Obviously when an employee announces their pregnancy you are happy for them (and say so), but there’s no denying that pregnancy and maternity leave usually represent some inconvenience to you as an employer and sometimes the timing is less than perfect.
That’s life, and that’s part of employing staff, and good employers are supportive, offer good maternity pay if they can afford it, and encourage staff to come back to work, on flexible terms if they need it.
But what if someone comes for a job interview and you discover they are pregnant, or they announce their pregnancy after you’ve offered them the job? Tricky one. We had a case where this exact thing had happened – the prospective employee found out about her pregnancy in between her job offer and her start date, and immediately rang the manager to confirm that “of course” she would withdraw and wouldn’t expect the job offer to go ahead.
The manager rang us to check that was all fine, and we said absolutely not fine! Even though the employee in question was offering to withdraw and clearly would not have created any kind of problem if the employer had accepted, that is of course not the point.
The new employee had been offered the job because she was the best candidate available, and her pregnancy did not affect that. We advised the manager to contact her, and reassure her that they were still very keen for her to start work, and would support her through her pregnancy and maternity leave. This all happened and the employee went on to become a very valued employee.
The same applies if a candidate for a job announces their pregnancy during a recruitment process, or is clearly pregnant at an interview. While it is obviously difficult to make decisions without letting a rather significant piece of information cloud your thoughts, it’s essential you do exactly that. Some candidates will tell you upfront about pregnancy, because they think it’s “only fair” that you know.
But actually, surely the only fair thing to both the candidate and the employer is that the employer has the opportunity to make a decision about the candidate purely on relevant information, without a rather significant piece of irrelevant information clouding the picture?
And actually, for a candidate, if they do tell a potential employer about pregnancy, they have a problem too. If they get the job, they may worry that it was only because the employer was terrified of rejecting them and the risk of a discrimination claim. If they don’t get the job, it may either be discrimination, or they may think it was discrimination when it actually wasn’t.
So for candidates as well, it’s important they know that whatever decision was made about them was made purely based on their abilities, skills and experiences. That way if they get the job they know you definitely wanted them, and if they don’t, they know pregnancy was nothing to do with it.
If you do get someone who announces pregnancy either before offer or shortly afterwards, don’t panic. Yes they are likely to be off on maternity leave in a few months, but that gives them plenty of time to make their mark, and for you to work with them to get them settled in. They are likely to be keen to impress, which is good, and likely to be keen to come back after their leave. The other bonus is that as you’ve just gone through a recruitment process for the post, if there were other good candidates you may have a head start on finding good maternity cover!
If you need further advice about how to approach this type of situation, do get in touch.