with him to get his numbers up. However, I get the sense that Ron attributes it less to him being a parent and more to his personality, and since Ron likes him personally, I think his job is not in much danger, even though Ron might make motions towards it. Either way, I think Ron will give a lot more leeway for being a father than a mother, and if (or rather, when) it comes up regarding Jane and moving to sales, I should absolutely point that out.

        1. Observer*

          Absolutely point it out. Again, if he refuses to move her because he believes she won’t do well, he’s going to have to explain why a guy who is a father is kept in the job even when he is not doing a great job, while someone with a good track record can’t even get a chance when it’s a woman.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Ron likes the young father personally but the problem with the young father is his personality? Sounds like the young father is in the wrong job and Ron doesn’t care, this is favouritism.

  8. Just J.*

    Thank you Alison! I think the points in your answer about how you would treat someone with a broken leg are a good analogy. Think about what is entailed in having knee surgery or a knee replacement. Would Ron be unkind to someone who needed recovery time from surgery and had to go to regular PT appointments.

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      Right? What if Ron offered Jane the job and then two days after she started, she was in an accident and needed a bunch of time off to recover or go therapy or something? Would he be treating her like this or is it the very female-ness of Jane’s condition that has got him so upset?

      Also, he all but admitted that if she HAD told them about her pregnancy when they interviewed her, he wouldn’t have hired her because of her pregnancy, thus answering his own question about why she waited until after being hired to inform the company. U.S. employers are required to do NOTHING for pregnant employees EXCEPT not actively discriminate against them — that is the barest possible bare minimum — and even THAT is too much for the likes of Ron.

      OP, good luck with this situation, but I’d plan to find a new job before you get pregnant yourself.

      1. OP*

        I think that’s a really good point about how I’d expect Ron (and myself!) to treat her if she’d broken her leg or had some other sort of medical issue come up at the start of her employment. I definitely see that I’ve been letting Ron’s attitude affect my managing, that was very astute of Alison and something I’ll need to work on.

    1. Merci Dee*

      Unfortunately, Ron is the director/owner. So there might not be anywhere higher to go than him.

      1. Tex*

        Owner as in ‘owns the company’ or owner as in ‘owns the job’?

        Because OP calls him a colleague in the first line.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          OP’s colleague moved for a year. Colleague’s role was split with Colleague doing special projects and Jane doing day-to-day work. OP is Jane’s direct manager, Ron is the director/owner.

  9. Essess*

    Personally, I’d have a private heart-to-heart with Jane and let her know that she has a serious case of harassment/discrimination and encourage her to file a complaint since the problem is coming from the owner.

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      Me too. If Ron didn’t change his tune and actions after I spoke with him about all the laws he’s breaking — not to mention the immorality of how he’s acting — I’d tell Jane on the down low about all of this and let her know she can report the company.

    2. blackcat*

      I wouldn’t say this, but I might put in writing somewhere “Ron has asked me to do the following to ensure your productivity….” Followed up by a verbal “I’m pushing back where I can, but given that Ron is the owner and is doing this, I encourage you to seek out advice external to the company.”

      Basically, help Jane make a paper trail.

      1. Dagny*

        Before you do this, talk to an employment lawyer to find out what whistleblower protections you have.

        In fact, the OP should find an employment lawyer – perhaps a friend can recommend someone – and run this entire situation by an attorney. The attorney can outline what protections the OP has in theory, how to properly document all of this, and how to ensure that s/he obtains those protections if s/he brings this issue to Ron or Jane.

        1. Ann Perkins*

          Yeah, I think especially since OP also plans to have kids, a consult with an employment lawyer would be worth it. That’s assuming that it wouldn’t be feasible for OP to switch to a more welcome environment before having her own child.

        2. AKchic*

          All of this. It’s time to start making that paper trail on Ron. Track all of his comments, his actions, etc.

          Make Jane’s case a lot easier, and make sure that if it blows back on you, dear LW, you have an airtight whistleblower’s case against him.

        3. TardyTardis*

          “I’m not making a paper trail, I’m just making sure that Jane has something in writing about your expectations so she has no excuse about not remembering”. Hey, Ron might fall for that.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      I certainly would. I have no idea what the federal standards are, or laws in other states, but in California, as the immediate supervisor, I’d be as legally liable personally for not speaking up as the company itself would. This is specifically emphasized in the biannual harassment training.

      1. EPLawyer*

        OP does need to protect herself as well as Jane. She is already participating by being difficult about missing a HALF HOUR of work because Ron wants it that way. OP before you get swept up in a discrimination suit, talk to a lawyer.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          I came here to say this.

          As management, OP could be named in any suit Jane brings.

    4. Nita*

      This. It sounds like OP has been shielding Jane from the worst of it to some degree. That’s great, but Ron’s behavior is still going to mess up Jane’s career, and she needs to know exactly how things stand. OP should tell Jane everything – Ron’s comments, the reasoning for not moving her to the B2B team, his attempts to find one little tiny misstep on Jane’s part so he can fire her. If there are any emails, would be great to give Jane a copy. Just in case she needs to talk to a lawyer in the near future.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Bugging her about coming back for an hour after an appointment is not exactly shielding her, it’s pandering to Ron’s nasty expectations.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          (Not that I’m criticising OP here, as Alison says, Ron’s nastiness is rubbing off on her, and that’s something she needs to look out for in general: make sure she remains fair to her reports rather than simply follow instructions).

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      YES. OP, you have more power than Jane does in this situation. You are morally obligated, and possibly legally obligated, to be her ally.

  10. calonkat*

    To be honest, I’d write it all up as the new additions that I expected to see added to the employee handbook to apply to all employees. But I’ve always hated secret rules…
    I would think if he saw that policies he wanted to apply to the pregnant would also apply to everyone, then either he’d back down, or it wouldn’t be discrimination. Just being a bad company.

  11. Crumbledore*

    The contrast between the employee whose work Jane was hired to take on (a year of remote work to “be near family”) and Jane is telling. I realize he is a known quantity with capital to spend, but I am curious if Ron reacted with similar frustration to a male employee changing his work availability for family-related reasons.

    1. Katrinka*

      He’s allowed to be frustrated. It’s acting on that frustration that crosses into discrimination.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I imagine it felt confusing when the boss was super supportive for the father, then turned around and got hostile towards the mother. It seems very sexist to me.

  12. Annette*

    Ron is an ass. I hope commenters who say openly on this site that they resent their pregnant colleagues because they have to cover their work. Read this and remember who the real enemy is. People like this are always searching for the line so they can smudge it out.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I have literally never seen anybody say this in the comments on this website.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        I have seen many many commentors express opinions to the effect of “have a baby if you choose to, but I better not be inconvenienced by it”.

        See that recent letter about parents stuck during quarantine–there is a very vocal minority that resents having to pick up slack for pregnant workers. Which sure, can be frustrating, but this letter shows where that leads: to illegal discrimination.

  13. JM in England*

    I wonder if Ron has children?

    His attitude towards Jane gives me the impression that he does not…

    1. Annette*

      Sadly JM this is not a safe assumption. Fathers succeed at work while mothers are punished.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Oh, come on. I wasn’t saying that at all. Stating things as absolute when context does matter is a lousy way to say something on the internet. And reducing someone’s objections into a derided hashtag is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                I was saying “That’s an unfortunate trend, but it’s far from universal.”

                Maybe try reading the words and understanding their meaning if you want to read it the correct way.

                Stating that fathers succeed and mothers are punished as a universal truism is discouraging and defeatist. We can and should try to be better. Many places are.

                1. Taniwha Girl*

                  Describing widespread problems is not defeatest.

                  It’s not safe to assume Ron has no children because he very well might see fathers as different than mothers–as we see in this very letter.

      1. Dagny*

        As I’ve gotten older, this has just blown my mind. It’s especially true if his wife is a SAHM or has a traditionally female job not associated with high pay… and it’s not because he’s “allowed to focus on work.” Those men often eclipse their single-man counterparts, too.

        It’s like everyone looks at a father whose wife is a receptionist and thinks, “He’s hungry and ambitious! Let’s give him good projects!” I was hungry and ambitious when I was unmarried, because no one else was providing for me. I’m hungry and ambitious now that I’m married, because my husband’s job provides a reasonable, stable income; the potential variation in my income (attorney) is what makes or breaks our household.

      2. Quinalla*

        Correct, in my industry (and this is similar in most industries in the US if not all, but it isn’t something you can dismiss with a few specific examples) when controlling for other factors and looking at years of experience this is what average salary looks like:
        Men with children

        Men without children

        Women without children

        Women with children
        It is appalling that this is true, but it is. Men get “rewarded” for being family men/fathers. Women get “punished” for it. It is not usually this level of blatant, but that is our unconscious bias at work. This is why when I have to take time off work for child-related activities, I’m careful how I frame it and why my husband used to not get why I felt I had to tiptoe around it, it is no big deal for him at his job – in fact the attitude he gets is “oh, what a great dad!”

      3. Roeslein*

        I experienced serious pregnancy discrimination and my boss was a mother of two teenagers, so I don’t think there’s a connection.

    2. gbca*

      Or he might have kids, but with a spouse who is a stay-at-home parent. Those men can be the least understanding and accommodating, even more so than people without children.

      1. LawLady*

        This is my experience as well. “I’m a parent, and I still give 100%” they say to themselves, completely misunderstanding what percentage of the actual family work they do.

      2. I change my name every comment*

        Or he could have a wife with a full-time job of her own who is still expected to manage all the child care, housework, etc. because, well, she’s married to Ron.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      I wouldn’t necessarily make that assumption. Ron could very, very easily be one of those people who thinks that children are their mother’s responsibility, period.

    4. MsChanandlerBong*

      My mother has two children, yet when my best friend was pregnant with her second child, she said “Why would an employer want to hire someone who keeps getting pregnant and takes time off?” I love my mother, but unfortunately there is a very strong vibe of “the misogyny is coming from inside the house” with her. I work 50+ hours per week, and she thinks I should be making my husband a hot lunch every day. Little does she know my husband is perfectly capable of making his own lunch.

    5. blepkitty*

      My father, a manager, once stated to me that “you have to consider the possibility of a woman getting pregnant” when hiring. This despite knowing that it’s illegal to consider that, and despite the fact that he was at the same time pressuring me to go to college and study something useful because he didn’t want me to be dependent on a man (and my sister was already in college, studying the same subject he did).

      1. mf*

        My dad is similar. I’ve seen this a lot with men who are bosses, business owners, etc: they want their daughters to be ambitious and successful but can’t seem to see how that intersects with the success of their female employees and colleagues.

        1. Altair*

          The women such men are related to are actual people, as opposed to all those walking wombs out there. (At least this is how they seem to think, from what I can tell.)

        2. Lizzo*

          +1000 to this. The fathers provided their daughters with opportunities to succeed in education and professional settings, but failed to provide their sons with the values and attitudes to support their daughters’ endeavors.

    6. Observer*

      No reason to think so. After, it IS ok to accommodate MEN who have family needs. It’s just that WOMEN must not be accommodated beyond the barest letter of the law, if that.

    7. bluephone*

      Oh no, I bet dollars to donuts Ron has kids. But he also has a SAHpartner who is doing ALLLLLLLL the childcare/housework/etc… even when they’re pregnant/have a broken leg/their own parents are going senile/etc. I have come across too many of these dudes.

    8. jenkins*

      In a long-ago job of mine, my male boss and male grandboss both had young children. Boss hightailed it out of the office at 5 on the dot to go and see his family – the rest of the staff, all young women, were regularly working 12 hour days to stay on top of the workload (we were always horribly understaffed). When I got pregnant and told my boss, he pulled me aside and said, “You know you’re not going to be able to do this job with a baby, right?” I had to threaten them with an employment tribunal to get the last bit of my maternity benefits, too. Sadly, men with a family at home are still very much capable of crapping on women in the same position.

      1. Dagny*

        It’s self-reinforcing. Men who are more into a traditional family structure probably find women who want the same; even if she doesn’t, he may leave her to do so much of the childcare and housework that she downshifts her own career to make time for it. After that, he’s the sole breadwinner and acutely feels the need to succeed in his career, else the entire household falls apart; ergo, sympathy for men who “hustle” and “need to feed their kids,” and less sympathy for women whose salaries are important to their households.

        One of the reasons that I support two-income families is so the entire burden is not on one person. Two incomes provides a buffer against layoffs and toxic environments. It enables one partner to take high-risk, high reward offers, defer compensation, take more compensation in equity, start their own business, or even just tell someone at work that they will not be putting up with this kind of treatment.

    9. OP*

      He has two older children. His take seems to be that mothers will naturally want to stay home with their children, so I’m assuming his wife was the primary caretaker of their kids when they were young.

    10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      If he has children, you can bet it’s his wife who bears 100% of the emotional labour and probably nearly as much of the day-to-day grind of picking up lego and matching socks and finding summer camp and feeding and comforting at night.

  14. Jack Be Nimble*

    Ron is a garbage man who belongs in the garbage can. I usually try to be productive with my comments, but I got nothing. Throw the whole man and start completely over.

    1. jamberoo*

      I feel this comment was especially productive, seeing how all my points were covered as well.

  15. Mighty Mouse*

    I worked for a real POS who underpaid his employees, gaslit them out of getting promised raises for furthering their education and then threatened to put a friend on unpaid leave while pregnant when she had morning sickness and needed some accommodations he gave others easily. He bragged to us that the business was so small he could do these things legally. It was a symptom of really bad all around management and three of us from an office of 10 were gone in a year.

    1. Stik Tech Drone*

      Yeah my cousin worked for a boss like this. She was fired for not being at her desk enough after her boss begged her to come to work. Meanwhile her morning sickness had her in the hospital.

      He told her she would be letting down the company – who paid her insurance, and him personally – who took the chance to hire her. He told her she just needed to come in, and just do as much work as possible while taking it easy. She was pregnant after all, they would not be hard on her, and she should just gut it out for the much needed pay check!

      So she came, clocked in a few minutes late twice (other employees saw her vomiting in the parking lot), and was told not to worry about it. Throughout the day, she was in the bathroom vomiting, but was told they were glad she came to work – What an example! What a trooper!

      Then a Work Friend came by her desk – Work Friend had overheard the Higher Ups commenting to Cousin’s Boss about how everytime they looked over, Cousin wasn’t at her desk… Was she working or wasn’t she? Work Friend was alarmed at their tone, prompting her to suggest that Cousin should try harder to stay at her desk? Just throw up in the trash can if it comes to that? (Cousin was 21, Work Friend 19, and was trying to help. Of course Cousin was like “eeeew! no!”)

      At the end of the week at the end of the day, Cousin was let go. She was told her tardiness had been noted and was unacceptable. Cousin had been tardy a few times in the previous weeks; same thing, just about to leave the house and… “Bleeeuh!” Those times she phoned she’d be late, and was just told to get there ASAP, which she did. However, company policy was 3 tardies = 1 no call, no show.

      The day Cousin was hospitalized, she was unable to call in until after her shift had already started. The response from the receptionist, was “Omigod! Please don’t worry about it! Just take care of yourself!”

      Cousin was naive, and thought that meant she would not have to call in the next day – her company knew she was in the hospital, right? It was Friday, she would just use the weekend to recover and be back Monday… Nothing was said when she got back, so unbeknownst to her, these were noted as no call, no shows also.

      The first because she spoke with the receptionist, not her Boss (he was not in) – which she had been assured was okay. The second, for failing to provide a timely update.

      Cousin was told all of this could have been overlooked, however it had been noticed in the past weeks she was frequently away from her desk, and the number of calls she accepted had declined (she was in the restroom vomiting of course). With these performance issues, they couldn’t keep her.

      On her way out, she was told that at her next job, she should consider using her sick leave more appropriately. Part of being a Mature Adult is knowing when to stay home!

      Unfortunately, after, Cousin’s parents actively discouraged her from seeking redress or legal advice about her situation because “it’s not like you want to work for a company like this anyway. Just worry about the baby!”

      Eight years on, Cousin still lives at home, and is discouraged from working full time because according to my Aunt and Uncle: “she should just worry about being a Good Mom.”

      Whole other post, but I will say that while I’m glad they never turned Cousin out on the streets, I am still upset they told Cousin to let this go. To this day, thanks to them, she thinks this is how things work. Chalk it up to unfair, and call it a day.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Horrible company: “I don’t care how sick you are, get your butt in to work!”
        Also horrible company: “Part of being a responsible adult is knowing when to use your sick leave!”

        They’ve created a double bind where the sick employee is always wrong no matter what they do. Sadly, this is pretty common.

        1. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

          THIS right here. Your boss says “yeah, we totally understand, you don’t want anyone else to get sick, feel better, we’ll see you tomorrow” and then the next day you get the side-eye from management because “you look completely healthy today” as you scramble to try to do two days’ worth of work in 8 hours because YOU’RE STILL RECOVERING and really don’t have the strength to work overtime.

          Or so I’ve been told.

  16. WellRed*

    OP, you’re already on a slippery slope to gender discrimination if Ron is automatically assuming women will get pregnant. Ron is a bad person. Ron is why women have so much trouble gaining equality in the workplace. And I’m side-eyeing you for willingly accepting her extra hours and then nickel and diming her otherwise.

    1. Observer*

      Eh, that’s a bit unfair. The OP wrote in for a reason. And it’s not because they think the situation is OK. They are trying to figure out how to fix it.

    2. OP*

      I think that’s fair – I felt pretty uncomfortable nickel and diming her, and I don’t think I should have, especially when she’s willing to work extra when needed. That said, in general, I think if someone has a one-hour appointment in the afternoon, I don’t necessarily think they should be taking the whole afternoon off.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I think it really depends on the time of day. Do you think she would have had a productive hour when she came back? Would you have expected her to work a little late that day in order to get certain things tasks done? If she had 2 hours left in the work day after the appointment, I feel like that would be different.

        That being said, typically if I have to leave early for an afternoon appointment I don’t take a lunch break. I just plan on working through lunch and bring something with me to eat at my desk. Then I’m not expected to come back unless my appointment is very close by and the travel time is minimal. Traffic in my city is awful, so that’s a big consideration. It’s pretty much understood that if you have an appointment after 2pm, and it’s more than just a few miles away, then you’re probably not coming back.

      2. Sarah*

        I think you should just try to scare your boss about lawsuits, personally. Say you were doing some reading and you found out you can get huge lawsuits for treating pregnant people differently. Say you realized you totally messed up and you thought he’d want to know because obviously if he had known, he would have handled things differently. But I’d seriously try the lawsuit angle.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, when you were doing that, you were following Ron’s nasty instructions. It’s great that it made you feel uncomfortable. If Ron pushes back on the hours you can always ask him how he wants you to track Matt’s hours (if he’s remote, you have no idea when he gets his work done). And point out that Pregnant Employee has made up the hours in advance if she’s stayed late previously.

  17. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Ron, thank you for reminding me why I didn’t tell anyone at work that I was pregnant until I almost gave birth.

    I finally gave my bosses notice when I was eight months along.

    This is exactly the type of thing I was scared of. Every employer supports pregnant women, of course, until they don’t.

    1. ElleKay*

      I had a colleague who tried this but when she had to stop lifting heavy things for “a medical situation” it became assumed she was just refusing to do her job! (Yes, also discrimination!) So then she disclosed that she was pregnant and then that was held against her!

  18. JayJay*

    The only good thing about this situation is that Jane has the letter writer standing between her and Ron. A lot of people facing discrimination don’t have that.

    1. Mockingjay*

      If Jane is salaried, it’s reasonable to expect that her hours not be tracked or docked, if she leaves for a doctor’s appointment.

  19. Felicia*

    It’s hardly the point in the broader context, but as a general rule someone should not be taking a lunch break if they don’t plan to actually work past 1:30 anyway. I know hour long lunch breaks are sacred in some office cultures, but the point of them is for people working a full day to take a break. Either work through lunch, or just say you’re leaving at 1:30.

    1. blackcat*

      Yeah, I do find this a bit puzzling, but maybe Jane doesn’t decide when she takes lunch?

    2. Georgina Fredrika*

      Yeah, i thought that was odd – but of course not “wrong” if everyone at the office is doing it.

    3. Ann Perkins*

      That part confused me too but maybe they’re strict on people taking an hour off. I did lots of late afternoon or first of the morning pregnancy appointments and typically didn’t take much of a lunch those same days.

    4. Jackalope*

      In my state (non-exempt which may make a difference), if we are using leave for part of the day it still counts as a full day and lunch must be accounted for. If I’m off at 1:30 I can wait for lunch and use 1/2 an hour less of my leave time, or I can take lunch beforehand and use leave for exactly the time that I’m gone, but lunch must be in there somewhere. Maybe they have something similar?

    5. dealing with dragons*

      when you have weeks you work over 40 hours a week consistently I don’t know that it matters if you take a lunch break on weeks you don’t. when you’re exempt, get your work done. this is just “butts in seat” mentality.

    6. EPLawyer*

      she was hungry? She started her day at 9. Her stomach is not going to say “oh well you are taking the rest of the day off, no need for lunch.” People still need to eat.

      1. Jules the 3rd*


        Additionally, pregnant people can have scary things happen if they don’t eat regularly. I never fainted, but I got dizzy several times. And yes, we keep snacks and the like, but we still need time to eat them.

        1. BethDH*

          I only got nauseated if I failed to eat regularly. Including having to wake in the middle of the night to eat. I’d be happy to work while ate but I couldn’t have put off eating and worked.

      2. doreen*

        Well, sure she probably needed to eat. But to be honest, that whole business about lunch and travel time struck me as odd. I’m going to assume lunch was unpaid, so why not simply leave at 1:30? Even states that require a break only require it after six or so hours, so working from 8-1:30 wouldn’t usually require a break. And the rest of it- I’ve only experienced two kinds of jobs as far as medical appointments go. One where “butts in seats” are as important as work getting done so you leave at 1:30 and don’t come back. The other kind of job requires that every bit of time off gets charged to PTO – and those jobs would have had me leaving at 1:30 and charging the three hours of work time I missed between 2:30 and 5:30 ( which I’m guessing is the end time) . In no case would I ever have been expected to travel back to work to work a single hour.

        1. OP*

          To be clear, she’s working from home at the moment, so she wasn’t traveling back to the office – the travel would be back to her home. If I had a doctor appointment where I expected to be home at 4/4:30, I would expect to log back on to finish the last hour/hour and a half. We don’t have an official policy, but other employees generally don’t take a separate lunch break if they have an appointment in the afternoon and are leaving early.

          I do know that this isn’t the typical/most healthy workplace though, so I’d appreciate any insight into how others handle situations like this!

          1. Sarah*

            Honestly, I think given what has already happened, you should be extra lenient with her for a while.

          2. doreen*

            If she’s WFH, insisting on that hour makes even less sense to me. Either she’s non-exempt and probably required to use her PTO ( so it should be up to her if she wanted to work that hour and use one less hour of PTO ) or she’s exempt and you shouldn’t nickel and dime her when she’s worked late on other days .

            And the lunch break when working from home makes even less sense- I was assuming she was in an office taking a lunch break from 1:30-2:30 and then leaving the office at 2:30 ( which would be strange, but I’ve seen people do similar things) . If she’s working from home, how exactly is that different from simply leaving for the day at 1:30? It doesn’t even have different optics.

          3. Dawn*

            I wouldn’t have taken the lunch, and I would have logged back in or said I wouldn’t expect to return until my EOD. If I told my boss I’d be back before my EOD, I would log back on.

      3. Felicia*

        Then she can eat at 1:30 when she leaves, without calling it a lunch break, or have a snack at her desk. The point is, don’t make the last thing you do for a day be “taking a break”. Call it what it is and just leave early. That’s like showing up to work late and saying you were taking your break at the beginning of your shift. If you don’t plan on making up the time, just call it what it is.

    7. Amy*

      I’ve had 3 kids in the last 5 years so I definitely understand the challenges of being pregnant in the workplace.

      But if Jane were my friend, I’d might mention the optics in some work places. Doctors appointments are often weekly in the last month. For each appointment to take a half day, partially due to lunch, may not play well even in offices not run by jerks.

      I had a very understanding workplace and felt supported through two rounds of HG. But the flexibility often worked in both directions. I wasn’t overly attached to long lunches, they weren’t overly attached to me coming in right at 9am.

      1. CrapIForgotMyAwesomeUserName*

        My doctor was 45 minutes away. (Nope – there’s not a closer one. Yes, I checked.) Even if I took the last appointment of the day, I still had to leave no later than 2. And I couldn’t always get the last appointment of the day. And that was pre-COVID.

        1. Amy*

          But that’s not Jane’s situation. Her doctor is 30 minutes away. Some things you cannot be flexible about (like how far away your doctor is.) Some things you can.

          I find, especially now that I have 3 young kids, being flexible where possible goes pretty far at a reasonable company.

          Appointments, snow days, kids sick days, these issues won’t go away after the birth. I’d always suggest meeting the employer (at least a normal employer) half way with this stuff. This may sometimes mean not taking a full lunch the way you might if you worked a 9 hour day. I’ve always found it worthwhile professionally to build up the favor bank where I can.

    8. MusicWithRocksIn*

      That stood out to me too. If you are going to be gone for the rest of the afternoon you take a half hour lunch earlier or eat at your desk, or on the road. I would also be surprised to be asked to come back to the office though. When I was pregnant and had all of the appointments my manager and I played the Midwestern game where I always offered to come back to the office at the end of the day with the full knowledge she would tell me not to, and she would tell me not to comfortable knowing I would always offer.

      1. Pizzaboi*

        I can hear the implied “ope!” in my head while I read this. It’s like the (you) understood.

        (From a Minneapolitan, I have played this same game)

    9. Leah K.*

      I guess my question is whether she’s taking time off for that entire half day. If she using her paid leave for all of the time that she is not working, than I don’t see an issue with that.

    10. Lexi Kate*

      That struck me as odd too with both my pregnancies when I had doctors appointments, I left around 2ish with no lunch break those days. I was starving all the time in the 3rd trimester, so I brought food that that i could eat at my desk as did most of my pregnant co-workers. There is something about sitting in a cold cube being pregnant that makes you so hungry. Work gives you one lunch but I needed 3 to get through the day.

      **Costco used to have freezer shopping bags that were great for bringing in Post-Breakfast, Pre-Lunch, Lunch, and pre-dinner.

  20. Jessica will remember in November*

    Agree that Ron is making your company a bad place to work for women, but let’s take that a level higher. A bad place to work for women is a bad place to work for EVERYONE. It’s a place that is showing that it’s willing to treat people unfairly for at least one reason (sex), so who knows what the next basis of discrimination might be? And it’s a place that’s limiting its access to 50% of the talent, 50% of the great colleagues who could be on your team. That’s a garbage place to work for anyone. It’s also a place more likely to attract prejudiced people who will feel at home there. No top performer, woman or man, really wants to work at a place like this.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      There are places that don’t shift the discrimination around – they consistently favor one group over all others.

      Yes, doing some may undermine the company’s recruiting and also performance in the broader marketplace due to lack of diversity, but it’s not necessarily a bad place for mediocre performers in the favored group. There are plenty of companies (and even industries) where white men, for example, have made good money for decades while excluding women and people of color.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*


        Yeah, and some people oppose efforts toward equity *because* they know they’ve had unfair advantages that have allowed them to succeed while people in the disfavored group are locked out. They don’t want competition.

  21. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    Just curious –

    If he wouldn’t have hired Jane if he knew she was pregnant […], that’s illegal

    Does this still apply if the role Jane had applied for was specifically intended and posted as a short-term contract? Like, if one is hiring for a one-year term, and an applicant says up front “I’m going to need 3 months off in the middle of that one-year term,” is it okay to put them in the no-thanks pile if that’s for llama-juggling camp, but not if it’s for maternity leave? (I recognize that nothing in this letter specifies a finite term for Jane’s position, I’m just curious if that would’ve made a difference legally speaking.)

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      IANAL, but my understanding is that there is no grey area. You can’t not hire someone for being pregnant regardless of how long the job is intended.

    2. Sunset Maple*

      This was my question, too. It’s inappropriate to apply for a 12-month contract job if you know you’re going to be out for a quarter of it.

      Ron’s behavior is out of bounds, but I do understand his frustration.

      1. Starbuck*

        Jane did not know she was pregnant when she interviewed, so she didn’t do anything “inappropriate”

        1. 2 Cents*

          Yeah considering it can take more than four weeks to find out your pregnant, it’s not inconceivable (<-ha!) she didn’t know. Add in the possibility of pregnancy loss and, yeah, let’s just take her at her word she didn’t know.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          She said she didn’t know when she first interviewed, but it also says 2 weeks after she started she said she’d be going on leave in six months. So by the time she actually started the role, she was 3 months pregnant. Doesn’t make anything Ron’s doing OK. But it’s unclear if the hiring process took 2 months (totally reasonable) or if there were a several week gap between accepting and starting (also totally reasonable). I can see why the “in six months” bit might irk Ron, and he’s allowed to be irked about the timing given it’s a one year cover. But everything he’s done since then has been super illegal.

          1. BethDH*

            Except that it’s a one year cover that was planned also as a permanent role (“Matt” is gone for a year but they were already planning to split the role).
            The timing doesn’t surprise me. Remember that pregnancy counts go from the last period you have, so if it’s not planned you can easily be 4-5 weeks in before you even know to take a pregnancy test. Add in making a doctor appointment to get examined and calculate the due date, and that many women don’t work up till week 40, and assuming she didn’t start the day after she was interviewed and it all seems very possible.
            Of course, I could be projecting because I started a new job three months pregnant and I wasn’t pregnant when I interviewed (in my case, I interviewed well in advance — I’m in a field where that’s not unusual). Luckily everyone at my work was amazing about it.

          2. Pomona Sprout*

            Yeah, I think most of us would probably agree that he’s entitled to be irked, but he’s NOT entitled to be a glassbowl about it. Some people have trouble with that distinction, and Ron seems to be one of those people.

          3. aebhel*

            Unless the hiring process was very short, it would be more surprising if she did know when she interviewed.

            Ron is shooting himself in the foot here by alienating a great employee; it’s stuff like this that makes a lot of people reconsider coming back to work after they have kids.

      2. Altair*

        Most of us don’t have an annunciation to tell us we’re pregnant, so it’s entirely possible not to know for several months. Check out Ravenahra* ‘s thread for some examples.

    3. pcake*

      What if you don’t know you’re pregnant? I was using birth control (that didn’t work, obviously), and I didn’t know I was pregnant with my daughter for the first five months. I had a hormone issue, so I was already nauseous a lot of the time and tired out, and I wasn’t menstruating regularly.

      So if you tell women they can’t apply for a job if they’re pregnant, that couldn’t work. I know many women who didn’t know they were pregnant for three months, so basically you’d have to say no women of child bearing years could apply to cover that 100%.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Sorry, maybe I was unclear – I meant, literally, if they say up front, I am applying for this 12-month contract position but I will need to be off for maternity leave during months 5-6-7, is “already plans to be unavailable for 75% of the job (because baby)” a legal reason to not consider hiring them.

        I’m not asking about positions without defined length, or situations where people don’t know they’re pregnant, or anything other than that specific situation where a known and announced pregnancy and associated maternity leave would take a chunk of availability out of the specific and finite time frame that one is applying to work for.

      2. Quickbeam*

        And that was long the history of hiring! I worked within several bosses who used that as a rule of thumb. My mother in law was head of personnel for a private school and would not hire women of childbearing age. Perhaps no one is that overt anymore but it lingers.

    4. Natalie*

      Federally speaking, you wouldn’t be required to grant any leave in that case – FMLA doesn’t kick in until the person has worked there for a year – as long as your leave policy is applied similarly to other conditions. I don’t think you could argue it was an undue hardship when you could just decline to provide extra leave in the first place.

  22. NGL*

    Should OP also have a conversation with Jane apologizing for the nickle and diming and mention it’s part of Ron’s demands? I worry that she’s damaging her personal relationship with Jane, and a heart-to-heart expressing her empathy for Jane’s situation and frustration with the demands from Ron (and how she’s pushing back) could go a long way to repair a possibly emerging problem.

    (I am not a manager and haven’t been in this position on either side – my company was pretty good about my pregnancy, and even promoted me at 8 months, so I am legitimately wondering!)

    1. MsM*

      Eh, I’m not sure that’s the best strategy. It simultaneously drops this huge issue on Jane’s head (although to be fair, she’s probably noticed Ron’s attitude, if he’s being as blatant about it as the letter makes things sound) while depriving her of agency to do anything about it while OP’s attempting to manage the problem…to the extent that OP actually is managing the problem, if the nickel-and-diming is still going on.

      If OP fails in her efforts to get Ron to back off, the commenters saying that Jane deserves a heads up there’s legally actionable discrimination going on and information on what she can do about it are probably right, but I do think OP might want to consult a lawyer first.

  23. Project Manager*

    OP, everyone else has covered that what Ron is doing is legally and morally wrong.

    To your question about the amount of accommodation needed for pregnancy – it really, really varies, and it can be different for the same woman in different pregnancies. Some women are fully active and wearing their 3″ stilettos (this was my sister) all the way up until the day of delivery. Some women are put on bed rest. There isn’t a standard answer.

    1. blackcat*

      But the key thing about accommodations is that it only needs to be equivalent to what is offered to people in similar medical conditions. If everyone who is not FMLA eligible is fired if they need to take 2+ weeks off for any medical reason, then it’s legal to fire a woman for not coming back after birth.

      I’ve known multiple women who had to go on bedrest during pregnancy, and most of them (4/6) lost their jobs as a result. It’s legal if they’d also fire a new-ish employee for needing a hip replacement or other major surgery.

  24. Trout 'Waver*

    Fuck Ron.

    I’ve managed pregnant employees and my way to handle it is to support them doing their job and to accommodate the medical aspects of their condition. Being pregnant doesn’t impact most jobs, and any employee could go on an extended FMLA leave at any point. So an advance notice is actually a courtesy.

    Also, I’ve found that if you’re supportive of pregnant employees and help them manage both the before-birth aspects and the maternity leave after, they’re appreciative. It’s great for morale of the whole team. Even the people that can’t get pregnant see that the manager is supportive of the team’s needs.

    1. Ann Perkins*

      This. If you have a rock star employee, being supportive of them during pregnancy and childbirth is really a great way to earn loyalty, since sadly that’s not a given in many workplaces.

  25. Jules the First*

    It’s been eye-opening for me as an inclusive manager to discover how very far over the line people can go and still be otherwise liberal and all-around nice people. I had to tell a grand-boss about a pregnancy on my team earlier this year and I kid you not, the first thing out of his mouth was “is she married?” (Followed almost immediately by “is she keeping it?” [facepalm])

    I also have a couple of people on my team with visible disabilities and have had to have stern words with some fairly senior people about how incredibly inappropriate it is to ask stupid questions about those disabilities (sample question: team member is missing an ear; senior colleague walks up to his desk and says “did you cut off your own ear, dude?”). And then there is my (female) boss who once turned to me (lesbian) at the end of an interview (thankfully after the guy had left) to say that she hadn’t been able to concentrate on his answers because he was such a hottie!

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “It’s been eye-opening for me as an inclusive manager to discover how very far over the line people can go and still be otherwise liberal and all-around nice people.”

      Not just at work. That’s America (at least). Oh, I’m so liberal and then all sort of racist/sexist/classist/homophobic garbage emerges if you dig deeper.

      1. Altair*

        *highlights and underscores this comment and puts blinking lights around it* I cannot say THIS in large enough type. SO MUCH THIS.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yeah, we seem to forget that people of any political ideology can be horrible people. Where there is a group of people, some of them are going to be horrible.

        1. Jules the First*

          That’s the thing…I don’t think they’re horrible people. But I’m at a loss to explain what happens in their brains when they say stuff like this. It’s like they’re letting out their inner three year old unsupervised!

          1. knead me seymour*

            I think it’s just your standard people being inconsistent and receiving constant streams of bigoted input through all social conduits. Although I appreciate the need for calling people out, I’ve always felt that it’s counterproductive to try to sort people into “nice/bad” or “liberal/bigoted” buckets because people just resist categorization that way. And I (maybe optimistically) like to believe that we all have the capacity to improve.

    2. Marcy Marketer*

      Yep, same. It’s hard to let go of money when it’s yours and it’s so tempting to just offer what the law requires and no more. I have a household employee and I was so surprised at how tempted I was to offer the bare minimum. I have to remind myself of my values plenty. I’ve also seen otherwise nice people be totally pissed about having to pay someone who isn’t doing work while they are on maternity leave.

    3. Luna*

      The only response to that grand-boss’ two questions is: “Does it matter?”
      Because it always puts the ball in their court, and they *really* have to watch out what they say because that really paints a picture of how people will think of them.

  26. Anon for this*

    Lots of well-deserved WTF Ron here, but I am especially glad that Alison spelled out how the OP is letting Ron’s prejudice influence her management of Jane. Illegal and unethical as his thoughts, feelings and actions may be, Ron may never change – but OP has much functional power in this situation as Jane’s manager, and is ethically obligated to use it. I hope she follows through, and I wish her strength – it will not be easy.

    1. OP*

      I found that really eye-opening, and I think Alison is probably right. I’ve been trying to advocate for Jane, but I realize that I probably have let my concern over what Ron would think influence how I have managed. That’s something I’ll have to examine and fix.

    1. Observer*

      Which is to say, OP, that not only is your boss violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, he’s also planning to violate the Civil Rights Act.

  27. Alice*

    I hope that OP’s staffer gets a new job where she’s appreciated for working extra hours. OP, I don’t know that I’d handle this any better than you because it’s a bad situation, but it’s a lot worse for your staffer — who may or may not yet know that she is swimming upstream at Ron’s company.

  28. CamJansen*

    During my pregnancy, I faced very similar discrimination outlined here, and even had my pregnancy/parental status cited “off record” (behind closed doors, and not in writing) as reasons why my manager was unhappy with my work even in the face of stellar metrics, I couldn’t be promoted because I took a maternity leave, and was cursed at by my manager when I disclosed my pregnancy.

    Thank you, LW for wanting to correct this and being aware that the way you’re being instructed to handle this is illegal- professional skills don’t disappear when we become mothers, and we need more people (like you) recognizing that and advocating for us. But also we need employers to learn and honor the law, sheesh.

      1. CamJansen*

        I know that now, with much more confidence and experience under my belt, but at the time, the best thing I felt I could do was keep my head down to keep my job (and insurance), and find a new one! In retrospect, I had a LOT I should have gone to HR with. It was super crappy and I don’t wish it on anyone and am now the first to say “hey that’s not ok” when I catch a whiff of it.

  29. Caroline Bowman*

    I’ve been in a situation where I was responsible for hiring a maternity cover for a manager who was going to be out for 6 months (UK, years ago, as per rules there then, not US), but I remember the absolute consternation when the really excellent candidate who we managed to get turned out to also be pregnant and due about 2 weeks after the person she was covering.

    Yeah. That was a fun conversation to have with the (extremely nice, very reasonable, not sexist) director and in that scenario, I can understand the frustration, because, seriously, YOU KNOW YOU ARE MEANT TO BE COVERING from X-Y but also know that you will need a minimum of 8 weeks off during that 6 month period, and that’s bare-bones minimum.

    But, and here’s the thing, we made it work. Honestly, she was really nice and worked hard but management (privately) never really trusted her after that because it was a big thing to have left out that absolutely was pertinent to the fixed-term role she was covering. We never asked of course, because it’s illegal and also unethical, and she was freely given all of the appointment times, accomodations and so on that any other employee would have had. Things can always be solved, treating Jane like garbage and allowing Ron to do so is not the answer. Good luck, I get that it’s hard since he’s the owner, but it’s just wildly unacceptable.

  30. Ravenahra*

    On a side note to address whether Jane hid her pregnancy during the interview or honestly didn’t know she was pregnant until the third month – it is very possible she didn’t know.

    I had a friend who didn’t know she was pregnant until she was over 4 months along due to various medical issues that hid/mimicked the pregnancy symptoms. I’ve heard of other other women who also didn’t know until late in the pregnancy.

    If the original symptoms are mild or if there’s been a lot of stress, it’s easy to dismiss symptoms as something else and really not know until your body goes through greater changes.

    So, I suggest you accept Jane’s word that she didn’t know since she’s been honest and a hard worker in all other areas.

    As for Ron – yeah, really bad and illegal attitude and I’m sorry that you have to be the one to take the heat on standing up to him. But, as you pointed out, standing up to him now will make life easier on you when you do start trying to have a child.

    1. Littorally*

      Unfortunately, Ron sounds like the kind of guy who believes that women have complete control over when they get pregnant and know right away when they have.

      1. Batgirl*

        So many people think that, hence the whole “Well, you decided to have children without a plan” nonsense you sometimes hear whenever working family stuff comes up. Kids often invite themselves!

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          For real! Our daughter was both unplanned AND planned. Planned in that we were actually trying, but unplanned in that we fully expected it to take longer than one cycle because I was told I’d never have children. It took 3 positive pregnancy tests before I believed it. Also had to go to a doctor to have HER confirm it before we allowed ourselves to celebrate. But we sure didn’t expect to have a kid only one year after getting married!

          At least my company was pretty great about it. Even gave me a little bath set for her. Having a boss like Ron would have really put a damper on our joy.

      2. OP*

        This is so spot on, it’s scary. Privately to me, after she said she didn’t know she was pregnant at the time, he said to me that “she was either on birth control or she wasn’t.”

        Frankly, the more I recount the things he has said, the more clearly obvious how awful it is.

        1. Batgirl*

          “SHE was ON birth control”; those exact words?
          Not something like… “They were using birth control”?
          Cause I’ve heard both men and women using that phrasing when its a surprise baby and it’s always being used by a misogynist. Translated it means “Women are solely responsible for making sure they don’t get pregnant. This is easier for women to control than men and if they fail they will be left holding the baby and have to step back from the world without complaint”.

          1. OP*

            I don’t remember the exact words! But I do remember being speechless, because of course you can still get pregnant if you’re using birth control! And should couples who are trying to start a family just not interview for jobs? You never know how long it’s going to take!

        2. blackcat*

          OP, I think this is likely one of those “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” situations. If you hope to one day have a kid, you should start putting out feelers for new jobs now…

          1. OP*

            Yes, he’s already started to ask probing questions about whether or not I will soon be starting a family. My partner and I are looking to move outside the city to buy a house, and he is very clearly shook about it. If he mentions it again, I plan to address it very frankly and use that as a gateway to talk about Jane’s situation.

        3. Observer*

          Is he really that ignorant?

          As others have already noted, “on birth control” does not mean CAN NOT BECOME PREGNANT. He also seems to be unaware that “off birth control” does NOT necessarily mean “pregnant”.

          I’m befuddled that someone who could say something so stupid can own and run an apparently successful business.

          1. Batgirl*

            Not to mention that off birth control does not equal ‘pregnant’. Did he expect a handshake at the start if the interview plus a quick run through on the arrangements for her sex life so he could weigh in on risk factors? Or is it just an unspoken given that women have to be on birth control before going to interviews?

        4. Luna*

          Don’t tell Ron that some women, like me, take ‘the pill’ not for contraceptive purposes, but to regulate periods. I believe his head would explode when hearing that news.

    2. blackcat*

      Yeah, I’ve known people who had really easy first trimesters. I can imagine not realizing a pregnancy if the only thing is missing periods (and some forms of birth control prevent periods in general).
      I, however, became an epic puker at only 4.5 weeks pregnant. Not only was it entirely obvious to me, there was literally no way to hide it from people around me. There’s no winning!

    3. Me*

      I didn’t know until I was almost second trimester. I actually thought i was but the pee on a stick pregnancy test were always negative and since I was on birth control went with it. I finally found out from an ultrasound due to some unexplained pain. It happens.

      That said, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she knew, didn’t know, was in denial or actively hiding it. Employer aren’t allowed to discriminate so the only valid response is – it doesn’t matter because we can’t discriminate.

      1. Laney Boggs*

        Lol. My mom was 5 months with me and at her yearly gyno appointment; just this February my good friend announced she was pregnant (she felt the baby moving!!) and 2 weeks later she told us she was due in May.

        And isnt there an entire show dedicated to women who have no idea they’re pregnant as they’re giving birth?

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Yes, there was a show like that, called “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant.” It was only around for a couple of years, If I’m not mistaken, but the episodes are available for streaming on Hulu (or were, the last time I checked).

          The show consists of first person stories from women who didn’t know they were pregnant until they actually went into labor. (Imagine going to the ER with severe abdominal pain and finding out that pain is labor contractions–oy gevalt!) Hard to believe, especially for someone (like me) who has been pregnant and experienced all the typical symptoms and sensations, but it absolutely DOES happen.

          Even more amazingly, some of the women whose stories were featured were NOT first time mothers! Which just goes to show that different pregnancies can be VERY different experiences, even for the same wfoman.

    4. calonkat*

      I see all of you and laugh. I found I was pregnant right around 6 months. I missed my first period at 5 months, when my grandfather died (so I assumed stress), I’m overweight, and there were a lot of family issues that helped hide all symptoms (tummy feels weird, can’t worry about that, have to do xxx). Then I gave birth at 8 months, so it was a really “short” pregnancy! Daughter now has a master’s in a STEM field, and earns twice what I do, so it all worked out, but it would have sucked to have an employer not believe that I didn’t know.
      And from a book on “problem pregnancies” (don’t remember the title) I finally found mention that a small number of women may have bleeding every month while pregnant and it’s not a sign of a problem pregnancy. THAT would have been useful information!!!

    5. Daffy Duck*

      My pregnancies were planned so I knew; however, during pregnancy I felt wonderful as the hormones cut down chronic condition pain. It was really a wake up into how draining my chronic condition is. No morning sickness, didn’t feel exhausted, definitely had the “clean and organize everything” nesting thing going on. My doctor suggested I have lots of kids to manage said condition (that was NOT a joke – he was a bit weird IMO).
      Point is there is a HUGE variation in how individuals react to pregnancy.

    6. Hapax Legomenon*

      My mom worked construction for a short time back in the 70s. One of her coworkers was working with them in the morning, but didn’t come back after lunch. They later found out said coworker had gone into labor, which was how that coworker found out she was pregnant.

    7. aebhel*

      Yeah, I mean, just looking at the timeline–she was three months pregnant when she notified them, two weeks after she started. Unless the interview process is extremely quick, it’s likely she was no more 6-8 weeks along when she interviewed. It’s completely plausible–likely, even–that she didn’t know, especially if she wasn’t actively trying to get pregnant.

      (This is very near and dear to me because I found out that I was pregnant about a week after I interviewed for my current job. I told my new boss at the 3-month mark, and everyone was completely great about it. I’ve been here for 7 years now and my performance reviews are all excellent, so. Being decent about stuff like this can pay dividends. Also, we’ve had plenty of employees go out on FMLA for various issues, so this is just a thing you have to deal with when you’re managing human beings.)

  31. Anonapots*

    In this situation, I would not hesitate to tell Ron you have already broken laws and this is about mitigation. I also wouldn’t feel bad if it slipped to Jane that this was happening.

  32. BadWolf*

    Does this company have garbage parental leave (paternity/partner)? Like “one week for fathers” that no one takes?

    My company added much longer leave for partners. Whenever someone jokes/whines about it, I’m a wet blanket and say that more equivalent parental leave is good for everyone because then everyone can be gone for children and it evens the field. And yes, good for those with no child acquisition plans. Because the bosses thinking “Ugh, these ladies are probably going to get pregnant” are judging you regardless of your personal child plans.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Ron is a jackass. I would challenge him by asking if he’d treat someone who found out they had a chronic illness shortly after starting in the same way. Maybe he would, but I’m guessing he wouldn’t be as assholey.

    As far as the example you gave for her last doctor’s appointment, it isn’t a great look to take your hour lunch break in the office before you leave to take off for the last 2.5 hours of the day. I would have just taken a half day and eaten after I left the office. But this depends on how your time off is allotted (can it be taken in hour long increments or only in half day/full day increments, was she making up the time of leaving early, etc.). This is the least of the issues here, but I just wanted to mention it because it may be worth a conversation with your employee about expectations around time off.

    1. Luna*

      Ron would probably tell you, “That’s a completely different thing!” if you attempted to point out his hypocrisy. They just refuse to believe that it’s the same, only you exchange the word ‘pregnancy’ with ‘illness’.

  34. employment lawyah*

    Well, Ron is breaking various laws, assuming they apply (given your description, your company sounds big enough that it is probably not exempt from pregnancy discrimination laws, but FYI that’s just an assumption.)

    But ya know, messengers get shot all the time!

    So if you’re not HR, the wise thing to do is to refer the matter to HR. If you really want to get involved you can do so, but (be warned) you may have fewer protections than you think. And those protections go way down or disappear entirely if you’re arguing for things which are optional (on-site daycare) and not mandatory (granting FMLA leave to a covered employee/employer combination.) Again, since you’re not HR you may have a less-accurate sense of where those lines are.

    I say that in particular because of your comment:
    I want to make sure that we have a workplace that is welcoming to women, especially since this kind of behavior is not uncommon in our field.

    This is not a legal requirement!! A business owner can voluntarily be especially welcoming to ___ group, and they can choose whatever group they like. But they only have to avoid illegal discrimination. And while it is obviously nicer to have a workplace which goes above and beyond, or one which is driven by a broader sense of social dynamics (especially if you’re in the “welcomed” group)… well, there’s often a lot of space between “not illegally discriminating against ___” and “welcoming to ____.”

    Legal limits are legal limits for a reason, whether it’s about pregnancy or wages or anything else. If the owner wants to limit things to “bare legal responsibilities and not an iota more, welcoming or not” then he can do so, just as if he wanted to pay “minimum wage and not a penny more.” And you can get in trouble for going around him, whether it’s “offering more benefits than required” or “paying more than minimum wage.” This is why I said you may take risks if you aim to circumvent the owner’s desire.

    Anyway. That’s all for your risks.

    If you want the owner to change generally, you might want to consider how you push back.

    In my experience I have found it more effective to acknowledge the downsides of some employment laws than to pretend they don’t exist. In many cases, this does actually suck for employers, who end up, among other things “having to train a replacement for a replacement” at a higher, usually-temporary, salary.

    So (again, in my experience) I tend to say something like

    “Yes I know you don’t like it, and I know you don’t think it’s fair. And to a degree you may even be right: This is a broad social benefit and the costs are borne by you, so in a sense you may be paying more than your ‘share’ this time. But even if it may cost you money or time or aggravation which you would have preferred to avoid… well, it’s the law. And there are probably other times when your competitors are having the same issue, so overall it tends to balance out. And since the law is clear: even if you dislike it, we still have to deal with it. And so, we should _____. And also, you may not be aware of the other benefits, which are ______.”

    It often works.

    OTOH, if you tell them that there are no costs (rather than “there are costs, bummer for you, but so be it”) you may find that they don’t listen to the rest. YMMV.

  35. Person of Interest*

    Alison, in the older post that you linked to at the end of your answer, you mentioned that the PDA only applies to companies with 15 or more employees. Would that caveat also apply here? (I agree that what Ron is doing is disgusting and the OP should absolutely fight back, but might the question of legality suggest a different response if this is a smaller company?)

      1. OP*

        We’re actually under 15 employees (our B2B team is comprised of 2 people currently), but we’re not in the US, so I don’t know that it applies. My understanding is that this sort of discrimination is very illegal no matter what size company. I don’t think I’d really understood how illegal everything he was saying and doing was (and, by extension, how my own actions as a manager) until you laid it so clearly. I think I’d been framing it as problematic, but not illegal, as it was only talk. For the moment, he didn’t really have much direct contact with Jane, and everything he’d said was just to me. The move to the sales team was/is very far off in the future, so I kind of put it aside as a battle for the future.

        1. Crazy Plant Lady*

          Since you’re not in the US, none of the laws Alison mentioned will apply. You need to find out about the laws in your country to know whether it’s illegal or not. It might be perfectly legal to discriminate against pregnant women in your country despite being horrible and crappy.

          1. OP*

            I’ve done some research, and it is indeed illegal. This has all been really helpful; I think I’m starting to get a good framework of how to address it with Ron, and what I can point to as being cut-and-dry illegal (rather than just really crappy, which I’d assumed most of his remarks were).

    1. employment lawyah*

      Don’t assume you only have federal law!

      State law often mimics federal law but w/ a smaller size. In my state you only need six employees (including the owner) for various protective statutes to kick in.

  36. Leah K.*

    Ron is a piece of garbage. I am curious though, assuming the OP is in the US, would Jane actually be covered by FMLA since she’s been employed by the company less than 12 months? OP stated that Jane starts her maternity leave in two weeks, so I am assuming she gets to take a leave based on the company policy. I’m just wondering if Ron can somehow mess with her ability to come back if she doesn’t have the full protection of the law because of her short tenure.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Whoever you’re attempting to reply to, this is a bizarre derail. No one is saying all men are terrible incompetent chauvinists; people are acknowledging that systemic sexism makes it easier for incompetent men to get ahead, and harder for competent women to succeed.

      Comments like this make great mating calls when you’re trying to attract the Rons of the world. They’re not of much benefit otherwise.

  37. The Grey Lady*

    Ick, but I’m so proud of my workplace for doing a good job with maternity leave. One of our higher-level executives just had a baby yesterday. She gets three months of maternity leave with full pay, and our grandboss was saying yesterday that he wants to send her a congratulations gift. I think they’re trying to decide what to send now.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      That’s awesome! My workplace is pretty good about maternity leave too. I got the standard 6 weeks, took 2 of my 3 weeks vacation to extend total leave to 8 weeks, then worked 2 weeks from home while slowly transitioning my high needs daughter into daycare. And my boss was so amazing when we were discussing what my leave would look like. It was he who encouraged me to save that last week for incidentals (my daughter was born in July and I was back at work in September, so it was wise advice), and who suggested the WFH transition period. As a result of how I’ve been treated here, I’ve stayed almost a decade despite not being particularly excited about what I do, even though I do it quite well. My company gets to retain a loyal, hardworking employee and I get to keep some very nice benefits. Jerk Boss Ron could really learn a thing or two from my boss.

  38. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    OP, if you have an HR department, maybe you can ask them to do a presentation to you and Ron on what your obligations are to the pregnant employee and employees/candidates who might become pregnant.

    The idea is you’re helpfully responding to Ron’s request for guidance! I have a feeling it’ll be more effective coming from them than just from you, and they’ll have more positional freedom to be stern about it with him. Then afterward, you can always reference, “Ooh, remember what Oscar said about how we have to be careful not to xyz” when Ron is being a dink.

    1. OP*

      Unfortunately, we’re so small we don’t have an HR department – that would essentially be me! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time talking Ron down from knee-jerk reactions.

  39. Atalanta0jess*

    For whatever reason, the nickling and diming of time is the thing my pregnant self is raging about. Either Jane is hourly, and thus is using whatever PTO she has to cover the time away from the office (or is making it up); or she’s salaried and shouldn’t be nickled and dimed about her time period. She’s worked late when needed. So yeah, if she has a doctors appointment in the second half of the day, she is entitled to use time to attend that appointment, and in the work cultures I’ve been in, it’s entirely reasonable not to come back for an hour. Plus you can never tell how long an appointment will really last. (And what if she got difficult news at the appointment? A little flexibility here goes a long way.) I routinely take PTO to cover a whole day so I can attend several appointments, and guess what? No one cares because the PTO belongs to me, and they are reasonable people.

    As far as the lunch goes, holy cow people, she’s a person with physical needs. If she’s getting her work done, and using her PTO or flex time in accordance with the policy, really who cares if she needs 30 minutes to eat so she eat something decent instead of scarfing whatever down in the car.

    The whole thing is just astonishingly egregious. And of course this is EXACTLY why she didn’t share about her pregnancy at the first interview, whether she knew or not. No one would, because of outrageous stuff like this.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      Every time lunch/breaks/eating comes up here, someone (often someone on a limited or restricted diet, but not always) screeches about how nobody REALLY needs to eat “that much” or “that often”, with zero regard for the fact that everyone is different. It gets so old.

    2. Lostnformed*

      As a fellow pregnant person, yep. I make my appointments at the end of the day for exactly this reason. It’s a doctors office, emergencies come up constantly. Also, with covid-19, everything is also taking much longer than usual because patient appointments are spaced out so that fewer people are in the waiting room at once.

      Most of the time I don’t know how long any of this is going to take, so it is easier to just wrap my day up at 1 pm. And for real — if you try to make me skip lunch, I’m probably going to get light headed, vomit, and probably need to leave early anyway.

      You can do everything to the letter of the law and still choose to be jerk. But unless you’re trying to punish her for being a human being, why would you?

    3. OP*

      That’s such a good point; I hadn’t even thought about the possibility that she’d have bad news at the appointment and might need time to process it. If her appointment had run over, I wouldn’t have any issue at all.

      I think part of the problem is that we don’t really have an official policy, which I’m now realizing we should do so employees feel comfortable and clear about expectations. In general, we work 37.5 hours a week and have core hours. We rather loosely track our hours weekly on a flextime sheet (we’re not in the US – keeping track of flexi hours in this way is pretty common). Aside from that, as long as we’re doing our work and the phones are covered, people have fairly flexible hours and can work some longer days and some shorter days as they like. This was at the end of the week, and Jane hadn’t built up any flexi hours this particular week, so she was taking the time unpaid. Her appointments (and travel time to them) are legally paid, so it was really just taking a full hour for lunch as well as the rest of the afternoon that I wasn’t sure how to handle. In retrospect, I think it would have been better just to let her have the time.

      Before we all moved to remote working, her doctor was an hour away from the office, and I never expected her to come back after her appointment, as there was no need to add two hours of travel time to her day. However, we had mentioned early in her employment the possibility of her signing back on to work from home for the last hour of the day if there was work she could do from home and her appointment time would have her home before the end of the work day (this was, no surprise, Ron’s idea).

  40. Kairi*

    So I have a question. Suppose you have an employee who is lazy and incompetent and the reasons to fire her are adding up, then she announces she’s pregnant. If she’s fired because of the aforementioned documented reasons to fire her, can she sue for wrongful termination and say she was fired because she’s pregnant, or will the documentation protect the employer?

    1. Kairi*

      I realize that’s not related to OP’s employee, but since we’re talking about legality surrounding pregnancy, I’m curious.

      1. LavaLamp*

        I”m not a lawyer or anything, but I’d think this would be a case of “address your issues as they come and provide actionable feedback” because otherwise if you let things fester the not great employee could get pregnant or sick and firing them would at best be a poor look for the company.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, exactly. There are a zillion reasons to address problems forthrightly as they come up and not let them fester. Most of them are about getting the results you need on your team, but another reason is that if you wait, you can end up in a situation where it looks like you’re only addressing it now because the person is pregnant or sick. And that does put you in real legal danger unless you navigate it very carefully.

    2. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

      The answer is that she can absolutely sue (in the US), due to her protected status and the proximity of her pregnancy to the adverse action (the termination). The employer’s defense to the case would be that she was not terminated because of the pregnancy, but because of the performance issues. She would counter that the employer’s reason is a “pretext” (basically, that the employer is lying and really did discriminate). If the employer has good evidence (documentation, etc.) showing the performance issues, it helps their defense. But if she had those performance issues for a long time and they let it drag on, it may look like the pregnancy was, in fact, the real reason. Ultimately, it would be up to a jury to decide whom to believe.

      And, just to point out as a (small) counterweight to all the ire over discrimination, when an employer does have good, legitimate reasons for termination that are not related to a protected characteristic, but they get sued and have to defend themselves, they will routinely spend at least $80,000+ in defense even if they win. The plaintiff (the person suing) will spend typically spend nothing or very little. Take that as you will.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It seems it would help the employer a lot if the documentation precedes the pregnancy. So if there’s problems, document document document, including how you’ve addressed the problems / tried to make things improve.

        If someone’s on a PIP, probably no problem, or if they’d been on a PIP before and you could document the same problems were coming back. But yeah, in the US anyone can sue anyone.

      2. Observer*

        Why is this a “counterweight”? People can, and do, sue for all sorts of stupid reasons. I’ve even seen cases where the employer who being accused of discrimination did not even know that the plaintiff was a member of the class he was supposedly discriminating against!

        Bottom line is that that “not hiring X” will not protect you from getting sued. It won’t even completely protect you from getting sued by someone who is X

        1. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

          It’s only a counterweight in the sense that there is unfairness baked into (any) human system, and that while the unfairness of discrimination often cuts the hardest (both because it is illegal and happening to an individual), there are times when the employer also experiences “unfairness” in the form of possibly very significant expenses even if they did everything right. A minor point, I realize.

          I suppose it’s just my bias to want to very, very gently point out that saying “oh, the employer is totally fine” if they documented things and didn’t actually discriminate. If you get sued, you are never, ever “totally fine.” But neither are the people who actually experience discrimination, and I’m trying to not detract from that either.

          1. Observer*

            You are also ignoring that fact that you can get sued ANY time they fire someone, even if there really are no grounds to even think there is discrimination.

      3. Ominous Adversary*

        “They” don’t spend that much in defense if they tender it to their insurer to defend.

      4. Gazebo Slayer*

        Plaintiffs spend nothing or very little to sue? What? How? They need to hire lawyers, too. And if they manage to hire a lawyer willing to work on contingency, the plaintiff still needs to pay the legal fees if they don’t win.

        1. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

          A plaintiff who sues for discrimination will virtually always use a contingency-fee attorney. That’s why they pay little or nothing (at most they may pay court filing costs and deposition costs – couple hundred $). A plaintiff who loses a contingent-fee case does not pay legal fees, for themselves or the other side.

          The law is specifically set up this way. Plaintiffs who “prevail” on employment discrimination case are entitled to an award of their attorneys’ fees. That creates a huge incentive for contingent-fee attorneys: if the plaintiff wins just $1,000, they can petition the court for their fees (again, often in excess of $100k). Defendants who win don’t get their fees, ever. So no, actually, plaintiffs don’t need to pay legal fees if they don’t win, and don’t need to “hire attorneys” in the same sense. (And if a contingent-fee attorney does not want to take a given case… that’s a commentary on how likely the case is to succeed.)

          1. Observer*

            Unless the attorney is very desperate, lawyers won’t take contingency cases that had little to no likelihood of winning. So, the kinds of cases you are talking about – where there really was a solid and well documented reason for the firing, is not a situation where the plaintiff doesn’t have to pay any money in most cases.

    3. CrapIForgotMyAwesomeUserName*

      As long as she’s fired because of the lazy and incompetent then it’s totally legal. This is why it’s so important to document.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        It’s not just a question of whether it’s legal, though. It’s about how hard (and expensive) it will be to prevail in court if the employee files suit.

        The company may win in the end, but if the court battle costs more than the employee’s salary and benefits for [duration of pregnancy plus length of maternity leave], it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

        1. Observer*

          Not necessarily true. Because there are costs to keeping on poor employees that go well beyond salary and benefits.

    4. goducks*

      Pregnancy doesn’t confer any special protection against taking action against performance issues.
      So, from the employer point of view, I always ask “how would a jury interpret this?”
      If I have an employee who has a documented record of poor performance with documented counseling, poor reviews, PIP, etc. who continues to perform poorly during her pregnancy, I’m pretty confident I could demonstrate to a jury that her firing was just and unrelated to her pregnancy.
      If I don’t have that paper trail or it doesn’t go back to before her pregnancy, it sure as hell will look to an outsider like I either made up her performance issues to fire her for being pregnant, or I only cared about her performance issues because she became pregnant. Both appear discriminatory (even if there’s other reasons).
      True story, I inherited a poor performer once from a manager who didn’t have the stones to actually manage her. She was a known terrible employee, and I think it was well expected I would manage the situation and work her through documentation and likely out the door (although my preference is always to fix behaviors if possible). About a month after she was assigned to me, she told me she was pregnant. Since all the stuff from before she reported to me was completely undocumented (thanks former manager!!!), I knew I had to keep working with her for the time being. I continued to document, but it took a lot more time to work her through the process because I knew that it would look to an outsider like her pregnancy (and eventual maternal leave) was the reason.

    5. Observer*

      If the documentation is there, and you’ve handled similar cases without a pregnancy in the mix in a similar matter, you’ll be fine.

  41. bananab*

    Just wanted to say I too would find it a little weird to be expected back at work after 4-4:30. Actually even the granularity of travel for X, appointment is Y, etc.: at my last job I’d have just taken a half day and no one would think anything of it. Not saying that is or should be the norm in your workplace but at a glance it made me wonder if Ron’s bad perspectives were starting to rub off.

    1. OP*

      I think that’s fair, and I can definitely see how Ron’s perspective was certainly rubbing off. Does it make a difference that I wasn’t expecting her to travel back to the office, work for an hour/hour and a half, and then travel home? She’s working from home, so I expected she’d just sign back on once she was back home.

      1. cmm*

        Would that extra hour have accomplished something that absolutely could not wait until the next day, or is it just the principle of the matter? I think you need to look at this as a morale issue. You stated that she has gone above and beyond in the past–would you continue going above and beyond when management directly proves that they won’t take that into consideration when allowing *an extra bit of time at the end of the day after traveling to an appointment*?? She knows her limits and body, she knows what the appointment would entail, and she told you her plans. I don’t know if you’ve ever been pregnant, and I have not, but I do kind of assume that prenatal exams are more emotionally and physically taxing than the standard visits we’re used to are. Take into consideration her performance, her willingness to put in more work when needed, and just giver her the flexibility that she has earned by being a good employee. You say over and over that she’s a good employee, and even if you weren’t risking a lawsuit, you’re risking losing someone great. Are you okay with Ron rubbing off on you to the point that you are, through your actions, making your direct report feel completely demoralized because she needed sixty minutes to herself at the end of the day? Are there other examples where you hold her to the personal standard of “I would do it X way, so if she’s doing Y it’s a problem” without taking her needs into consideration? All of this over one single appointment at the end of the day. Is that extra hour worth all of this?

        1. OP*

          Yes, looking back I think that I would have handled it differently – I definitely was hearing Ron’s voice in my head, knowing that he would object. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have said anything and just pushed back if Ron had made an issue of it.

          1. cmm*

            That’s a good way to re-frame and think going forward! It’s fairly common across toxic workplaces to pick up some bad habits, but I’m glad you’re recognizing it early. It’s good that Jane–and any other future parents–have a manager like you on their side when the big boss is this unreasonable. Good luck on pushing back as needed, not just for Jane but any other employees who find themselves in his cross hairs.

  42. Sarra N. Dipity*

    I’m thinking that the OP may not be in the USA (“cheeky” isn’t common in the US) – how do the laws change in other countries?

  43. KR*

    OP I’m so glad you have your attention on this and want to help your employee. Good luck. Your boss sounds like a real dick.

  44. Sparkles McFadden*

    With biased and dense bosses like Ron, is extremely important to point situations where other employees are being accommodated without complaint. I’ve had to point out to male coworkers who complained about pregnant women going to a doctor’s appointment during the workday that they didn’t seem to have a problem with a male coworker being out for two hours to get a haircut. (Oh, how I wish this was an exaggeration.)

    One pregnant coworker would sometimes need to take a break at the company nurse’s office to rest in a spot provided for pregnant women. The boss would be upset about this. When the boss complained to the rest of us as to how this was unfair to everyone else (which is a terrible boss move in and of itself), I asked why it was OK for three guys to leave early every Wednesday to play on a company softball team. The boss tried to explain this away by saying the men were “participating in a company sponsored activity.” Yeah, OK.

    It really is important bring such things up, because it’s far too easy to pick up these attitudes when they are constantly modeled by your direct manager. It’s also valuable to self-monitor in this way to make sure you’re not being biased yourself.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Am I the only one thinking these things–softball, doctors’ appointments, detoxing in the nurse’s office, nickling and diming, etc–are all non sequuntur and Ron needs to be refocused on the matter at hand–is Jane’s work getting done accurately, professionally and in a timely manner?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        All these things are symptoms of Ron’s problem, so yes addressing the root cause is best, but you also have to monitor the symptoms to see if the root cause is improving.

  45. Greige*

    Ron’s resentment toward pregancy makes me wonder how he got into the world. Presumably someone had to be pregnant for him to get here, so I don’t know how he thinks this is supposed to work.

  46. TootsNYC*

    For example, she had a doctor appointment at 3 pm. She was planning to take lunch from 1:30-2:30 pm, travel to the appointment from 2:30-3, and then spend an hour at the appointment, and another half hour traveling, so finished by 4/4:30. I asked what time she thought she’d be signed back into work, and she seemed very taken aback that I wanted her to come back to work for the last hour of the day.

    If I had a doctor’s appointment at 3, that would be my lunch–I’d start it at 2:30 for travel time. I’d eat at my desk while I worked.
    Especially if I was going to not come back to the office afterward!

    Whether I was pregnant would ONLY influence whether I ate promptly (if I had a broken leg, or a dermatology appointment, I might not make a point of eating earlier, or maybe even at all).

    I’m wondering of Ron feels that the way JANE is handling these appointments, or letting you know about her pregnancy, is part of what makes him skeptical about how long she’ll stay after the birth, or whether she’ll be willing to do the job in the way most people do it (the schmoozing).

    1. Observer*

      So YOU would eat at your desk. Maybe Jane can’t eat at her desk (which sounds likely, as she wound up eating in the car) or wants to eat like a normal person. That doesn’t make her a slacker. Especially since she DOES work extra hours as needed, and is getting her work done.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*


        The way Jane was planning to handle her afternoon appointment is also the way my office handles afternoon appointments. Jane could very well have been just conforming to office norms by still taking her lunch.

      2. DataSci*

        Jane can rightly want to eat away from her desk without calling people who choose to eat at their desks “abnormal”.

    2. Ramona Q*

      Toots, the appointment and the travel time together take two hours (at least). So you could NOT “just” make the appointment your lunch hour; you’d need to use at least an extra hour of PTO for the whole thing.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I mean, I personally always come back after an appointment, even if it’s only for 30 minutes to an hour afterwards.

      However I’ve learned that’s an outlier and not the standard of practice for most folks.

      Just like I had a conversation with my mother, her car broke down and wouldn’t be done until the following afternoon. 99% of people in that position just say they can’t come in the next day while it gets figured out. But everyone in my family will exhaust every effort to get to work, including calling in favors from neighbors if we needed to.

      You have to embrace the fact that most people really aren’t married to their jobs and shouldn’t be expected to be, despite those of us who will choke the cost of an Uber down even if necessary and have a zero money day just to get to work and put in that face time/work.

    4. Taniwha Girl*

      And I would take the whole afternoon off.

      I doubt the way Jane is handling her appointments is affecting Ron’s judgment, as his opinion seems to have been solidified before all this.

  47. Observer*

    OP, you’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the legality and ethics of the situation. It’s also a really, really stupid move on Ron’s part.

    Right now, he ahs a good employee who gets the job done, is willing to go the extra mile and has the skills to be a valuable addition to a lucrative team. But because she had the audacity to be pregnant, he’s mistreating her. Of course, when that causes her to be less willing to go the extra mile or come back from maternity leave, he’s going to say “I told you so” but in fact, it’s his own behavior that will cost him the services of a good employee. By the same token, he’s going to NOT move her to B2B team and lose a good team member because he can’t deal with a mother on the team.

    How stupid and self destructive is that?

  48. Jessica Fletcher*

    It’s also possible Jane has already noticed this iciness and different treatment. Don’t be surprised if you lose her after her maternity leave. You can’t treat her badly during her pregnancy and expect loyalty. You made a pregnant woman skip her lunch break! To make up one measly hour!

  49. HereKittyKitty*

    This sounds like my old workplace. They basically drove most of the women out of the workplace through their treatment of one. They didn’t provide a legally mandated pumping room and told her to use the bathroom (which is illegal) so she started running home to pump and worked from her laptop and then would come back after. Then they started hounding her for how often she was pumping (it was a normal amount). They called her into their office to yell at her about pumping several times, reducing her to tears. It was a shit show. I don’t want children, but seeing how they treated a mom told me that they didn’t respect women in general so I jumped ship too. Another coworker left because she wanted to have kids in the next year and knew she couldn’t do it while working there. They lost 4 women total. Also my coworker came back from maternity leave with projects she wanted to start on and they told her she was coming back too strongly after maternity leave. Whatever that means.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      “coming back too strongly after maternity leave. Whatever that means.”

      It means women couldn’t win in that workplace, whatever they did. :-(

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        YUP “too strong” when proposing projects “not dedicated enough” when pumping. Feels like nothing would satisfy them.

  50. Wordnerd*

    Ok, this may be too niche or off-topic, but are there MBMBaMbinos out here? “I hate you, Ron.”

  51. Dual Peppin Whiskey*

    Alison, in situations like this, does someone in the LW’s position have…an obligation(?) to take the employee aside and warn them this is going on? Like specifically spelling out for them things that Ron has said/done/tried to do? If they did, would that put their job in jeopardy? Are there any legal protections for a middle-man, so to speak, bringing forth evidence against an employer on a victim’s behalf? Standing up to Ron is great–and hopefully it will help!–but I feel like unless there are legal ramifications for Ron–or anyone like him–he’s just going to keep doing things like this to any other female employee, particularly if/when the LW moves on to another company.

    In this case specifically, should Jane ever want/need to pursue legal action against Ron, without the LW’s help, it seems like a lot of these things might be hard to prove. For instance, how would Jane know she’s being held to different standards than other employees? Maybe I’m getting in too deep to specific legal questions, but proving discrimination from employers has been something I’ve wondered about for a long time. This might be overly jaded, but I feel like a lot of employers are just smart enough to discriminate in a way that you know it’s happening, but wouldn’t stand up in court, unless you had someone like the LW come forward to substantiate the plaintiff’s claims.

  52. Archaeopteryx*

    This makes me wish I were a lawyer so that I could offer to represent her pro bono. The only thing I would change and Alison’s advice is that they need to change their practices not to make their workplace a good place for women, but to make it a *decent* place for women. He needs to realize that it’s not about making your workplace a proactively positive experience for women, since he obviously doesn’t care about that. These are rock-bottom basics that he is totally failing.

  53. Remote HealthWorker*

    Ron was very, very unhappy. He felt tricked (she says she didn’t know at the first interview, but he’s not sure he believes her)

    Translation. I’m mad I could not discriminate against her.

    But you know what? It’s highly likely she didn’t know!! I get so sick of the misunderstandings of pregnancy, fueled largely by a certain movement who spreads misinformation about how pregnancy works!!!

    1. You are two weeks pregnant before you even have sex!
    2. Not everyone has early pregnancy symptoms!
    3. Some people have early pregnancy symptoms every menstrual cycle even when they are not pregnant!
    4. Not every woman has regular cycles. It can be normal to not have a period for 4+ months.
    5. Not every woman gets a pregnancy belly!
    6. And lastly, although I could go all day. Just because you are 3 months pregnant doesn’t mean it’s viable! Maybe she knew but was high risk and wasn’t sure the fetus was going to make it to term. That’s none of Ron’s business. I know for our next pregnancy we will not be disclosing until 6 months because prior to that it’s a really shaky thing.

    And I’ll wrap it up by saying that she didn’t have to disclose to you even if she knew! It was clearly in her best interest to wait.

    1. Lepidoptera*

      I’m guessing #1 is because of how conception is often calculated based on the first day of your last period, correct?
      Because otherwise I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this.

      1. blackcat*

        Yes. The standard 40 weeks of pregnancy is calculated from the first day of the last period.
        “Gestational age” is *sometimes* used to mean date since conception (so 6 weeks pregnant = 4 weeks gestational age) but I’ve seen this used inconsistently.

      2. Amy*

        You’re not actually pregnant in those two weeks. It’s just easier to calculate from the date of your last period since it’s hard to pinpoint when conception took place.

        If you are 12 weeks pregnant (by how we generally calculate it in the US), you’ve been pregnant for about 10 weeks.

    2. Massive Dynamic*

      Oh yes, all of this. I happen to have a close family member with a surprise covid baby on the way and she didn’t find out until ~11 weeks along! Sure she felt off, but assumed something else. It happens!

    3. cj*

      My mom didn’t know she was pregnant with me until her SECOND TRIMESTER. Bodies are wild!

  54. Batgirl*

    He’s worried about legal ramifications, so keep reminding him.
    “Legally, how far do we have to accommodate her if she can’t do her work?”
    “As much as we would with any other medical condition. Luckily she’s a stellar employee anyway and is killing it”.

    “I feel tricked”
    “She did us a favour because if she’d disclosed the pregnancy she would have put us at legal risk. You can’t be accused of discriminating if you’re in the dark”

    “Is she making up the hours for those appointments?”
    “More than… but… Are we making that a general rule for medical appointments now? You know that legally, we can’t single out a pregnancy.”

    “When she’s a mother, she won’t be able or want to go out and schmooze with the customers anymore”
    “We can’t make the assumption that female parents are less able to do that than male parents without getting into a ton of legal hot water”.
    Also, if you witness him being cold to her, get straight in there.
    “You were very short with Jane; is there something she’s done I should know about?”
    “Its going to make other parents on the team very nervous if we act frostily with Jane. To us it’s just frustration with bad timing, but to them it probably looks like a statement about gender and any one of them could decide to take it further with a lawyer”.

  55. PreggoHR*

    Color me demoralized… Sigh. I am in a similar situation to Jane. I work closely with the Owner of the company (for years I was his EA, now I’m head of HR), and I was thrilled to tell him I was expecting. He flipped the script so quickly, it was sort of unbelievable.

    On several occasions since, he has rescinded an offer for my promotion to an Executive level position, restructured an original arrangement of who I would be overseeing, and has made comments about needing to hire someone else at a similar capacity to mine when I go out on maternity leave (implying they would be permanent).

    Unfortunately, he’s the owner. I AM HR. I’m at a loss as to how to approach this besides the ways I already have: I’m pregnant, not dead; I’m coming back after my leave; I am not asking for accommodations besides working from home at this time. I don’t know what else to do. Jane is lucky to have an OP to help intercede for her.

    1. Batgirl*

      One of my friends was congratulated on her pregnancy in one breath and then it was followed in the next with “but I don’t think its a good thing for the department” Oh, well.. if it’s not good for the department!

      Another friend had bosses that were totally fine with it, but similar to you they lost out on promised promotions and opportunities of yore even though in her case it was more thoughtlessness. She was out of sight, out of mind during maternity leave. She raised a suggestion that job openings need to be communicated to people on leave especially if they were lined up for progression. It became a new HR policy.

      Can you raise something as a general policy? Maybe look at figures of mothers and earning power or promotions in your company. I have to say though I’d be tempted to take what I find to a lawyer. To turn on a loyal employee of some standing is just unconscionable and he’s probably not a good bet for rehabilitation.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My gut drops when I read these situations. I’ve had some boorish doofs over the years but every one of them was pro-baby and was always like “you gonna have a kid, cuz I think you should have a kid? You can raise it in the office, I don’t mind!” [Seriously someone before me had had a child and just setup a play-pin situation instead of utilizing daycare. It worked decently from what I heard from her and others…but I don’t wanna don’t wanna don’t wanna.]

      When this pandemic is over, you’re going to look for a new job though, right? Like…you’re only going back because it’s a stable job…you are worth more than that, you can get a job with someone who is quirky but in a much more humane way.

  56. Pomona Sprout*

    I don’t have anything to add to all the great advice here, but I just want to say that Ron is an absolute shitgoblin. That is all.

  57. Victoria*

    “She says she didn’t know at the first interview”

    Maybe I’m dense because I can never be pregnant, but is there any circumstance in which this would come up other than 1) Ron reacting angrily and Jane defending herself or 2) Jane sensing Ron was upset and feeling the need to put that information in there?

    The fact that she disclosed this information suggests that she knows he’s over the line.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nah, I think that it’s pretty standard to say that when you’re announcing a pregnancy upon arrival at a new job. It may be very true, since she’s so early into the pregnancy, many women don’t know until almost the end of the first trimester, not everyone has regular periods or the symptoms we associate with early pregnancy.

  58. Evo 5.0*

    All these bosses/managers who pile the hate on pregnant women… every one of them is here on this planet because a woman got pregnant. Women get pregnant, but they don’t get pregnant AT their boss.

    Tell me Ron, why do you hate your mother so?


  59. Luna*

    Joke’s on Ron, since men may not be able to get pregnant, but they can take paternity leave just as much.
    Ron needs to grow up and stop being a little whiner. Pregnancy happens; it’s part of ‘Life’ happening to employees, just like deaths in the family, plans to move, traffic jams, health issues, etc. It’s something he has to get used to when hiring and dealing with humans.

    I might also be wrong, but isn’t it illegal to ask a female applicant if they are pregnant and/or what their imminent future plans are for family? At least, I do recall that being the case in Germany…

  60. Lyric Mender*

    This makes no sense to me, since pregnancy is how humans make more humans… without which we’d have significantly less laborers and employees… Pregnancy is essential for the human race to continue, so stop treating it like an inconvenience. Not even woman needs to get pregnant, but unless you want the world to halt, women need to be able to get pregnant, produce more people, and have the support they need. Otherwise, no one will be producing, which causes other problems in an of themselves. It amazes me how people can be so blind to that fact, and treat it like it’s this huge inconvenience, when in fact, it is necessary for our survival.

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