I manage a department of fifteen employees. One of them has taken maternity leave twice (which is fine, of course). Both times, it was difficult to arrange for covering her position while she was away. I have suspected for a few weeks that this employee is pregnant again. I would like to be able to start the search for a temporary replacement. How long should I wait until I ask her if she’s having a baby?
— Expectant Boss
As my grandmother used to say, never ask a woman if she is pregnant until her water breaks and full labor is in progress.
— Evil Skippy
Many years ago, I was handling a complicated sexual harassment trial. My co-counsel handled the pre-trial stress by eating candy. Constantly. By the time we were selecting jurors, my colleague’s “Going to Court” outfits were pretty tight. She asked me if the suit made her look fat. Of course I said the suit did not make her look fat. (That was true – it was the candy and not the suit.)
As we were about to leave the court room after a round of juror interviews, another attorney who we both knew arrived to meet with the judge. Our mutual acquaintance took one look at my co-counsel and said, “So, when’s the big announcement?” The judge (a woman), my co-counsel and I had no idea what he was talking about at first, so he pointed at my co-counsel’s mid-section and added, “About the upcoming blessed event!” The judge and I “got it” before my colleague. We both gasped and then tried to duck. To this day, I am thankful for the metal detectors at the main entrance because if my co-worker had any sharp implements with her when it dawned on her what was being said, she would have stabbed the dolt. I never found out if the judge yelled at him after I ran away.
Instead of asking your employee if she is pregnant, just ask her if she anticipates needing to take any leaves of absence during the next year. (Don’t say “in about eight or nine months” unless you are a passive aggressive twit. If you are a passive aggressive twit, get therapy.) Ask the rest of your employees about possible leaves, too (because it’s discrimination to treat one employee differently from the rest just because you suspect she might be pregnant).
Be very careful to say “leaves” and not “medical leaves”. You’re not supposed to ask medical questions out of the blue and it’s also none of your business right now why there might be an absence. You just want to know about absences in general. Maybe your employee is pregnant and maybe she’s not. If she is, she might tell you now. Maybe she won’t. It’s up to her, but you are improving the odds of getting advance notice if you act like a professional. She has had two leaves before, so she knows that your company follows all the rules about maternity leaves. She may be keeping the news (if there is any) to herself for some reason that has nothing to do with you or the workplace. Don’t take it personally.