Should You Leave Your Job While Pregnant?

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my friends is interviewing for a new job.  She is extremely unhappy in her current situation due to new management and I can’t blame her for wanting to leave.  She has interviewed with several companies and she has received a job offer.  She feels genuine excitement about the possibility of leaving her current toxic situation and joining a company where she can grow as a professional and move ahead in her career.  It seems like a no-brainer to take the job, but she has a major reservation that prevents her from accepting this new job offer. She is in her thirties, so she plans on starting her family in the very near future.

It’s frustrating that women who decide that they want to have children become trapped in awful work situations. On one hand, if you aren’t pregnant yet and you don’t know how long it will take to get pregnant, it seems unreasonable to stay in a terrible job.  On the other hand, if you get pregnant while job searching or just starting at a new position, you will risk upsetting your new employer because you will soon have to take maternity leave. So do you stay in a stressful situation that causes emotional turmoil, which can negatively affect your pregnancy, or do you change jobs and have to deal with the repercussions caused by your pregnancy and the impending maternity leave?  Here are some things that you need to consider before deciding to leave your current situation:

Can You Handle the Demands of Job Hunting?  Searching for a new position, crafting individualized resumes and cover letters, setting up and attending multiple interviews, and writing thank you letters takes a lot of time and energy when you are already working full-time.  You need to be sure that you can juggle your current work obligations, while also taking on the additional burden of job hunting and taking time off to attend interviews.  If you are pregnant, you will also have to consider the amount of time that you will need to take off to attend doctor’s appointments and whether you have the energy to handle searching for a new job.  You may decide that the time and effort it takes to find a job at this juncture in your life aren’t worth it.  On the other hand, if your work situation is unhealthy for you to the point that it could harm your pregnancy, then maybe it is time to leave.

Medical Insurance Becomes More Important Than Ever.  If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, obviously health care is essential.  It continues to be important once the baby is born.  If you currently receive health benefits from your employer, that is an important consideration because insurance is one less thing you need to worry about during your pregnancy.  Under the Affordable Care Act, health plans can no longer deny you coverage or hike up rates just because you are pregnant.  Medical insurance is expensive and if you receive benefits through your employer, this might be a strong consideration for you to stay in your current position. If you are contemplating becoming pregnant in the near future, make sure that you have insurance. If you are pregnant and thinking about a job change, consider that you might have to go a few months without insurance.  You also want to ensure that your new plan covers pregnancy.

What About Maternity Leave?  Sadly, the U.S. is one of the most backwards nations in the world when it comes to maternity leave benefits.  The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns.  Of the 178 countries throughout the world, the United States, Papau New Guinea, and Swaziland are the only three countries that do not guarantee paid leave to new moms. 12% of private sector employers offer paid maternity leave.  If you are one of the lucky few to be in a position with paid leave, you might want to take that valuable benefit into account when considering whether you want to leave your job just yet.  If you are looking at a new job that offers paid maternity leave, you may not be eligible for that benefit right away.

Does the Family Medical and Leave Act Apply? The Family Medical Leave Act  (FMLA), provides unpaid medical leave for up to 12 weeks after the birth of your child.  Your employer must hold your job for you, while you are on FMLA leave.  However, the FMLA only applies if you have worked for an employer with at least fifty employees for a year or more.  So if you are looking at smaller employers, you will not get the benefit of the FMLA.  Also, if you are pregnant when you start your new job, even if your new employer has more than fifty employees, the FMLA won’t apply to you.  Also, an employer is not required under federal law to provide pregnancy-related leave to their employees; however, an employer cannot discriminate against you just because you are pregnant. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, your employer can’t fire you just because you are pregnant.  If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to childbirth, her employer must treat her the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee.  If you currently are covered under the FMLA, you might want to think long and hard about whether you should leave for another job where you won’t be covered. If paid maternity leave or FMLA coverage does not apply, you could have to use a combination of unpaid or paid time off, or short-term disability benefits.

Even though some progress has been made, it is still a tough and unfair world out there for working women. It’s a shame that a woman’s choice to pursue both a career and a family continues to be fraught with challenges because there is very little support for pregnant and working mamas. Make sure you get all the information that you can before making your decision to change jobs when pregnant or planning on soon becoming pregnant, carefully weigh your options, and factor the pros and cons of staying in your current situation. Only you can decide what is best for you and your growing family.

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8 thoughts on “Should You Leave Your Job While Pregnant?

  1. Maternity leave in our country is so pitiful too! It’s only 60 days unpaid leave for normal deliveries and 75 (if I remember correctly) for CS. It is a good thing though that our social services provide maternity benefits and we also have benefits from the health department to cover some of the costs.

    • When I researched for this post, I was really surprised by the U.S statistics. It’s kind of depressing. Our mothers and newborns deserve better than this.

  2. Great post. I was a payed intern for one year prior to having my first child. I signed a contract for a full-time position with the same organization a month before my daughter was born. I assumed that year would count toward FMLA. Sixteen days after my daughter’s birth, I got a call saying I could either come to work, or lose my job. Apparently, my internship position was considered “temporary.” and FMLA did not apply. So, I hobbled into work 17 days post-partum. What an awful experience. The worst part- I worked for a public school system. This country has a long way to go in terms of family friendliness and working mothers.

    • Kristi:

      What your employer did to you is absolutely shameful. I don’t know what I would have done in your situation. I went back to work after ninety days and I was an exhausted zombie. I cannot imagine what it would be like to go back sixteen days post-partum. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.

  3. I had a similar situation and ended up taking the new job. It was horrible and awful, and I’d do it all over again. I had a goodbig job, and they were going through a merger. I didn’t want to risk it and as luck had it, I’d been recruited by a new company. I knew I’d be trying to get pregnant, but decided to go for it. I waited until I was six months (I wasn’t showing really, I just looked fat) pregnant to tell my boss, and his words were “IF I’d have wanted to deal with this sh!T, I’d have hired somebody younger than you. 40 year olds are not supposed to be starting families!!!” Anyway, I got a big fat bonus from that remark as people heard him, and stayed at home with my son for three years, and now work part time.
    My advice is ALWAYS do what’s best for the family – money, and work, will come and go. Kids are more important, and even the poorest children have happy childhoods, usually, if there’s love.

    • Wow! I am speechless. These situations are mind boggling. I wish there was more support for working mamas. My struggle was with pumping at work. It was a total fiasco.

  4. Interesting note: If you have a baby before your one-year anniversary with your employer, but your employer holds your job and you are technically still employed there (even if unpaid) as of your one-year date, you can still take FMLA. You might be required to give a 30-day notice from the one year anniversary date and muddle through for a month, but at least you can take it. AND you can take the full 12 (or in some states, 16) weeks of leave (albeit unpaid unless you have accrued vacation to use) from the date of your 1st anniversary. It still sucks, but this was what I ended up doing.

    I had a baby 6 weeks before my one-year anniversary with my employer. My employer gave me 6 weeks of unpaid leave (and acted like I should be grateful), which happened to coincide with my first anniversary. I dragged myself in that day, still bleeding, leaking milk, and hormonally raging, delivered a memo stating my intent to take an additional 10 weeks of unpaid leave starting the next day, and left at the end of the workday. If they’d fired me, I would have gone to the D.C. Department of Human Rights to file a complaint, and they knew this, so I guess it was more trouble than it was worth to fight me. Also, I was a kickass employee, and it would have taken them much more than 10 weeks to recruit, hire, and train a replacement employee, much less get that person up to speed enough to do my job as well as I had been doing it. Granted, my then-husband made a lot of money, so I didn’t actually need the job – now that I’m a single mom, I would not recommend being quite so ballsy. I just think it sucks that U.S. policies on working moms are so screwed up, and that so many employers will only do the bare minimum of what the law requires, even when it’s not in their best interest to do so (i.e., would lose them a good employee who wants to return).

    • Thank you so much for sharing. It is appalling to me how we treat new moms who want or need to return to work. I am glad everything worked out for you, and you were able to get time off to let your body heal and spend time with your baby. Quite frankly, I don’t feel like the 12 weeks under the FMLA is sufficient, but that is what we have to work with so 12 weeks it is.

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