Flying while pregnant?
May 6, 2010 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Is it unreasonable to expect someone who is 2-3 months pregnant to fly?

I was planning to send my junior colleague to a meeting about a 3 hour flight away. She announced she is 2-3 months pregnant as a reason why she shouldn't go. Is this reasonable? I am unaware of whether she has had any difficulties with previous pregnancies which might put her off the idea. First management position so unsure of whether its even reasonable of me to ask that kind of health question.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total)
In her first trimester, the morning sickness could be hitting her pretty hard. I wouldn't necessarily want to fly either if I knew I'd be using every airsick bag on the plane.
posted by somanyamys at 5:26 AM on May 6, 2010

It shouldn't be a problem, but yeah, morning sickness (which is a misnomer; it's any time of the day or night sickness) can be pretty debilitating. The smells inside an airplane could set it off pretty harshly.
posted by zardoz at 5:30 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

If she doesn't want to fly then this is a completely reasonable request.

Let's say it was unreasonable. What were you planning to do? Fire her? Force her to go?
posted by ged at 5:31 AM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Yeah, the first couple months can be kind of rough on your stomach and whole body really. Its not out of the realm of possibility that she wouldn't want to fly if she's had a rough time with morning sickness so far.

And ged is right, what are you going to do anyway?

Also be prepared - she'll have doctors orders not to fly for the last month of the pregnancy.
posted by ish__ at 5:44 AM on May 6, 2010

In general there is no standard prohibition for air travel during pregnancy until very close to the end--at which point different airlines have different rules, and different doctors will make different recommendations.

She may have a specific reason for not wanting to travel or not being able to travel, due to her pregnancy. If you have an HR department, this is something you may want to take up with them.

Anecdotally ,I had a job while pregnant where travel was a clearly stated part of my job description (also, standing on my feet for eight hours at a time! Hurray!). I traveled across the country several times, and it sucked, but it was a job requirement of which I was fully aware when I took the job in the first place (I even thought of it as a perk when I took the position) and I'm pretty sure that if I couldn't have fulfilled it, I would have been quite justifiably fired.
posted by padraigin at 5:44 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

if her morning sickness is bad enough to stop her flying you would have noticed it before now.
posted by Wilder at 6:03 AM on May 6, 2010

This is a health question. If you try to insist, she will get a doctor's note to protect herself. Take it out of the "pregnancy" sphere and think what you would do. Say she is recovering from cancer and traveling would keep her from getting her chemo or radiation treatments or whatever. If she refused to travel in that situation, would you accommodate it? Of course you would. Pregnancy is no different. You have no idea what her gynecological history is (maybe she has already had several early pregnancy miscarriages.) Don't press this or you will get yourself in a lot of trouble.
posted by eleslie at 6:12 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

It may be uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be something that will harm her.

I'm not in a managerial position so I don't know a lot about these things, but you may want to discuss this further with her. Simply an "I don't understand why your pregnancy is keeping you from taking this trip" conversation. Don't be accusatory, just be open and honest. It might not be the actual flying, it could be something else. If it's a high risk pregnancy she may want/need to stay close to her doctor. (BTW some doctors classify any woman who is over 35 and pregnant as high risk.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:18 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm 4 months pregnant and I just flew over the weekend. The general guideline is that pregnant women shouldn't fly in the last month of pregnancy (you can check this on any popular medical or baby website). Unless she has some sort of other complications or high risk pregnancy there is no medical reason not to fly; Personally, I cannot imagine using morning sickness as a reason not to fly a relatively short distance. I would check with your HR department, but if she is using pregnancy as a reason not to fly, it is reasonable for you to ask for a doctor's note stating that she can't fly due to her pregnancy. A doctor's note won't tell you the nature of her complication, but it would tell you that her complaint is legit.

Again, check with your HR, I'm sure they have dealt with pregnant employees and will be best able to tell you what your and her rights are.
posted by ellenaim at 6:22 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

What would the response be if an employee said, "I can't fly right now due to a medical condition"? Follow whatever the protocol is. It might mean dealing with the situation through HR. It might mean taking the person at his/her word. It might mean making some accommodation so that the person performs the task while bypassing the objectionable step (ex., use videoconferencing equipment so she doesn't have to travel). It might mean requiring a doctor's note.

The fact that pregnancy is a fairly common and often welcome medical condition doesn't change the fact that it's a matter of this employee's personal health.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:30 AM on May 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

Could she could be worried about dehydration, sitting confined too long, the marginally higher levels of radiation that you get at higher altitudes? Maybe a close friend of hers had a miscarriage after flying in the first trimester? Newly pregnant and too nervous to fly seems like a trump card to me. I don't think you would gain much by trying to "reason" her into taking the flight.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:31 AM on May 6, 2010

it was a job requirement of which I was fully aware when I took the job in the first place . . . and I'm pretty sure that if I couldn't have fulfilled it, I would have been quite justifiably fired.

I think this conclusion skips over a whole bunch of steps related to anti-discrimination law, like whether there can be a reasonable accommodation of the employee's condition.

As for the original question, I think it certainly can be unreasonable to ask someone who is 2-3 months pregnant to fly, depending what other alternatives there are and on what her health is like - in the same way that it could be unreasonable to ask someone with raging gastroenteritis and severe fatigue to make such a trip. But it would depend on the person and the circumstances.
posted by chinston at 6:56 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is she saying she shouldn't fly or that she shouldn't go at all.

There's a big difference between those two things.
posted by anastasiav at 7:07 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

In Japan, pregnant women try to avoid flying until they enter the "stable period" (anteiki), which basically begins with the second trimester, after which the chance of a miscarriage or other problem drops dramatically. Doctors don't order you not to fly, but they do generally suggest you keep it to a minimum. She may be acting on similar ideas even if she's not Japanese.

I would argue, also, that this is one of those cases where "don't be a dick" takes precedence over what the statistics say. Also, if you try to get into the whole medical history thing, you may force her to reveal some things she would really rather not talk about with her boss. I urge you to reject dickdom.
posted by No-sword at 7:44 AM on May 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

As her manager, you don't have a right to the specifics details of her medical condition. You can force the issue and she can get a restricted duty note from her doctor. You'll look like a jerk boss for pushing her to fly when she felt she couldn't.

Her medical provider can put her on restricted duty and you don't really get to argue unless you suspect fraud. (Then go to HR and engage legal, you don't get to argue at all.) The specific limitations and duration of a medical restriction are at the care provider's discretion. Consult with your HR people for the specific policy, but that doctor's order is generally considered the absolute rule. I've had employees try to come back before their doctor released them to return or the sneak in for a few hours to catch up on emails. I boot them out of the office immediately. The liability for the company and risks to the employees recovery are simply to great.

Could you push it. Yes, a bit. You could push her to get a doctors's note. Would you benefit from pushing it? No.
posted by 26.2 at 8:04 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pregnancy is different for everybody. It's generally a very bad idea to question her unless you want to have an adversarial relationship with the employee, which will not end well. What would you say? "I think pregnant women can fly, so that's not a valid reason." It boils down to her not feeling well on a regular basis, and while pregnancy isn't considered an illness in a negative sense, feeling sick a lot and not knowing how you're going to feel isn't normal. I mean, I've had problems with my period and have felt extremely ill and debilitated (and was totally surprised) by it. Nobody questioned me about it and for that, I'm pretty grateful.
posted by anniecat at 8:17 AM on May 6, 2010

I'm sorry, but if she's looking for special treatment just because she's pregnant then she's the one being "a dick". If there is a medical reason not to travel then she can provide a doctor's note. Otherwise, suck it up. Sometimes we have to work while pregnant, or with a head cold, or wearing a cast. It might be inconvenient or less pleasant to do your job in those circumstances but you just suck it up and do your job.

Treat this like any other request for a medical excuse, just plainly and politely let her know that you will need a doctor's note, no need to make a big deal. Your HR department might even require this, so check with them and it might make you stop feeling guilty or unsure. In fact, by not doing this you might set an unwanted precedent for employees to request pseudo-medical excuses without proper documentation. Don't feel guilty about following company procedures.

Just being pregnant doesn't make you a special snowflake. I'm pregnant and I know this for a fact.
posted by ellenaim at 8:24 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

How important is this meeting, and how crucial is it for specifically her to go? Can alternate arrangements be made, e.g. is it possible for her to teleconference in? If it's for a particular client or project, does she have a teammate that can represent the group? If it's a training session, will there be similar sessions in the future that she can attend?

It's not uncommon to have business meetings where one or more people couldn't make it for unspecified reasons, and the show goes on. Definitely talk to HR and see what they think, and err on the side of taking her at her word.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:26 AM on May 6, 2010

I think this conclusion skips over a whole bunch of steps related to anti-discrimination law, like whether there can be a reasonable accommodation of the employee's condition.

Just to be clear, I didn't mean to imply that termination would be justified in the OP's case, and again, HR should be consulted if the OP wants to take this any further.

But seriously, a normal pregnancy is not a disability. If I'm not trying to send my pregnant employee to the National Meeting Of Carrying Really Heavy Boxes, it's not surprising that I'm going to wonder what the deal is, even if it might be inappropriate to do anything but wonder.
posted by padraigin at 8:31 AM on May 6, 2010

Unless it was insanely important that she be there, I'd just take her word for it. You don't want to be invading someone's privacy.
posted by callmejay at 8:34 AM on May 6, 2010

HR, HR, HR. Anything else is asking for trouble. Do not proceed based on anecdotal experiences here. In case it's not already obvious, every pregnancy is slightly different.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:39 AM on May 6, 2010

If this is a necessary function of her job that cannot be performed adequately by anyone else, force the issue by way of HR. Being pregnant isn't a "get-out-of-work-and-still-get-paid free" card. Morning sickness isn't "I can't get chemo if I'm on a plane".

It's possible that this is a medical problem which she'll be able to get a doctor's note for (I don't really see asking for one as some big dick move, either). It's possible she just doesn't want to go and this is an excuse with no medical backing whatsoever.

In general, it's probably fine for a woman 3 months pregnant to fly. That doesn't mean that it is okay for THIS woman. I don't think you're the one who gets to decide that, though, her doctor is.

If you have alternatives that don't involve making it a big deal, they would probably be preferable. If you don't, and this is part of her job, then yes, go talk to HR.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:03 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with No-sword that "don't be a dick" takes precedence over what the statistics say. Don't ask her to fly. Get a replacement, or an alternate mode of transportation to get her there.

Then initiate a conversation between her, yourself, and your HR department to discuss any other limitations she has, and how you guys can accommodate her. Let her know that you understand that every pregnancy is different, and she's under no obligation to divulge anything personal beyond maybe a doctor's note. (You seem sensitive to that already.) But you guys do need to know what you can expect from her throughout her pregnancy. I don't think you need to be all official and cold about it or anything. It just sounds like the kind of thing where having HR there and going on-the-record will help prevent mis-communications.
posted by juliplease at 9:19 AM on May 6, 2010

Being pregnant isn't a "get-out-of-work-and-still-get-paid free" card. Morning sickness isn't "I can't get chemo if I'm on a plane".

It doesn't matter whether an employee is saying, "I can't fly for medical reasons" or "I can't fly due to my pregnancy" or "I can't fly due to my chemo schedule." Employers don't get to dismiss medical concerns as an attempt to "get-out-of-work-and-still-get-paid free" simply because they deem one medical condition as more or less worthy of accommodation than another. This is not about pregnancy, it's about company policies, legal obligations, and good management. The OP might as well say, "My employee is undergoing treatment for Cancer X, but I heard it's the good kind of cancer and that the chemo isn't especially tough, so does she really need to skip this meeting?"--this is not about understanding pregnancy.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:31 AM on May 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

A three hour flight also involves at least an hour before going through all the airport security, then gathering up your baggage and actually getting to where you need to be from the airport, so I consider a three hour flight to be at least 5 hours of travel time. I'm a terrible, stressy flyer in normal circumstances, and if my boss had asked me to fly early in my pregnancy I would have said no. If she's at all afraid of flying there's the stress of fear (and probably not being able to take a Xanax or something to calm that down), there's the likelihood of dehydration during the flight (and only being able to take regular strength Tylenol for the fun headache that comes with that), and just general uncomfortableness and possible nausea. I was also exhausted all the time in the first months of pregnancy, a big day of travel would have zombie-fied me and made me useless for a meeting.

I understand all the people who think the woman should buck up, I totally hate using pregnancy as an excuse for anything, but would it be that much of a hardship to have some understanding of a temporary medical situation? Flying for a meeting is not normal day to day going to your job (unless your job specifically involves flying to lots of meetings).
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:43 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

@chinston - pregnancy is specifically NOT a disability under the ADA, and for good reason - the reasonable accommodation analysis under the ADA does not apply. There is a Pregnancy Nondiscrimination Act - here is a link from the EEOC that discusses that.
posted by mccn at 10:38 AM on May 6, 2010

I'm three months pregnant. My appetite is considerably more stable than it was a month ago; now it takes something like smelling food cooking or body odor or cleaning chemicals, or being in a grocery store, to make me throw up, as opposed to just throwing up randomly and with almost no warning. Oh, and every time I throw up, I pee, and not a tiny little bit of "leakage" either, but full-on piss myself. Also, I am now only needing 10-12 hours of sleep a night, as opposed to 15+. And I have to drink three liters of water a day in order to avoid cramping at night.

I have hard first trimesters, but not exceptionally hard. Take a look at my list of symptoms there, and ask if YOU would find it reasonable to fly under those circumstances.
posted by KathrynT at 10:47 AM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Really, don't push this. I second everything that No-sword, 26.2, and Meg_Murry have said here.

Other people's anecdotal comments about what pregnancy has been like for them really have no bearing on this situation. You don't know if this is a "normal" pregnancy or not, and you can't ask her about that. For all you know, this employee could be prone to early miscarriages. This is a personal, medical matter, and you are on dangerous ground legally if you ignore that boundary.
posted by TEA at 5:14 PM on May 6, 2010

Managers seldom probe a request like this unless they suspect an employee of malingering. So if she's a generally good employee, I'd just take her at her word; there can certainly be many, many circumstances of pregnancy, not at all rare*, that could make this trip a medical risk -- not just the flying, but her duties when away, as well as being away from her medical provider.

*Excessive vomiting is the one that comes to my mind because I was in the hospital, on IV fluids, for it at one point. I've found that the debilitating nature of pregnancy-related emesis is very hard to understand, and women who've been pregnant are often the ones who are most sure that there's no big deal in overcoming a little morning sickness, and suggest that it's just an "excuse."
posted by palliser at 7:29 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

At 14 weeks I vomited until blood vessels in my face burst. Several coworkers still didn't realise I was pregnant in spite of having been vomiting profusely for 11 weeks - it is entirely possible to vomit a lot and not be terribly obvious about it. It is also possible to have morning sickness bad enough to prevent you doing things but not bad enough to be called hyper-emesis gravidarium. I came close (particularly week 12) but I still wasn't there. Like Kathryn-T, I also urinated when I threw up - luckily not too badly but there was no way I would have gotten through even a two hour flight without having to throw up and an airplane bathroom just would have the space. Add into that the bacterial haven of airplanes, the scarcity of safe food should you feel like eating and the sheer stress of travelling (is she there for a single meeting and therefore flying twice over 2 days?) - flying isn't much fun.

I did it twice when I was pregnant (16/17 weeks and 26 weeks) and it really really sucked. If my employer was sending me on a meeting I didn't have to go to, I'd have declined. I almost cancelled both trips but both had been planned prior to the pregnancy and I wasn't feeling too awful. So with careful planning I did the trips - I still got very sick after both, missed several days work both times and spent way too much money making the trips not godawful.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:14 AM on May 7, 2010

I also would point out that pregnancy is something people choose to do, unlike a cold, an injury, or an illness - you have to want to get pregnant - or, if you don't (and unprotected sex is trying to get pregnant, regardless of claims of desire), to carry the pregnancy to term. If the employee knew she would have to fly, and got pregnant without discussing it with her managers and how that would effect her job, that's her own carelessness/stupidity. It was her responsibility to understand how her decision would impact her employment.
posted by mccn at 10:58 AM on October 14, 2010

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