Expecting a Baby and Looking for Work

By Lily Garcia
Sunday, November 2, 2008; Page K01

Q Columbia: I switched jobs less than three months ago, and I already know this place isn't a good fit. I want to find another company that is more flexible and closer to home, but I'm three months pregnant. I'm afraid some potential employer will think badly of me for leaving after only three months, not to mention that I'll need to have maternity leave about seven months into the job. Should I grit my teeth and stay at this job for a year? What are my chances of finding a new employer that would overlook all the factors I mentioned if I look now?

Lake Ridge: I have been searching for a job for a while now. At the beginning of my search, my husband and I found out we were expecting our second child. I decided that if I got an interview, I would be upfront and disclose my pregnancy. Some were okay with it and interviewed me anyway; others were not, and I did not get an interview. I have been on a dozen or more interviews, and twice I have been called back for a second interview, then been turned down. Why can't I land a job, and why would I be asked to come in for a second interview when they are not going to hire me?

AUnder the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to interview or hire you because you are pregnant. And, although pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, pregnancy-related complications are.

So, for example, if you volunteer during the application process that you are suffering from preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, it would be illegal under the ADA for an employer to make a hiring decision on that basis. The employer would need to provide you with a reasonable accommodation of your condition during the application process and after hire. If, however, you cannot perform the requirements of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, then you are not "qualified," and an employer may decline to hire you without violating the ADA.

I would not assume that any employer that does not want to hire you is basing the decision on your pregnancy. Nevertheless, it would be naive to think that the decision is bias-free. A prospective employer evaluating a set of candidates will try to envision how each person would perform in the available job. How would he or she meet the challenges of the position? What strengths would he or she bring to ongoing projects?

Despite an employer's most earnest efforts to leave pregnancy out of it, it would be hard for the obvious need for maternity leave to not enter into an analysis.

That does not mean that needing maternity leave should or will take you out of the running for jobs. In my experience, employers do their best to leave extraneous factors such as pregnancy out of hiring decisions not just for legal and moral reasons, but chiefly because it makes good business sense. They struggle to find competent, loyal employees, and they understand that you must be accommodating to secure the best talent.

Most pregnant women do not obviously look the part until their fifth or sixth month. So, if they wanted to, they would be able to conceal their pregnancy from interviewers for quite some time.

Unless your pregnancy would interfere with your ability to fulfill basic requirements of the job for which you are applying (like frequent air travel, for example), I would not make a habit of disclosing it. It might assuage your guilt about not revealing your pregnancy if you think of it as just another piece of personal information that has nothing to do with your qualifications for the job.

Then again, you might not be happy working for an employer that would rule you out based upon pregnancy. This could be an indication of general unfriendliness toward people with family obligations.

If you believe you have been excluded from consideration for a job because you are pregnant, contact your Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office.

If you are pregnant and miserable in your job, what have you got to lose by looking for other opportunities? In the worst case, you are unable to secure a new job before delivery and you resume your job search later. In the best case, you start a new job that makes you, and your baby, happier.

You will need to be prepared to explain why you are leaving your job so soon, and you should do so without disparaging your current employer or portraying yourself as a malcontent.

You also need to make sure that you ask prospective employers whether they have a maternity leave policy and when it becomes effective. Ask, as well, about the terms of their short-term disability policy. If you switch jobs now, you will not have been employed long enough before the birth to qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act leave, nor will you have accrued much sick leave or vacation.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies for more than 10 years. A weekly version of her column and a twice-monthly online chat appear at www.washingtonpost.com/jobs. E-mail questions to HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. Join her next online chat at 11 a.m. Nov. 11.

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