I’m pregnant and looking for a job — how do I deal with pregnancy discrimination?

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By: Joelle Inge-MesserschmidtCC BY 2.0
My husband and I had been trying to conceive for several months, and in a burst of the kind of irony that seems to fill my life, succeeded exactly on the night before I lost my job.

I live in an area with a low unemployment rate and so I am not too worried in a broad, general sense about being able to find a new job. But the timing couldn’t be worse. By the time hiring and interviewing pick up again in January, I will be starting to show, so any potential employer will be well aware of the pregnancy.

We really need to continue to be a two-income family, especially with the costs of a new family member thrown in. How can I convince interviewers that I’m worth the risk even though I’ll need 12 weeks off in the first year they have me on board? And how can I try to deal with pregnancy discrimination as I encounter it in the hiring process? — Kate

Comments on I’m pregnant and looking for a job — how do I deal with pregnancy discrimination?

  1. I think honesty is the best way for you to handle your end of things and as for the people who don’t want to hire you because of a baby, well, you can’t really do a whole lot about them. I’d say just be polite and then head on your way.
    I’m actually not sure I would handle these interviews any different than others you have had. Just be your most charming self and smile a lot! Pregnant women get jobs all the time and it sounds like you’ll have several months to work and get used to their system before you need time off for maternity leave. Remember, there are lots of hiring managers who are also parents. It might not be an uphill battle the whole way. Best of luck!

    • I… kind of disagree. It sounds terrible, but I don’t think honesty is the best policy here. If it were me, I’d dress to hide the bump and not say a word about being pregnant, until after I got a job offer. They legally can’t ask, and you’ll be a good worker regardless, right?

  2. Honestly, discrimination is tough to prove when you’re already hired and working. In the hiring context, its super-hard (because an employer is not really obligated to hire you to begin with).

    Basically, there really isn’y anything YOU can do to prevent discrimination. Its not really your job to! Once you’re been turned down for a job, you do have the option to contact the employer to ask why you were not selected – but, of course, no employer will admit up front that they don’t want to hire a pregnant woman. They’ll say “we found somebody better.” If at that point you still truly believe that you were discriminated against for pregnancy-related reasons, you would need to take your grievance to either the EEOC or your state labor and employment rights agency (of course, I’m assuming you live in the US, so this might not apply).

    Once you actually alleged pregnancy-related discrimination, the burden is on you to prove it. Basically, you’d need to prove that you were the best candidate for the job and that the pregnancy was the only (or major) reason you were denied it. This is a really high burden to meet, even in civil court. Most pregnancy-discrimination cases that are successful are brought by women who are already employed (and even those don’t suceed all the time).

    I’m not trying to scare you or discourage you at all – by all means, you should go and interview. Many employers are progressive and are willing to work with you, especially if they like your qualifications and really want you. However, proving discrimination is hard in the best of cases. In cases of refusal to hire, its harder, because an employer can always say they picked a more qualified candidate (and let’s face it, in the current economy, there is no shortage of them). If you really do think you’ve been discriminated against, you can make a good faith effort with the EEOC, which might mediate the case (and you don’t need an attorney).

  3. I think going into an interview knowing in your heart that you are the best damn candidate that is going to walk into that room and not letting pregnancy get interfere with your ability to do an awesome job. I was hired the day after I found out I was pregnant and I was honest when she called to offer me the position, asking the hard question about whether the climate really supported working moms. And one of my really good friends JUST got hired at 6 months pregnant at a place that gives full maternity leave starting day one! I also think that if it’s a place that doesn’t hire you because you’re pregnant might also not be a great place to work after your child is born…will they be open to you taking a day for your kiddo to go to the doctor or if something happens at daycare?

    Good luck on your job search!

  4. the last job i had, i applied for, and was asked in for an interview. but by the time i was brought in for training and hiring, i was pregnant. so all the questions about lifting climbing on ladders and standing long periods of time, on the application, no longer had the same answers. i can clearly remember the dissapointment on the ladies face as she asked all the questions and said ” your pregnant arent you”. but at that point they couldnt back out because i was hired, and if they fired me it would be glaringly clear as to why. its hard to find a job at all lately, and being a woman, with children, or pregnant, makes it a bit harder. you just gotta go at it like theres nothing any different about you, and discuss the obvious when it comes up.

  5. First off, you are amazing and you should go into your interviews, guns blazing and confident! Any interview you attend, pregnant or not, is an opportunity to keep those skills sharp.
    Second, with the whole “honesty-is-the-best-policy” path, I think you need to know who you are interviewing with. My office right now has 4 ppl in it, including me. If I was pregnant and interviewing here, it would just look weird not to say anything. But, when I was 8 months pregnant, I actually *did* go on an interview with a larger organization. I went in for the interview with a whole speech planned about how “obviously, I may have some personal/family things coming up in the next couple months (pointing to my huge belly), I have a solid back-to-work plan and am very lucky to have family close by who are more than willing to take on child care duties” – however, it was TOTALLY unnecessary for me to make this big speech b/c I swear that even though I didn’t try to hide it at (how could I at 8 months!) the interviewers didn’t even notice that I was pregnant until I said something. I continued with the whole interview and I think it went well but, unfortunately, I was never offered the job. I guess I will never know if it was b/c I was pregnant or if there was a stronger candidate than me but I can definitely say that going on that interview improved my interviewing skills and made me a better choice for my next employer. Besides, now I will always have the story about going to an interview when I was 8 months pregnant!

  6. Ashley’s right about handling discrimination – it’s really, really hard to prove. One thing to be aware of – the 12 weeks of job protected leave under FMLA only applies to you if you’ve already been working there for a year (I think? It’s been awhile since I practiced this area of law.), and a lot of employers have similar policies about how long you have to be employed before you can take maternity leave. So you may not actually be entitled to any maternity leave when it comes time.

    • This is totally an issue. While it can be considered discrimination, in some cases hiring a pregnant person is hard for the company because if you are filling a vital role that they need, they will be spending time training you and then suddenly need to hire someone temporarily and train them to fill your position. Logistically, if they can’t cover that position for your maternity leave, it’s pretty hard on them. I know my university does not do maternity leave for term jobs. So if I got pregnant while in a term job, I would no longer have a job and would not be internal when I went back to looking for one. So you really need to be aware of the maternity leave policy. So some jobs may not hire you because of the policy that they do not give maternity leave until you have been there for a certain time.

      • The challenge is that most companies don’t make that level of benefits clear on their public sites, and for obvious reasons it’s tricky to ask about ahead of time. So it’s yet another horrid black box on the hiring process. Mysteries go in, mysteries come out.

        But thanks.

    • Yes, it is true that you are not legally entitled to FMLA until after one year (a certain number of hours applies, too. Part-time employees do not always qualify). I believe that many companies have their own plan in place for maternity leave that is not covered under FMLA, but it’s entirely up to them, so you’ll have to ask for that information. Some employers may offer you the chance to reapply instead, which is still a decent option in many cases.

    • My advice to the OP would be not to count on getting much leave with a new employer.

      FMLA doesn’t apply to many employers including the small non-profit I work at. They only give up to 8 weeks off. That’s all unpaid leave unless you burn through your sick days and vacation. But you know what? It’s a job.

      It may not be possible to get much leave in general. You’ll get a better sense if the job will work with your situation or not at the interview or at the time of a job offer.

  7. I had a job hunt a few years back while I was pregnant too. Here’s what I did:
    1) I didn’t bring it up at all in the interview. Its not really a question they’re allowed to ask because of the discrimination issue and since I had no idea if I’d even get the job, I didn’t want to give them a reason
    2) Don’t assume you’ll show during an interview. This was on a 3rd pregnancy and I didn’t even show until after 20 weeks. So it was easy to not bring it up. Maternity clothes tend to accentuate a belly so the longer you can get by without them the better.
    3) I informed my employer of my pregnancy when they offered me the job. That way I told them ahead of time and they couldn’t back out if it since it would have been easy to prove discrimination at that point.
    4) Have a solid plan and when you tell an employer you will be back, mean it. I had no choice but to work after my last child was born because we needed the health insurance. So I was able to say that I would return. I think that’s the big reason they are nervous.

    • Point #3 is really helpful, because I have been wondering, if it’s not obvious, when the best time to say something would be. Obviously I don’t want to volunteer it in the interview, and most interviewers will know better than to ask–but I’d feel like a heel, and be treated like an untrustworthy liar, if the first time I said anything was my first day in the hypothetical office.

      Anyway, thanks.

      (Although if my mother and grandmother, from whom I got my incredible short-waistedness, are any indication, I’ll most definitely be showing by 20 weeks, haha.)

      • Not telling EVERYTHING about yourself in an interview is okay and doesn’t make you a liar. I mean, I didn’t tell anyone that I’m a natural blonde when my roots were showing, it was pretty obvious, though :)I know, I know, that trivializes pregnancy, but there were people at my job who didn’t realize I was pregnant until I was almost 9 months along.

        • Ha, yeah, it’s amazing what people don’t notice until it’s been pointed out to them. We had a design firm building my magazine a new website, and at one of our last meetings before I went on mat leave I was stating how important it was that everything get done really soon because I wouldn’t be around after the next few weeks, and the tech guys asked, “Oh, are you going on vacation?”
          My co-worker and I just kind of rolled our eyes, since we’d been meeting with them nearly bi-weekly for a few months.

      • I know that you will feel bad about it, but two things 1. Lots of women who look a little pregnant are just chubby and most people will assume you’re just getting fat until later in your pregnancy (I have the shortest waist and could have hid my pregnancy for a while after I started to show). And 2. As someone in HR, I assure you that the interviewer does NOT want to be told about things they are not allowed to ask about in the interview, it will just make them uncomfortable which makes you less likely to be hired.

        Good luck!

  8. As a person who is more commonly on the interviewing end of job applications, I would advise against mentioning the pregnancy. It always makes me nervous when a potential applicant shares personal information that I’m not allowed, legally, to take into account. Also, as Laurel notes, you might not even be showing too much at the interviews.

    Good luck!

    • I absolutely agree that you should NOT mention it. They can’t take it into account, and they shouldn’t. Telling them feels like baiting them to ask about it. I was on an interview panel where a woman who was about halfway through her pregnancy mentioned that she would be taking time off. After she left, we all agreed that it seemed inappropriate for her to mention it and that if she hadn’t have said anything we wouldn’t have noticed. After all, we never saw her non-pregnant self, so how are we to know she was bigger than usual? We ended up hiring a more qualified candidate anyway, but her admission of pregnancy came across as an awkward gesture, especially since she would have been taking off the part of the school year that involved all the major testing deadlines — and the job was specifically to manage the testing.

      • So like, it kind of seems like you didn’t hire this person because they were pregnant, as they faced a dilemma (handling being pregnant in their interview) that non-pregnant people didn’t and you judged her on that. This shows I think how pregnancy discrimination can be so subtle that you can even be doing it and not notice. Another argument not to mention it if you at all possibly can.

        • We didn’t hire her because she wasn’t as qualified as another candidate — someone else had more experience and more skills that were a better fit in the position, but by mentioning her pregnancy she certainly put us in an awkward situation of having to pretend to ignore something that, in fact, would greatly impact her ability to do the job we needed to hire someone to do. Like I said, she wasn’t our most qualified (or even our second-choice) candidate…unrelated to her pregnancy, but it put us in a bind. We felt like she was going to think that she hadn’t been hired because of her pregnancy, because she had mentioned it, when that wasn’t the case. I would say to not mention it, and if you do feel like you have to, you should only bring it up if you have a strong back-to-work plan and clear strategies for how your leave will have as minimal impact possible (how you will prepare for it, delegate work, remain involved remotely, etc).

      • I’m not in the US, so my situation is different, but here it is not at all uncommon for a potential employer to ask (often in the application form) if you have any leave requirements in the next 12 months.
        Pregnancy would definitely come under that heading, and if you said “no, I dont”, you could be dismissed for lying on your application form.
        Of course, you dont have to say what your leave is for, but it does leave it open for them to ask, and if you have to say “well, in about 18 weeks I’m going to want 2-3 months leave”, unless you are highly in demand, they are unlikely to interview you. Its why I stopped job hunting already.

  9. That is a tough spot to be in! I might be naive in saying this, but I think that pregnancy-related discrimination is fading quickly. I believe that some employers will find it to be an asset, even. It proves that you are a hard worker(many of us know how hard it is to keep working during the challenges of pregnancy) and that you are focused on the future. It obviously depends on who is hiring you.

    I think your biggest challenge will be convincing potential employers that you are indeed planning on coming back after your maternity leave. Some will fear they are wasting time with a possible short-term employee. Keeping the future in your answers and questions will help them to see that you are planning long-term. Bringing up your goals for a year from now, for example, shows commitment, as does asking questions about the company’s long-term plans.

    • I think you would be surprised how much it happens. Many women do not know their rights, and many companies exploit that. The Equal Opportunity Commission just began a new crackdown on companies this year. Chain restaurants and retail stores are infamous for the practice because there is no overhead HR to ensure that Federal law is followed.

  10. I recently got hired on after an internship into an 18-hour a week position despite being almost five months pregnant, and my employers definitely knew. However, for me everything has worked great simply because it’s a small environmental magazine, so my colleagues’ values are a little different than in a corporate firm. I got a four-month contract, and then just a verbal agreement that I would come back after the pregnancy at whatever pace I needed.

    So, you may find that it’ll be more about the attitude of the employer than about convincing them you’re worth it, if they can tell you’re pregnant. If they can’t, and they hire you without knowing, you might just have to work extra hard for the first few months to prove that you’re dedicated enough to come back.

  11. As a recruiter, I have a few thoughts on this, most of which have been covered, but I’ll add my voice to the choirs or quartets.

    First of all, it is a significant investment for an employer to recruit and hire someone, and even more so if they do that and then find themselves short staffed again so soon after. I say that only because I grow weary of hearing about what horrible monsters employers are when many of them are simply trying to keep their businesses moving along. (That said, I know some of them are monsters…not denying that.)

    I think your best approach is to be totally honest, and to assure the that you recognize the hardship your maternity leave will cause them, and be clear that you are open to doing whatever you can to help them negate the hardship to the degree you are able. Let them know how much time you expect to take, whether you are able and willing to flex your schedule to help keep things covered, whether you can telecommute to limit your leave. Let them know you are happy to help them set up SOPs so that a temp can easily come in to help with essential duties – whatever you can to help them feel confident that you are going to invest in the position. It’ll help them feel like you *want* to come back, and will ease some of their fear that you’ll abandon the position because you’d rather be a stay at home mom.

    FMLA does not kick in until you’ve been in a position for 12 months and have worked 1250 hours (something close to full-time). They are under no obligation to accommodate your leave, and if you start your relationship with them off by not being up front about your situation, it won’t endear them to you.

    All of this said, I am very, very aware that I work in a particularly warm and accommodating organization. I truly hope that you find a company to work for that will recognize your worth and will invest in you, and I hope you find that are happy to invest right back in them!

    • I completely agree with this. I was in non-profit management for years and I’m now married to an Entrepreneur. We have a child and I actually lost my job when she was only 5 weeks old because my organization couldn’t handle my maternity leave. The fact is, dealing with pregnant employees can be a hardship. It depends a great deal on the company. You’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you and if you being pregnant doesn’t work for both parties it just isn’t a good fit.

      I recommend being upfront so you can get what you need out of the situation as much as they will.

  12. Not sure if this was said, but what about temp work or a contract position? That way you could still bring in some income and maybe start interviewing for something more permanent after you have the baby. You should also check for telecommuting opportunities if your industry allows it.

    • That’s part of what stinks here, actually. We were tying to conceive for the months previous because I had a remote, work-from-home position and it was the perfect circumstances to be trying: the job gave surprisingly generous maternity leave and pay, and working from home was the perfect arrangement.

      Alas, timing. So now I’m throwing myself at a lot of organizations in the area, some of which will no doubt be more accommodating than others, should any of them ask me in for interviews. (I’m not surprised not to have heard back lately, as December is always a dead zone.)

      I am doing some freelancing right now, and I’ve had a part-time offer in my industry, but we can’t make it a year without me having a full-time income. Still, yes, anything’s better than nothing, and if I go a few months with no nibbles temping will likely be what I have to do.

  13. I can most certainly relate to your situation. When I found out we were expecting our little one, we weren’t living together and I lived and worked outside of the city. When we moved in together within the city, I was around the 6-month mark. I went to look for temporary work through job placement agencies – and this is where I’m thankful that the universe heard me out.
    One of the placement agencies liked me so much as an individual that they hired me on to work in their office – I was welcome to work overtime, leave if I wasn’t feeling up to working, and work until I decided to take my maternity leave. I’m also glad to say that they want me to come back when I’m done my maternity leave.
    If this can happen to me, it can certainly happen to you. Just be the best ‘you’ you can be – confident, hardworking…and don’t be afraid to let that ‘baby radiance’ glow come out!

  14. I would suggest not bringing up the pregnancy specifically, but still addressing the concerns they might have. For instance, they might be concerned about you coming back after maternity leave or about how you’ll deal with work-family balance–talk about your commitment to the job with examples from your past work of how you prioritize your work with other responsibilities.

    You might also consider doing your best to search out a family-friendly company. My organization (a small non-profit) was super supportive during my pregnancy and actually just recently hired a woman who will be taking a full 3 months maternity leave about 6 months after her hire date. Some key ways I guessed that they were family-friendly early on were pictures of family on many people’s desks, a lenient social media policy (lots of overlap between work-life and home-life), and a stated prioritization of high-quality health insurance.

  15. It is illegal for the employer to not hire you just because you are pregnant, so I would wear clothes that hide the pregnancy on the interview and wait until you are hired to spill the beans. That’s what I did, because I lost my job just after learning I was pregnant.

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