(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,
I have been employed for just over a year at a very small company. There are about 15 employees in total and the turnover rate is quite high. There are very few females and many people do not last in the company due to several reasons such as, poor management, no room to grow, or the employees are simply fired due to "performance" reasons.
Over the past year, my manager has asked me several times when I plan to get pregnant. From my understanding this is a completely inappropriate question to ask any employee whether or not they are at that "childbearing" age. I have never directly answered that question because I believe it is none of their business as to when and if I plan to have a child. There is no HR person for me to raise my concern to and my manager is the highest ranking employee who oversees the day-to-day operations of the company. I also should add that my manager and owner of the company have a fairly close relationship.
I feel as though they are trying to scope out how long I plan to be there and how soon they should push me out (i.e. lay off or fire). I'm not sure how to handle the constant questioning and part of me wonders if this is a safe place of employment to be pregnant in. I'm also terrified that if I do become pregnant and when I tell them they would find a reason to let me go before I would go on maternity leave.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
I don't know why people seem to think your family planning is their business. Oh, I know! Your boss just wants to be able to plan, and babies, while wonderful and all, cause a bit of havoc in the office. Now, the question is, does he ask this question because he's terminally nosy or because he plans to illegally discriminate against you if you do get pregnant?
For the terminally nosy out there, there are two reasons women are not pregnant: They don't want to be or they do want to be and are having fertility issues. Which one of those reasons is any of your business? Unless you're her spouse or physician, the answer is neither. So stop asking. (Random story, 3 months after getting married, we bought a house. Shortly after closing on the house, our real estate agent called my husband at work and said, "My wife and I have been talking about it and we think it's time for you to have a baby. Are you doing everything you need to to have a baby?" Icky.)
If your boss just wants to know because he wants to know when everyone is going to have a baby, it's time to channel your inner Miss Manners: "It's not anything I'm thinking about doing tonight." Repeat as needed. The perpetually nosy are also perpetually clueless. And while the question can lead to illegal behavior (more about that below) asking isn't, per se, illegal. If your relationship with him is otherwise good, this may be the way to go.
However, I suspect that as the manager of a business with high turnover, and you as a woman of childbearing age, he's asking out of concern for the business, because he wants to make decisions based on your reproductive plans. While there is some logic to that (women who get pregnant eventually produce babies and that requires time off from work), it's also illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of pregnancy.
And what does that mean? Well, since the business only has 15 employees, you're not eligible for the standard 12 weeks required by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But, he is required to treat pregnancy like every other disability. So, if he doesn't fire someone for an emergency appendectomy, he can't fire you for taking time off for childbirth caused disability. But, he doesn't have to grant you extra "bonding" time, which is what FMLA does. He cannot fire you, demote you, or transfer you to less desirable position because of the pregnancy. Which means that he's treading on very thin ice. In fact, if you were fired while pregnant, even if it were for a very legitimate reason, all of these probing questions would make it difficult for him to prove that the pregnancy didn't play a role in his decision. So, make sure you document every question.
He probably doesn't have a clue that considering pregnancy is illegal, and so you should inform him. Next time he asks, say, "John, you've asked me this questions at least 5 times. Just why do you want to know? Are you aware that you cannot consider pregnancy when deciding how to treat me or any other employee?" If he's a jerk, he'll get all defensive. If he's just nosy, he'll probably apologize.
If this does not solve the problem, you do need to escalate it. Even though he's best buds with the owner, you need to make the owner aware. Often, in employment law, you have to report the problem officially for it to matter legally. So, you can tell the owner, "John keeps asking me when I'm planning to have a baby. As you know, it's illegal to consider pregnancy in employment matters. Please tell John to stop."
Now, unless you are sure that this guy is just nosy, and you are okay with nosy, I'd start looking for a new job anyway. Working with someone like that isn't worth it. If you are planning to have a baby, keep in mind that for FMLA protection, you need to be at a company with 50 or more employees in the area, and have worked their a full year before you take any time off related to the baby. Just some friendly advice from your Evil HR Lady.
Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.