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“Boss, I’m pregnant!”

FitPregnancy, August/September 2008

Planning your maternity leave? Here are 10 ways to protect your rights at

work, before and after your baby’s birth.

FAMILY PHYSICIAN Nicolle Overstreet, D.O., was fired on Oct. 10, 2007, nine

days after she told the owner of the medical practice that she was pregnant. “I

was stunned,” says Overstreet. She knew her boss’s claim that he could no longer

afford her didn’t add up, so she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal

Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where pregnancy

discrimination cases have reached a record high.

While Overstreet’s scenario may seem unthinkable, “what employers will do

when they anticipate a hit to the bottom line is incredible,” says New York

women’s rights attorney Jack Tuckner. To maximize your legal rights,

follow these 10 pieces of advice.

1. Know the federal laws: As part of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of

1975, pregnancy-or- childbirth- related leave must be covered by short-term

disability insurance if your company has such a plan. Women generally receive

partial pay; how long they receive it depends on the state and insurance policy.

The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees employees of

companies with 50 or more workers upto 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a

newborn. However, you must have been employed at the company during the

previous 12 months and worked at least 1,250hours during that time. You also

must give your employer written notice at least 30 days before your leave. You

may use any accrued vacation time, sick days and/or disability insurance

available to fund part of your leave.

2. Research state policies: Depending on where you live, you may be legally

entitled to longer unpaid leave and/or paid lave. However, “don’t depend on

your employer’s human resources departjent to be up-to-date,” says Tuckner.

Your state’s department of labor is a better source. For a general overview, visit

nationalpartnership.org and click on “Our Work,” then on “Family and Medical

Leave.”

3. Tell your boss first: Your cubicle-mate may be your best friend, but don’t

tell her you’re pregnant until you’ve alerted the higher-ups. “it’s a sign of

respect,” Tucker says. “plus it protects you in case your boss hears through the

grapevine and states to discriminate against you before you think he even

knows.”

4. Don’t apologize: Don’t let your employer rib you of the joy of being

pregnant, advises Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, National Association of

Working Women and author of Taking on the Big Boys or why feminism Is

Good for families, Business and the Nation (Feminist Press). “Be happy and

prepared,” she says. “Discuss arrangements to help cover your workload while

you’re gone, and let your boss know when you intent to return.”

5. Confirm in writing: After you tell your boss the good news, follow up the

same day with an email or memo outlining what you discussed and any next

steps. Be sure to “cc” your human resources contact and inquire about

paperwork you’d like to get rolling. A paper trail is crucial in case you need to

file pregnancy-discrimination complaint later on.

6. Voice your concerns: If you notice you’re being treated differently now

that you’re pregnant, speak up. “People often let things go because they’re

afraid to make trouble,” Bravo says. “You don’t always win if you stad up for

yourself, but you never win if you don’t.”

Unlike Overstreet, most workers who file discrimination complaints aren’t fired.

Rather, they’re taken off assignments, excluded from meetings and given the

cold shoulder- all illegal. “if you’re on your way up and that momentum is

halted once you reveal you’re pregnant, your rights are being violated,” Bravo

says. Share your frustration with your boss, your boss’s boss and human

resources.

7. Call for help: Not sure what paperwork you need to fill out or whether your

company is acting appropriately? For free advice, call 9to5’s Job Survival

Hotline at 800-522-0925 or email a  trained staffer at hotline@9to5.org

8. Ask dad to take time off: New dads are also protected under the FMLA,

although fewer fathers than mothers take advantage of it. “The practice will

become mre culturally acceptable only if more men request parental leave,”

Bravo says.

9. Leave contact info: Make sure you’re reachable in case you’re urgently

needed. “It’s not a great idea to say , ‘Don’t call me, ever!’” Tuckner says, “But

companies also need to act reasonably, and its not reasonable to be dealing with

work issues every day while you’re on leave.”

10. Ease back in: “You’re not weal if you need to come back and work 10 to 4

for a few months,” says Bravo. Or perhaps you’d like to return to a four-day

workweek or a job-sharing situation. “Knowing your value, and work with your

manager to find solution that fits both your needs,” she says. For more

information on flexible work arrangements, visit workoptions.com