Did you know: Four out of five employees return to work after being on maternity leave. Read this blog post for what to expect when your employee is expecting.


Only four out of five employees return to work after maternity leave. The way their boss treats them has a major influence on that decision.

Women make up nearly half of the American workforce, and 85% of them will become mothers by age 45, according to a study by Pew Research. The same study estimates it costs organizations around $47 billion to replace employees who quit their jobs after maternity leave. Yet, employees going on maternity leave are often pushed aside.

“Women often face having their hours cut, harassment and losing out on promotions for becoming pregnant,” says Robyn Stein DeLuca, a postpartum consultant and professor at Stony Brook University. “It’s important for managers to know pregnant women are just as capable as they were before.”

Pregnancy discrimination can result in costly lawsuits and hurt a company’s reputation. For instance, pharmaceutical company Novartis in 2010 was ordered to pay $175 million to plaintiffs after a boss told female employees they should consider having an abortion if they wanted to advance within the company, DeLuca explains. And last year, thousands of Google employees staged walkouts to protest the company’s treatment of women.

“The walkouts knocked Google off their pedestal as a great place for everyone to work,” DeLuca says. “Thanks to the #MeToo movement, businesses are being held accountable for the way they treat pregnant employees.”

DeLuca spent the last 15 years of her career studying how new mothers cope after returning to work. She applies that knowledge to her consulting business, where she advises employers and working mothers on balancing personal and professional responsibilities.

During her research, DeLuca discovered women were more likely to return to work if they had supportive managers who made reasonable accommodations for their condition. The reverse was also true; employees who didn’t receive support and accommodation were most likely to quit their jobs.

“When you give talented women the opportunity, they’ll succeed,” DeLuca says.

During a webinar for the New York City chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, DeLuca discussed strategies for managing pregnant employees in the office and during maternity leave. Making reasonable accommodations for them is just as important as good communication, she says. The first thing employers can do is refrain from negatively commenting on the pregnancy.

“When she decides to go public with the news, stay neutral or give a positive response to the announcement. Don’t say it’s the worst possible time for her to go on leave, even if it is,” DeLuca says. “She shouldn’t be made to feel bad about this exciting time.”

The next step should be collaboration, DeLuca says. Once the employee has made her announcement, managers should meet with her to discuss when she’s planning to go on maternity leave, and how best to divvy up her responsibilities after the baby is born. It’s also a good idea for HR to have the phone number of the employee’s OBGYN in case she goes into labor at the office, DeLuca says.

“Women worry about leaving the team in the lurch, but making plans that spell out the details of her leave can reduce anxiety, bring order and set clear expectations,” DeLuca says.

DeLuca suggests asking the employee to make a list of her duties and projects so she and her manager can discuss how best to cover the work. This can help quell any job security anxieties by reaffirming she’s a valuable part of the team.

“It gives her the opportunity to shine and show what she’s accomplished,” DeLuca says.

Coworkers might resent being asked to do extra work for someone on maternity leave. The best way to prevent these feelings is to frame the work as an opportunity for professional growth, DeLuca says. Do this by praising employees for taking on extra work, and for the new skills they’re learning, she says.

Providing these employees with flexible hours so they can address personal needs — like furthering their education or caring for a loved one — is another way to reward them for stepping in for a coworker on maternity leave.

“It helps them feel like they’re not being taken for granted,” DeLuca says.

Most pregnant women plan on working right up until the baby is born, DeLuca says. And despite stereotypes about “mommy brain” — the idea that pregnancy decreases cognitive function — DeLuca asserts that pregnant women are mentally healthy and fully capable of performing their job duties.

“TV portrays pregnant women as flighty and crazy. But pregnancy is actually a good time for mental health,” DeLuca says. “Pregnant women are less likely to suffer from depression, to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or attempt suicide.”

However, managers should understand that pregnant employees have physical limitations. Depending on their role at the organization, pregnant women may require more breaks and lighter duty.

“She shouldn’t be on her feet all day or lifting heavy objects,” DeLuca says. “The baby is literally sitting on her bladder, so she’s going to make frequent trips to the bathroom.”

Women can be self-conscious about their changing bodies during pregnancy, which can be exacerbated by inappropriate comments and gestures from managers and peers, DeLuca said. HR can help educate the workforce about this issue during harassment training.

“Don’t touch the belly. Don’t say she’s beautiful, looks like a big round ball, or like your wife did at that stage. It’s not conducive to a comfortable working environment,” DeLuca says. “Instead, you can ask how she’s feeling.”

While making plans for an employee’s maternity leave, managers should talk to the employee about how they’d like to get back to work. Some companies allow women to ease their way back into work by letting them work short days toward the end of their maternity leave.

DeLuca recommends deciding beforehand how often, or if, a manager should contact an employee during maternity leave. If the employee would rather not be contacted, set a date for a return-to-work meeting, she says.

“It gives you the chance to fill her in on projects and new clients so she can hit the ground running when she returns to work,” DeLuca says.

SOURCE: Webster, K. (28 January 2019) “What to expect when your employee is expecting” (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/what-to-expect-when-your-employee-is-expecting?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000