How to handle this delicate work situation?
August 30, 2010 9:07 AM   Subscribe

An employee/friend came and confided that they are six weeks pregnant. Our boss has been hinting at reducing her hours and does not know she's pregnant. What to do, how to handle this in a professional manner?

A woman who works for me recently confided that she is six weeks pregnant. She is also something of a friend, as best as one can be when it's a boss/employee relationship. We have a lot of fun working closely together, as we have similar views on our industry and general sense of humor.

She got pregnant via IVF, i.e. had donor eggs implanted. Getting pregnant has been a big desire of hers and she was heartbroken for a while about not being able to do it naturally. Now that she is, she's thrilled of course and quietly bubbling about it, but only to me, as it's just six weeks and things could still go wrong.

Money is tight for her and her husband and it's been a worry for her before. We just gave her a small raise. There will be no further raises for a while (year or more) due to the economy.

One of the consequences of our business is that we have an odd work cycle, which means I have to work one day on the weekend, while having a day off during the week. A possible change could change that for me, enabling me to have the weekend off, which is something I'd really like. But that would mean two people would be here on a certain non busy day, when really only one would do. My boss has questioned that if this change happens, perhaps we could cut my employee back to 4 days a week. I personally know this would be devastating for her money wise. My boss does not know she's pregnant She would not lose health benefits nor vacation time, just have a smaller salary in exchange for only working for days a week. Everything I know about her tells me that this would not make her happy, despite having a new born to look after/play with. Her parents will be watching the kid for the first few months, at which point she intends to have a sitter while she and her husband work during the day.

Summing it up: There's a possible change at work which could make my work life better, while harming an employee/quasi friend by reducing her work hours and salary, when she's already financially struggling. She's also pregnant and I'm the only one at work that knows. What's the best way to handle this is in a professional manner while dishing out the least hurt?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total)
Is there any way to have a sort of compromise, where your employee could possibly have the weekend day that you would like to give up? If not, I would not accept the schedule change -- it would suck for your employee to cut back on her hours anyway. No matter whether or not this cycle of IVF works, this woman is probably incurring a lot of expense in the next few months (either preparing for a newborn/maternity leave, or gearing up for another cycle of IVF) and I think that there are a lot of moral issues and conflicts of interest at work here. Definitely you shouldn't let your boss make these kinds of scheduling decisions when you know something your boss doesn't know.
posted by kataclysm at 9:12 AM on August 30, 2010

I do think you can only look after your own interests here. Did she consider your job or life when she got pregnant? Of course not. It's noble of you to consider this, but you don't know what changes are going to happen in her life. Why put what's good for you on hold just to accommodate her? Maybe she'll decide to work less when the baby comes, maybe she'll decide she wants to work somewhere else, maybe anything.

Just make the decision about you based on what is best for you.
posted by Eicats at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2010

If I were in your position, I'd tell my boss that I want to hold off on deciding about changing your work schedule for now. Then once she's announced her pregnancy, open up the discussion with both her and your boss, possibly individually. It's possible that either her feelings, or your boss', will change once the pregnancy is announced.

Barring that, I probably wouldn't want to screw over my pregnant coworker financially in order to get weekends off.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2010 [8 favorites]

Definitely you shouldn't let your boss make these kinds of scheduling decisions when you know something your boss doesn't know.

If the OP makes the decision or the boss makes the decision after finding out that the co-worker is pregnant, wouldn't that open up the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit? In some countries, of course. It seems to me like the boss, still unawares, is the only one who could make the decision without being biased by knowledge of the pregnancy.
posted by XMLicious at 9:29 AM on August 30, 2010

Unfortunately I think you need to let the boss make the decision with the knowledge she currently has. If you want, you could urge your pregnant co-worker to discreetely let the boss know about her new pregnancy as that might affect the boss's approach to teh rescheduling.

A part of me is also thinking that your co-worker, in this type of economy, should have really thought out her finances before deciding to have a child. It's not a given that she's going to keep any job or any payrate forever, so she should considered being prepared to handle such things.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2010

I got laid off while out on maternity leave, while two or three other women in the company got laid off while pregnant. So I know how much it sucks to all of a sudden lose your income, but being pregnant shouldn't affect the decision one way or another. Sucked for me, but I wouldn't have felt comfortable at all if they kept me BECAUSE I was pregnant and let someone else go instead.

However, is this change only going to happen because you want weekends off? If that's true, than I would probably take one for the team and continue with the schedule that's not perfect, but that you agreed to so that she can continue to make her entire salary and not 20% less. I'd be really distraught if someone cut my pay down because it managed to get them weekends off - not so much distraught if it was just the economy and business was down.
posted by kpht at 11:00 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were in her shoes, I would feel that you were screwing me over by cutting my salary so that you could have weekends off. It would certainly change my side of the personal and business dynamic with you.

Reading your question, I think you've already made up your mind. You started by calling her a friend, then something of a friend, and finally a quasi-friend. From where I'm sitting, it looks like you're already distancing yourself from her, so when this happens, her feelings about it won't affect you as much.
posted by Ruki at 11:28 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your "friends" at work are not necessarily your friends. That said, if you're that concerned for her, then you should tell her to let the boss know of her pregnancy. Then you can volunteer to work the weekend day so she doesn't have to take a pay cut. Don't be shocked if your boss still doesn't go along with it, though. Also, if it does go through, any resentment down the road on your part towards your co-worker because you still don't have weekends off is entirely of your own doing.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:54 AM on August 30, 2010

You could work the current schedule until she's off on maternity leave and review all schedules at that point. Or you could just not allow her pregnancy to affect the decision and let your boss decide now. A million of things could happen during her pregnancy that mean she can't work normal hrs or can't work or won't come back once baby is born so there can't be any certainty either way, there never is st work.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:59 AM on August 30, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
However, is this change only going to happen because you want weekends off?

To be clear, there is a 3rd party change that is occurring in about 2 months, no matter what's decided with work schedules. After learning of the 3rd party change, I enquired with my boss about changing my schedule, thinking no one's hours would be cut. He was positive about me changing my schedule, but then brought up the lessening of my employee's schedule. I countered with viewing it as opportunity for the department to do several new things or to assist another department. He seemed open to that, but not exactly smitten with the idea.

At the moment, it's left open, with no definitive changes and we'll come back to it this week or next (there's a lot of things to consider with this positive 3rd party change). A side note is that the change would impact other departments and they've indicated that they don't much care either way, but of course with office politics, they've also mentioned several positive benefits to their departments if the shift in our business cycle went ahead (never mind any schedule changes). My boss has signaled, for now, that is seems largely up to me, but of course he's open to cutting expenses.

Working the weekends sucks some times, but on the other hand I'm very productive, since hardly anyone is here. Putting me back in the office when a lot of other people are there to 'distract' me with other duties would be challenging to say the least. I like working by myself on a single day usually, but it does get a bit lonely at times, so I'm torn. I'd have more company and interaction, but more demands on my time, which could impact my work.

posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:32 PM on August 30, 2010

You do realize that this woman is only six weeks pregnant with an IVF, right? There are no guarantees this pregnancy is going to "stick." So at this point the pregnancy really has nothing to do with anything.

As to really need to do what is best for the company as a whole, whatever that turns out to be. If it turns out a four day week for her, even if that makes her finances tighter it may still be a blessing in disguise for her (doctor appointments, etc.) None of us are guaranteed anything, particularly in the work world.

So, bottom line, only you know what is best for the company as a whole and for your employee after that. In my opinion what is best for you should come third.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:05 PM on August 30, 2010

[paranoia filter] It it possible that this woman senses something is up and purposefully told you about her pregnancy to edge things in her favor? Six weeks is awfully early to be telling people - especially if she's had issues in the past [/paranoia filter]

Her pregnancy should have no place in what should be a business decision unless you choose to make it a personal decision to give up something you'd like to have. I hope you don't because I think you'll regret it and before you know it, she'll be a mom and can't have her hours cut or her kid needs braces or the kid's going to college - where does it end?
posted by jaimystery at 1:12 PM on August 30, 2010

Don't notify the boss about your friend's pregnancy, but let your friend know that it's up to her to tell the boss (or not) as she sees fit, if it comes up (ie she asks you if she should tell.)

Nthing the view that six weeks is too early to know for sure if it'll be a full-term pregnancy, and it's a choice she made -- you are not obligated to change your desires, or stop trying to make your life better, because of a decision she made independent of you.

However, I can see that if her hours are reduced to support your desire, and your boss lets her know that's why it happened, there might be some animosity on her part. Best, then, to trust that everyone wants what's best for themselves, and that nobody has to read each other's mind. Your boss doesn't make the decision taking into account her pregnancy unless she notifies your boss of it and your boss elects to take that information into account -- out of your hands, so don't sweat it. Your friend hasn't told you she would be hurt by reduced hours, or anything of that sort, so you don't need to assume so and act on it -- you're not a mind-reader, you shouldn't assume what's best for her, so don't worry about it.

And, finally, if it turns out the boss won't give you your hours change because your boss knows about the pregnancy and doesn't want to cut her hours, at least you know it's for a good cause -- and you then won't have to feel bad about not bending backwards to accommodate her, because she didn't for you.

In short: stay the course, do nothing special.
posted by davejay at 2:23 PM on August 30, 2010

What will you most likely regret, down the track? Which decision would make it hard for you to sleep at night? Once you identify that, take the other option with a clear conscience.

(I'm also tending towards the 'having-a-baby-is-expensive-she-should-be-prepared-for-any-eventuality' school of thought, but not knowing either of you makes it hard to pass judgement in that way.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:13 PM on August 30, 2010

This question does not make sense. This question is full of information that should not be considered. You're her manager. You're the manager of your [department's] workload. Either you have the funds to pay her, or you don't. Either it's worth paying her for full-time work, or it isn't. This should not be about sympathy, wanting to please your boss by cutting expenses, what other departments need, or your weekends. It should be about what your department needs to do, and the best way to achieve that. The question does not have a clear analysis of those issues.

Is cost-cutting necessary because work is so slow right now? This is the "resources-based" way to make this decision. If cost-cutting is necessary, you'll have to cut costs, and then the question becomes, what is the best way to cut costs? (Maybe everyone should stay home one extra hour each week. Maybe Joe wants more time with his grandkids, or Gina wants to go to grad school.) If you don't need to cut costs, then don't cut costs. And especially, stop giving anyone hope that your department is about to have cost savings. If not, before you know it, it will be expected of you, and you will not be able to say no.

But wait, is it worth paying her to be there full-time? Is she wasting time? Is there not enough work to do? Are you not getting good value for what you're paying her? These are the "merit-based" and "business needs-based" ways to make this decision. If she is underperforming, give her notice that she is underperforming and needs to be achieving more or else you'll have to take action like cutting her salary or cutting back her hours. If you want a full-time staff member and she isn't cutting the mustard, then tell your boss, yes, we should cut back her hours. We need XY done, and she's only good at X, so she should do X half-time, and we should hire someone else to do Y half-time (maybe after giving her the chance at some Y training). If you want to keep her full-time, keep her busy. (You sound busy!) Talk about how much you need her. Talk about how much she accomplishes.

Notice that there is no sympathy-based way to make this decision, at least not officially. If you do want to make this decision out of sympathy, you need to quickly wrap it up into a merit-based, needs-based business case, and then start to resist any resources-based reasons for cutting her time. In doing so, you can consider what it takes to keep goodwill with your boss and other departments, but don't give up on her without even trying. In my world, business-world signals and communication are subtle and deftly handled and proceed fairly quickly from "what would you think about...?" to a decision. It sounds like you're aware of the kind of signaling that goes on, so don't you think his question is probably a concrete proposal that he has already discussed with someone else? In other words, I think you need to decide quickly and start working to turn this around if you do not want to cut her time back.

If this is really something that you need your boss's help to analyze, the few relevant pieces are probably "her family's finances are so tight that she might find another job or experience a distracting level of financial stress if we cut back her time," and perhaps "I can foresee that the department is going to get busier later this year, so we should keep a little slack in my workload and/or frontload what we can." Alternatively, yes, stall until she releases the news, but do not pressure her to tell anyone prematurely.
posted by salvia at 8:24 PM on August 30, 2010

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