Do I have to tell potential employers that I am pregnant?

Question:

I was recently laid off from my job, and I've been searching for a new one. Last week, I learned that I'm pregnant. I'm only six or seven weeks along, so I'm not planning on sharing the news with potential employers just yet. But is there some point during the hiring process where I'm legally obligated to reveal that I'm pregnant?

Answer:

You have no legal duty to tell potential employers that you're pregnant. If you want, you can waltz into the interview room a month away from your due date and not say a word about it. Of course, that might not be the most effective strategy for getting the job or for succeeding once you're in it.

Legally speaking, employers may not discriminate against job applicants due to pregnancy. For example, a potential employer cannot refuse to hire you or take you out of the running because you are pregnant.

That being said, going through the application process while pregnant can be tricky. If you managed to get a group of hiring managers to speak candidly, it's likely that many would prefer not to hire someone who is pregnant. After all, a pregnant employee will probably need at least some time off work for medical appointment, childbirth, and parental leave once the baby is born. Compared to an applicant who has no such obvious need for time off work, hiring a pregnant applicant might not look like the best business decision.

This tension between what the law requires and what a prospective employer may be looking for can create problems for pregnant job hunters. Practically speaking, it's very hard to prove discrimination in the hiring process. This is because potential employers aren't required to tell applicants why they weren't hired (or who was hired instead). Besides, you are likely much more interested in getting a job than building up a lawsuit against a potential employer.

Most pregnant job hunters (and most pregnant women, for that matter) keep their pregnancies to themselves until they've completed at least the first trimester. After you pass that milestone, whether or not you tell prospective employers about your pregnancy is a personal decision. Keep a few things in mind, however:

  • If you are obviously pregnant, failing to bring it up in an interview could work against you. The potential employer might be quite open to hiring you, based on your skills and experience, but he or she may be less than impressed with your lack of candor.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, discussing your plans for the pregnancy and beyond could be an advantage in the hiring process. For example, you might say, "as you can probably tell, I'm due to have a baby in a few months. This will be my third child, and we already have child care established. I hope to complete my training period with you and start in on my projects, then hit the ground running when I come back from my parental leave. I'm really excited about this position, and I'm committed to making this work."
  • If you're confronted with obvious bias about your pregnancy, consider speaking up. For example, suppose that after you reveal your pregnancy, an interviewer says, "hiring pregnant women never works out, because no one wants to return to work after having a baby." This gives you an opportunity to assert your rights by politely disagreeing with the statement, explaining why the statement is incorrect (for example, "I returned to work after having my first child, and I fully plan to return to work after having the second. My family needs my income, and I'm very dedicated to my career"), and reminding the interviewer of the company's obligation to consider pregnant applicants in the same manner as other applicants. You might not get the job, but at least you'll have given the hiring manager something to think about (and you may have a legal claim against the company if you were turned down for someone with less experience or fewer qualifications than you).

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