If you want to make the already stressful job hunting experience even more nerve-wracking, add a six-to-10 pound bump to your torso that you have to somehow keep under wraps. Throw in some nausea, sprinkle on a few totally legitimate fears about bias, and set it all against the backdrop of a country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave.
Welcome to job searching while pregnant!
Jill Provost, a Los Angeles-based editor, sent out applications during her first trimester, but thanks to a lengthy hiring process, her bump had emerged in full force by the time she was invited to meet her prospective employer.
“The most stressful part was figuring out what to wear,” she recalls. “I needed something that would look stylish enough for a beauty website, but still hid the fact that I was pregnant.”
During the interview she remembers being careful not to draw attention to her belly with her body language. After landing an offer, she came clean about her mom-to-be status: “In my mind, they couldn’t rescind the offer, but obviously I was taking a risk. I also felt like an a-hole not telling them.”
Even if you’ve picked out the perfect pair of belly-masking pants, there are plenty of tricky issues to navigate. So, we’ve consulted experts to answer your most pressing questions about job-searching while pregnant:
- At What Point Should I Reveal That I’m Pregnant?
- How Late Into Pregnancy Can I Start Searching?
- Am I Eligible for Maternity Leave?
- What’s the Best Way to Ask About the Company’s Maternity Leave Policy?
- What Are Some Red Flags That Might Mean I’m Being Discriminated Against?
Question 1 At What Point Should I Reveal That I’m Pregnant?
Technically, you could be crowning during your interview and wouldn’t have to disclose your bun-in-the-oven (though it’s hard to imagine that’d be good for anyone involved).
“I think people are surprised that there’s no law about when to tell someone whether you’re pregnant,” says Rosa Aliberti, associate attorney at Burke-Weiss in New York City and founder of the firm’s Pregnancy Project. “And that goes for employee or applicant. It’s a really personal decision.”
Many women may not be comfortable disclosing during their first trimester because unfortunately, there’s still a substantial risk of pregnancy loss at that point. And strategically, if you’re not showing, you may not want to reveal anything until you have an offer, according to Aliberti.
“If they make you an offer and rescind it after finding out you’re pregnant, there would be questions about whether the conduct is discriminatory,” she says. (Post-offer, it can actually be harder to make a case if you haven’t told them outright.)
If you already look like you’re smuggling a basketball under your shirt, it’s probably best to ‘fess up, according to Lisa Durante, a career consultant and strategist for working mothers. “If the recruiter sees the bump, they’re going to make assumptions,” and you could fall prey to someone’s biases. By speaking up, you may give yourself a chance to actively counter those.
If you’re planning on bringing up your pregnancy during an interview, Durante recommends starting with a general statement, sharing your news “in direct and plain English,” and then saving any other details or plans for a later discussion. She suggests trying something like:
Thank you for this opportunity, I do want to share some personal news. I’m pregnant and my expected delivery date will be in [insert your month].
Still on the fence about whether or not to come clean?
“Read the room to understand the company’s culture toward families,” Durante recommends. While you’re interviewing, look around the office. Do employees have laptops they can use to telecommute when their kid is sick? Are family photos displayed on desks?
“This could indicate a more open environment,” she says.
When Durante found herself interviewing while pregnant, she ultimately decided to disclose around the three-month mark, “even though I was a few weeks shy of when I would have preferred to have done so,” she says. “I wanted to be very open and honest.”
Her research gave her the sense the company would be supportive. “It was a gamble, but I had weighed the risks carefully,” she says. “I was already working, so while this job would be a step forward I was willing to forfeit it if they wouldn’t support me during my pregnancy. Because if my pregnancy would be an issue, how could I expect them to support me as a new parent?”
In other words, your decision might also depend on how urgently you need a new job.
Question 2 How Late Into Pregnancy Can I Start Searching?
Legally speaking, there’s nothing holding you back from beginning your search well into pregnancy, so again, it comes down to personal preference and circumstances. You might not have control over the situation if you’re job searching after an unforeseen layoff or pursuing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But if you could pick the ideal time to start a new job during pregnancy, Durante recommends the second trimester: “By that point most of us are glowing and over morning sickness. You have the energy and the time. Most of us are in our best form.”
Plus, beginning a job earlier into pregnancy gives you more time to learn the ropes before you go on leave. Provost remembers how surprisingly difficult it was to work only a few months before going on leave: “When I came back, I had to learn everything all over again. The onboarding process took much longer.”
If you’re launching your job hunt later, you’ll need to consider whether you’ll still be able to complete the essential functions of the job once you start.
“You can’t be discriminated against for being pregnant, but if you can’t perform essential functions, the company may have the right to let you go,” Aliberti says.
However, it’s worth noting that you may be entitled to what are called “reasonable accommodations” as a pregnant employee. So, for example, if an essential part of your job is flying to meet with out-of-town clients, your company might accommodate you by allowing you to do Skype appointments during the weeks you can’t fly. But if you fail to perform essential functions of your job with accommodation, you could find yourself on the chopping block.
For instance, if an essential function of your job is to fly a plane because you’re a pilot, and you’re not able to do that at some point in your pregnancy, you might not be able to do an essential part of your job.
“In that case, the question of reasonable accommodation for you becomes more challenging,” Aliberti adds.
Question 3 Am I Eligible for Maternity Leave?
This is a big “it depends.” Because the US is the only industrialized nation without a paid family leave law (yes, you read that right!), you’re at the mercy of your company’s policy and state’s benefits.
You should also be aware that to be covered by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave, you must have been with the company for at least 12 months. For those of you calculating along at home, yes, that means that if you start your job search while pregnant, you will not be eligible. (And if your company employs fewer than 50 people, you won’t be covered regardless of how much time you’ve put in.)
The FMLA requires employers to give you your original job (or one that’s equivalent) when you return from your leave. It also requires employers to provide continuous health insurance coverage while you’re out. In other words, without FMLA or other options from your company or state, you might be footing the bill for your entire insurance premiums during the weeks you’re on leave (including the part your employer normally pays).
If you don’t qualify for FMLA, you might be able to take advantage of long- or short-term disability or medical leave offered by your state. Another option: If your partner is eligible for FMLA, he or she can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off to care for your little one.
Question 4 What’s the Best Way to Ask About the Company’s Maternity Leave Policy?
Want to keep your pregnancy on the down-low? Then you probably don’t want to pepper your recruiter or future boss with questions about the company’s leave policy—at least not right away.
“If you come out of the gate with those questions, it might turn off the hiring manager,” Durante advises. “If it seems like things are going well, have a conversation about benefits. Keep it general. I’d start with ‘What are the benefits for families?’ or ‘How do you support families?’”
Aliberti acknowledges that it’s not uncommon for applicants to be curious about benefits, especially at a time when companies are using generous parental leave packages to attract talent. “I don’t think it’s unusual to ask in general, but strategically, wait until they’ve made the offer to ask about the nitty-gritty details,” she says.
Question 5 What Are Some Red Flags That Might Mean I’m Being Discriminated Against?
Though pregnancy discrimination seems like something that should’ve gone out of style with shoulder pads and secretarial pools, it still happens. In fact, nearly 31,000 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed between the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years, according to National Partnership for Women and Families data.
There aren’t one-size-fits-all rules in place—laws depend on specifics, such as your location, your employer’s location, and company size—but there are a few universal no-nos, Aliberti says. Whether you’re pregnant or not, you should never be asked questions about your family or plans to start a family in an interview.
“Even if it sounds like small talk, it’s not allowed,” Aliberti cautions.
She also warns of discrimination that sounds like someone’s being nice. An employer can’t decide that a job is wrong for you because they think you should stay off your feet, for example.
“You get to decide what you can or can’t do,” Aliberti says.
If the conversation starts going to inappropriate places, be prepared to pivot back to more relevant topics. Durante suggests having a few canned statements up your sleeve:
- If you’re asked about your maternity leave plans: “I’d need to better understand my options before making decisions, but what I do know now is…”
- If you’re asked about having more kids: “None of us can predict the future, but what I want you to know today is…”
- If your commitment to your career is questioned: “My role as a mother is very important to me as is my ability to provide for my family…”
- If things are getting off the rails: “To circle back to your previous question about…”
As a pregnant job searcher, you’re at a potentially overwhelming point in your personal and professional life all at the same time. Ultimately, you’re your own best advocate as a pregnant woman.
“Our firm tells people to educate themselves so they can advocate for themselves,” Aliberti says. And then maybe treat yourself to a pair of pants that actually fit.