Is it illegal to have my baby bump belly touched by coworkers?

By Jack Tuckner, Esq.

Potential client called our office earlier this week to tell us that she’s pregnant, she just returned to in- person work at her company in New York, let’s call her Jane, and that over the last couple of weeks, since she’s been back, her boss, let’s call him Jay, has been asking both privately and publicly, how is little Jay-Jay doing, referring to her unborn child with the intimation, implication, being that he’s the father. Jay thinks it’s funny, Jane doesn’t find it at all humorous, but she’s been laughing long with Jay because he’s her boss and other people seem to find it vaguely amusing. Additionally, her colleagues, probably taking their sign from Jay, have begun asking her all kinds of questions about her pregnancy, that they have no business asking about. Was it planned; will she be having a natural or Cesarean  delivery, etc., and none of these questions are questions that Jane wants to answer.

While there’s no specific federal or New York law that prohibits baby bump touching in the workplace, it’s clearly inappropriate, unacceptable, and illegal, ‘cause it is your body that you have the absolute right to determine who, if anyone, ever gets to touch it, of course, at work particularly, and the comments by her boss regarding the baby’s paternity clearly are illegal. And what type of illegal is it?

Well, it’s sex and pregnancy discrimination, because clearly pregnancy is a sex -based activity and pregnancy, which is of course inseparable from your sex or gender, is protected. And so, any act or statement that in any way makes you uncomfortable, it’s awkward, violates your right to privacy and bodily integrity, is illegal. So, you could of course, simply say if someone is lunging for your baby bump, no, not now, thank you, no, please ask me first. You may make it clear without making, you know, a federal case out of it, that this is not something that you appreciate, and most of the time that should stop it in its tracks.

It may be similar for Jane to say to her boss, you know, I really don’t appreciate it when you refer to my unborn child in that way, and that may put an end to it. One can also tell Human Resources, even at the beginning of your pregnancy, to please make an announcement. As many companies do about, you know, Jane, having a baby we’re thrilled. We wish her a healthy and happy pregnancy and delivery. Here’s some rules and ground rules, as a reminder in this office, when, whether it’s Jane or anyone else who’s pregnant, don’t ask this, don’t ask that. And there’s no touching of her belly, no touching of Jane’s belly or anyone else’s, whether they’re pregnant or not, without explicit permission.

And there’s really no reason to be touching anyone’s baby bump in the workplace.

And if it continues after you’ve made it clear that this is unacceptable to you, it is sex discrimination, verging on sexual harassment, so that you should complain to your company, or at least put these concerns in writing so that your company can then put a stop to it.  And anything that occurs after you’ve told everyone what your boundaries are–and the company has told them–anything after that is on the company, it’s backlash. It may be considered retaliation, and you’re not trying to escalate this, but you are trying to get through your 9 months in peace, without anyone touching you without your full consent and permission.

I’m Jack Tuckner. I’m a women’s rights in the workplace advocate. The firm is Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser. Any questions at all about your own pregnancy, maternity leave, lactation space, what you’re entitled to, etc., please feel free to contact me, call this office, reach out.  We will schedule a time to consult in total confidence, and free of charge to you. Take care.