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New hire worries pregnancy might derail career

DEAR J.T. & DALE: I just started a new job. How long should I wait before I can get pregnant? – Tessa

Dale: This would be a good time for a quick review of legislation regarding pregnancy. Back in 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, saying that employers must treat pregnant women the same way they treat other employees who have a temporary medical condition that affects their ability to work. (By the way, the act also says that employers cannot discriminate in hiring against women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant. In one case of startling irony, a chain of maternity stores, Motherhood Maternity, paid $375,000 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit for refusing to hire pregnant job applicants.) Then there’s the Family Medical Leave Act: It requires that an employee be given up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical and family issues, including pregnancy. This has one requirement that gets us to your question: The employee must have been at the company at least 12 months.

J.T.: Beyond any legal issues, I think that by asking, you have some concerns about what your employer will think. If it makes you feel better, ask yourself what you can do to alleviate these concerns. Maybe you could establish yourself in the role to the point where you feel confident you can prepare for maternity leave by minimizing the impact your absence will have. That is totally up you, because it isn’t required. The reality is, you’ve been hired to do your job, and as long as you can do it while pregnant, it doesn’t matter when you choose to have a child.

Dale: Sadly, though, how you handle it does matter, if you’re ambitious. Sure, you take your leave and most employers will give you your job back, but not all will automatically give you back your career. There will be those who assume you’ll no longer be as committed to your work and will mentally assign you to the “mommy track.” You, however, can overcome that hidden discrimination by making clear your commitment to your team and, upon your return, also making clear your expectations for future advancement.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve owned a small business for the past seven years. I’m tired of being the boss, and want to go back to the corporate world. I’ve had a couple of interviews, and each time they want to know why I’d give up being my own boss to work for someone else. I’ve told them the truth, but they don’t seem to be convinced. What can I say to convince them? – Ken

Dale: Nobody wants to hire someone who’s tired of something, or disillusioned, demoralized or burned out. What do all of these have in common? They’re all negative motivations. So your first task is to turn your job change into a positive – that is, you aren’t quitting your old position; you’re seeking to grab hold of a new one. Sounds simple enough, but then you run into the conundrum: If you speak positively about your current job as owner, hiring managers will be confused – after all, most corporate employees would love to be an owner and boss; on the other hand, complain about the current situation and you’re a whiner.

J.T.: Here’s the solution: Articulate some specific examples of why you no longer want to be the boss, but in positive terms; explain the things that take you away from your true work passions. I’d also discuss the limitations of small business versus being part of something bigger. Discuss the value of having accomplished peers, of having more resources and so on. The key is to offer details that will help the employer see that your intentions are sound. It sounds like you’ve been too vague in the past. Saying you don’t want to be a boss without giving specific reasons could be taken as you are failing as a business owner. They need to hear that in spite of your success, you want to find greater career satisfaction by being part of a larger organization.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

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