Q: I’m newly pregnant, and I understand not to tell work until later, but I’m afraid to tell them at all. I need this job and every hour of work. Almost all my friends tell horror stories of what happened to them. Even my mother said to wait as long as possible to let anyone know because being pregnant at work is always an issue. Will the new law really make a difference for me?
A: Congratulations! Sadly, many women have had challenging experiences at work over the years while they were pregnant. That shared negative experience gathered energy to enact a new Massachusetts law—the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act, which goes into effect April 1, 2018. According to Attorney Rebecca Pontikes, who participated in drafting the law, this law requires employers to provide pregnant workers or job applicants with reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy that do not present undue hardships for the employer.
Pontikes explains that providing a reasonable accommodation means, “The employer has to make changes to job duties or make exceptions to policies as long as doing so won’t be an undue hardship.” For example, the law would not consider it a hardship for employers to temporarily reassign duties, such as lifting heavy boxes, or allowing a cashier, for example, to sit on a stool instead of standing for eight hours.
Many women in senior-level roles will tell you of the difficulty they have had at work during pregnancy. Unwanted comments about appropriate business attire or shoes for pregnancy or comments about wasting work hours in the bathroom led many women to leave corporate environments. Fear of revealing a pregnancy in the hiring process also had merit. Women were known to lose offers once that news became public. But Pontikes assures that the new law protects women from pregnancy-related work discrimination.
Your news is exciting to you and your immediate family. As a whole, employers still look at pregnancy as an inconvenience for them, and I would keep your news to yourself for as long as you can. When you do go public, make every effort to put together a plan for the time you’ll be out. Work with your manager and HR to support whoever will be taking over your responsibilities and be clear about your plans to return to work.
Hopefully employers will look at the spirit of the law and recognize the talent pool that is pregnant women and working mothers. Look for internal support and let everyone know how much you value your job. Make sure not to jeopardize your health and don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations as needed. Many colleagues are happy to be supportive.
The goal of this law is to ensure women no longer have to worry about losing their jobs or having their hours reduced as the result of ensuring a healthy pregnancy—and hopefully hesitating to tell employers about a pregnancy will be a thing of the past in Massachusetts.