Second-guessing the advice columns: Is this pregnancy discrimination?

Not in my opinion.

The following scenario was in this morning's Miss Manners column. You may need a paid subscription to access, but here's the gist:

Employee is 20-something, happily married, and just learned that she is expecting her first child. She and her husband are delighted.

Employee's boss has rotten adult kids who are about the same age as Employee.

Boss repeatedly complains to Employee about her own rotten kids and tells Employee how lucky she is to be childless, and that she should never have kids.

Employee wrote to Miss Manners asking how much notice she needs to provide of her pregnancy and impending maternity leave, and how best to announce the wonderful/terrible news to her Boss.

Miss Manners' response was OK. She advised to provide enough notice so that the Employee wasn't leaving the employer in the lurch, and probably to do it before she started showing. The only part I disagreed with was her advice to say to Boss, "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but . . ." I agreed with many of the commenters who said that Employee owed Boss no apologies for her pregnancy. One commenter noted that "I'm sorry to disappoint you" is usually meant sarcastically, an excellent point. (Depends on the tone in which it is said.)

But several commenters said that Employee should go directly to Human Resources and report Boss -- before we've even had a chance to see Boss's reaction to the news of an actual pregnancy. Some said that Boss's admonitions to not get pregnant were unlawful.

Do you agree? Based on the above, I don't -- at least, not yet.

Normally, of course, advising an employee not to get pregnant is discriminatory. At the very least, it would be evidence of a discriminatory motive if there were any issue with the pregnant employee's performance or opportunities for advancement, pregnancy accommodation, or maternity leave.

But this Boss is apparently struggling with rotten kids of her own, so the context of her advice not to get pregnant, in my opinion, is very different from job-related advice not to get pregnant.

Assuming Boss's reaction to the news of the pregnancy is something like, "You are in for it now -- just you wait until that adorable little bundle of joy turns into Satan at age 13!," I don't think the Boss is being discriminatory. She's just sharing her bad experience with her own kids.

Is it the most tactful way to deal with an employee's happy news of a new baby? No. As I have blogged before, the only good response from an employer to news of an employee's pregnancy is, "Congratulations! I am so happy for you!" Also, Employee told Miss Manners that Boss brings up her rotten kids all the time. That would get old, especially when one is ecstatic about the coming birth of a baby.

But if I were a judge, and if this case came before me, with no evidence of actual pregnancy-related discrimination or even unfairness, I'd throw the case out. There is a difference between saying "don't get pregnant because your kids will be rotten and ungrateful, and you'll regret it for the rest of your life," and saying "don't get pregnant because it mean the end of your career with this company (or words to that effect), and you'll regret it for the rest of your life."

All that said, I would advise Boss to tone it down and share her frustrations outside of work. 

Image Credit: From flickr, Creative Commons license, by Ray McLean.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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