The interview part of the hiring process is pretty much the honeymoon phase of looking for a new job: Both employer and job applicant are usually on their best behavior, with each side glossing over the personal or organizational quirks that might be unappealing at first blush. For those looking for a new job, maybe you won't talk extensively about how you're happy to arrive early but adamant about leaving by 5. For organizations, maybe that flex time isn't granted as often as you imply.
Whatever your issue is, you should know there is a line when it comes to being written off. A candidate with a track record for being difficult to work with? A justifiable pass. A candidate who divulges they will become a parent soon? Snubbing them just because of that is illegal — but it happens all the time.
"Unfortunately, we see this all too often — pregnant workers go in to ask for an application or for a job interview and are told not to bother applying or to apply only after they've had the baby," says Sarah Brafman, an attorney and Skadden Fellow at A Better Balance. "This is especially the case for low-wage workers, particularly women of color, who are often those most in need of employment during this vulnerable time."
Whether the problem is that some don't understand the practice is illegal or simply that they refuse to care, the impact of this discrimination can be "especially harmful" she explains. Pregnant workers in "unhealthy" workplaces may decide not to leave their current jobs, knowing "their other prospects are slim." Or, they may settle for other kids of mistreatment from whomever takes them on.
You can't control whether a prospective employer decides to be ethical in their hiring process but you can arm yourself with information if they aren't. Here are some ways to combat bias if you're a job seeker and a parent-to-be.
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Nope. "You are never legally required to disclose your pregnancy status to a potential employer — even if you are showing during your interview," A Better Balance writes in its guide to applying and interviewing for jobs while pregnant. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from denying a job to someone who is or may become pregnant, so there's a chance some workers will bump up against this issue.
Whether you should disclose is a highly personal decision. You might think of telling an employer about your pregnancy status as a test: If they react poorly or you get a sense that parental leave is a fight for current employees, maybe that job isn't one you want. At the same time, not everyone is in a position to turn down work.
"We don’t advise telling a potential employer that you are trying to get pregnant or are in the process of trying to adopt/foster a child," Brafman tells R29. "As many families know, it can take months or years to become pregnant or welcome a new child to the family. Although it might seem like you are trying to be forthcoming, this information may end up hurting you and may not be relevant for quite a long time."
If you're showing in an obvious way during interviews, you might address the baby elephant in the room "by reassuring your interviewer that you can perform all the functions of the job you’re applying for and that you plan on returning to work after a period of maternity leave," she adds. You don't have to come prepared with a date of return, but making it clear that you do intend to continue working after your child is born may head off assumptions that you will permanently exit the workforce.
Maybe a prospective employer asks you straight on if you already have or intend to have children in the near future. Maybe, as employment expert Susan Heathfield previously told Refinery29, they try to get at touchy subjects through seemingly informal chattiness. You still aren't obligated to answer the question just because they've asked, so if you're worried the query isn't an innocent one, try to deflect.
Brafman suggests replies like: "I'm sorry, that question took me off guard; I’ve never been asked that in a job interview before!" Respond with a joke or an admission that their ask is untraditional at best, so they don't push further. Then, you can get back on track by saying something along the lines of, "But to answer your question, I am really committed to this job in the long-term and know that I have the qualifications necessary to be an effective employee."
If an interviewer asks whether you plan to have children in the future, Brafman says you might reply: "My career is a major priority for me, and I am fully prepared to do an excellent job in this position no matter what my home life looks like." It's a good way of saying, None of your business — without going that far.
On the other hand, if you are comfortable discussing a current or future pregnancy, "directly address any concerns your employer may have about your ability to do the job" — just come prepared with answers.
Take copious notes and then seek legal advisement if you want to pursue a claim.
"Write down any questions that seemed inappropriate immediately after the interview," Brafman emphasizes. "Such questions might be discriminatory, so it’s important to keep notes for your own records. Be sure to also write down the date, location, and who all was present for the question."
Not all questions may come during a face-to-face meeting, so if you come across a written application that asks about pregnancy, pregnancy-related medical conditions, contraception, or family plans, she suggests making a copy of the document or taking a picture of it and retaining it in your records.
A Better Balance runs a free, confidential legal hotline and the organization is available for job seekers if they come across this issue. In the end, your suspicion may not be legally in violation — "questions about job qualifications and responsibilities are okay, and should be expected," Brafman adds. "However, if an interviewer asks certain questions only of women or pregnant women, but not other potential employees, that could also be evidence of discrimination."