Reader 1: I am nine weeks pregnant, and morning sickness is at an all-time high. The smell of anything, especially strong-smelling foods, really sets me off. Many of my co-workers cook food in a nearby microwave and eat lunch at their desk, and the smell of their food makes it impossible for me to work comfortably. These co-workers do not know I am pregnant, but I wouldn’t mind if they did. I don’t like attention, so making some kind of office-wide announcement just hasn’t felt right to me. Is it acceptable to send out an email letting them know about the pregnancy and asking them to forgo smelly foods for the next few weeks? If not, how can I handle this?
Karla: My congratulations — and a few warnings: We live in a country with a chief executive who has characterized pregnancy as an “inconvenience for a business” and lawmakers who grouse about men having to pay for maternity care . An astonishing number of readers of this column last year showed zero sympathy for a worker with a potentially
deadly allergy who asked for a peanut-free workspace and ended up with a desk booby-trapped with peanut butter. And let’s not even bring up the offense taken by omnivores over meat-free workplace policies.
So if you ask colleagues to alter their eating habits for your comfort, this cynic suspects you’ll encounter some pushback. And you’ll draw the very attention you say you’d rather avoid.
Beyond that, as a practical matter, even the best-intentioned colleagues may find it hard to honor your request. First, “no smelly foods” is a much broader category than “no peanuts.” And “smelly” is in the eye of the nose-holder; it’s not always possible for you, let alone your colleagues, to anticipate which foods will trigger heaves. (If you develop an aversion to hot coffee, I don’t like your odds.)
Furthermore, there’s no way to be sure your request will only need to stand for “the next few weeks.” I don’t want to alarm you, but just as morning sickness doesn’t always confine itself to the morning, it might even decide to hang around well past the first trimester.
In short, you’ll generate more goodwill — and, more important, better results — by focusing on changes you can make for yourself. Ask your boss
for permission to temporarily move to an isolated workspace, telecommute or tend to other business during lunchtime. Bonus: Any of these options is a subtler way to get the happy word out than audibly retching into your wastebasket. And if you refrain from trying to influence your co-workers’ eating habits now, maybe it’s not too much to hope they’ll likewise refrain from commenting on your diet once your condition becomes known.
Thanks to employment attorney Tom Spiggle, Spiggle Law Firm.
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PRO TIP: The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act generally requires employers with at least 15 workers to grant pregnant employees the same accommodation granted to any temporarily disabled or incapacitated employee.