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I have a coworker who I believe to be pregnant. Visibly, either she's put on several specifically placed pounds, or she's expecting. For the rest of this post, I'm going to assume she is.

In general, this wouldn't involve me, but I know I will be her backup while she is out; I work in the back-end, she is customer facing for our product area. Unfortunately, we don't work closely enough for me to ask her directly (and imagine the shock and horror if I were wrong!). Is there any path I can take to ensure I am prepared to take over her role during her maternity leave? Obviously if I do nothing it'd be just like she had to take an unexpected leave (a non-fatal hit by a bus so to speak), but I'd rather avoid the stress and confusion if possible.

Just to be clear, I know this is a Tricky subject, and I'm being entirely presumptive. I'm not trying to be offensive in any way, and I'm sorry if I am being so.

Edit -- To answer a few comments

  • I will be her backup, similar arrangements have been made in the past for sick leave, but given that maternity leave is much longer I'd prefer to be properly trained for the position
  • This is in the US, in Kansas in particular, I know that the US doesn't have any laws regarding maternity leave, but our company seems to offer a generous policy (or so I've gleaned from the length of the time previous mothers have been out). I'm really more asking about how to handle trying to broach the subject of KT
  • This isn't based on a very keen awareness of my coworkers figure and physical measurements. It's fairly obvious -- If she is pregnant, she's well past the softball phase, possibly approaching football (US not EU). The only ambiguity is the fact that she hasn't even mentioned it in passing.
  • I may not have emphasized enough -- I'm fully aware it's none of my business if she is pregnant -- I am only concerned about hopefully getting knowledge transfer for her possible absence. It's just that fact that medical disclosures (along with other factors) make asking "are you pregnant" extremely un-PC.
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    If your company has a "jobs" or "careers" site check if there's an opening (even part time/temporary) there with your colleague role, might be a good indicator whether you'll replace her or not for her leave. – Francisco Presencia Apr 11 '17 at 15:28
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    What do you do when this person goes on vacation? – user8365 Apr 11 '17 at 15:56
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    "I know that the US doesn't have any laws regarding maternity leave" - ummmm... Family Medical Leave Act?? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_and_Medical_Leave_Act_of_1993 – PoloHoleSet Apr 11 '17 at 16:15
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    FYI some women do put on weight in a way that makes them look pregnant when they're not. If I'm 15 lbs overweight, I start getting lots of questions about if I'm expecting. So you never know. – Kat Apr 11 '17 at 16:44
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    @Kat Makes sense, and it's why I dare not ask. I learned at a young age -- Never ever ever ask a woman if she is expecting. That said there are weird changes in diet along other things I'm noticing that aren't as polite to share but point to her being pregnant. – Sidney Apr 11 '17 at 16:57

10 Answers 10

138

I would approach your boss and discuss how you would like to take an opportunity to cross train with your counter part in the event that either of you has to take some time off. There should always be some redundancy.

If she is pregnant and your boss knows about it, this will be a way for him/her to go approach the subject without revealing any personal information. If your boss doesn't think it is a good idea, then there isn't much you can do about it. Potentially, there is already something in the works that will cover for her while she is away.

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    Just, whatever you do, do not mention your suspicion! – HorusKol Apr 10 '17 at 22:21
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    Most women don't take maternity leave until late into their pregnancy, so if she is pregnant and barely showing then you have several months where she may well inform her colleagues and still have time to perform an adequate handover. Otherwise, just prepare as best you can, it never hurts for a team to have cross-skill capacity regardless of if she is pregnant or not. – Jane S Apr 10 '17 at 22:34
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    @user1997744 - both. "It seems it's fine to be direct about it with the boss" - it most certainly isn't fine. As you say - you could be wrong. Also, discussing someone else's pregnancy with a third party is improper, just as discussing any other personal issue. Finally, you don't need to - again, as you say, it will become more obvious and eventually your boss and everyone else will know. As Jane said, most women these days will work until quite close to the expected date, so lots of time yet. And there are plenty of other reasons to discuss cross-skilling without mentioning pregnancy. – HorusKol Apr 11 '17 at 5:11
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    @user1997744 - actually, both and also not to anyone else, either. Many women also don't make an announcement (even to their own families) until the pregnancy has passed somewhere between one-third to one-half of the way through, for various reasons. – HorusKol Apr 11 '17 at 5:12
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    OP's company needs a "hit by a bus" plan for all positions, covering both temporary and permanent absences. Pregnancy is not the only reason employees can be gone for periods of time. – Kathy Apr 11 '17 at 14:31
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A couple of points.

In general, this wouldn't involve me

and

we don't work closely enough for me to ask her directly (and imagine the shock and horror if I were wrong!)

You don't know if your colleague is pregnant or not, and as you've put yourself, it'd be awkward for you and also upsetting (I'd highly imagine) for her if she isn't. Pregnancy is a very personal thing and if she hasn't told anyone she is pregnant (assuming she is) then there is a reason for it.

Additionally, what if you won't take over her work or have any involvement in the transition? If management knows and hasn't told you, again there may be reasoning for this.

The best thing you can do is prepare yourself to take over work and plan ahead so you're ready in at least some capacity. If it turns out you will need to take over some duties, then speak with your manager about how you can effectively manage the situation, not with her unless instructed to.

It's work, don't make it personal. Let her sort out her pregnancy and you sort out your work. It might be an annoyance to pick up where someone has left off but sometimes it can't be avoided. Do the best you can and make sure you take control of the situation if and when you have to. Right now, you don't know any exact details.

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    Prepare, then wait and see. Get yourself geared up to cover, then wait to see if you have to! – SliderBlackrose Apr 11 '17 at 14:03
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Is there any path I can take to ensure I am prepared to take over her role during her maternity leave?

Not directly. Instead, make sure your own work is under control such that you can take on an additional burden if you are asked.

Your boss will be the one to decide how to handle her absence. That might include hiring a temp, a replacement, spreading the work around, or simply having the department do less for a while. It might involve you at some point or it might not.

You don't know for sure if she is pregnant. If she is, you don't know to whom she has confided or if she even has. You don't know when she would leave. You don't know when she would return or if she would return. And you don't know how your boss would choose to handle things.

Thus, you cannot ask her. And you cannot do much of anything other than wait and see.

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    I was hoping to see a realistic answer here. This is just not the OP's business on so many levels that there is no way to act on these suspicions. The only thing I'd add is that the OP should be realistic about what covering for someone means and not stress out about it. If it all turns into a chaotic and confusing mess then that's just a management failure and not something the OP could have helped. OP: It's not your business and it's not your problem. – Lilienthal Apr 11 '17 at 10:55
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    @Lilienthal the sad fact is that in many places management failures do become the problem of those "downhill" and the OP may already know that this is how things work at this company. Not that that changes the options, but being able to say "it's not [my] problem" just isn't a luxury available in every (or even most) workplaces. – briantist Apr 11 '17 at 14:21
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    Not having a contingency plan for someone leaving is always a problem. You don't have to worry about it, but it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. – user8365 Apr 11 '17 at 15:55
  • Yep, he is her "backup" but I doubt that includes filling two positions for several months, so they might want to hire a replacement. In any case his question is not very clear. – user14154 Apr 12 '17 at 20:54
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    @briantist You are forgetting the very specific circumstances in this question. NMFP is a bad attitude to adopt in most cases but there just isn't any way for the OP to anticipate the potential problem here that wouldn't be wildly inappropriate. – Lilienthal Apr 13 '17 at 7:14
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Talk to her. Don't ask about the weight gain.

If you don't feel like you know her job well enough to do a good job when she's out, that's enough reason to ask to shadow her for a day or two, pick her brain, etc. Even if she's not pregnant or planning to be out, people do go on vacation for a week or two from time to time, get in catastrophic accidents, or have long term illnesses. My boss was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and has been out since December and will probably be out for another four months. You don't know how much I wish I'd asked to learn more about what he does before he got sick.

If she's the one interacting with customers, you should be able to step in (relatively) seamlessly, so part of your job is knowing hers. Please, do yourself a favor - see if you can meet to learn what she does!

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    Even if she isn't pregnant, it's nice to get to know your colleagues better. – thelem Apr 11 '17 at 10:08
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Be patient.

This is the kind of thing that'll probably just work itself out. People don't go from looking like they might possibly be pregnant to taking maternity leave overnight. If your coworker is going to be out on maternity leave, she'll likely let your manager know well in advance of that. If your manager wants you to cover her role, she/he will likely let you know early enough for you to learn what you need. Until that happens, her potential future absence isn't your concern.

  • I had an employee ask to take maternity leave. i must have been visibly shaken as she seemed suprised that I was not expecting it. OP might be more observant than his manager. His coworker may think everyone had months to prepare. – JSWilson Apr 11 '17 at 18:51
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    To me, this is the only sensible answer here, but then again I come from a different cultural background (Europe). Why would you even bother yourself with trying to guess whether you might soon have to fill in someone else's position or not? If that happens for whatever reason, it's your boss's responsibility to deal with it, reassign you to the tasks they deem appropriate and make sure that you are able to handle new tasks. In the mean time, do your current job and enjoy life. – Thomas Apr 12 '17 at 4:14
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Rather than ask directly about her suspected pregnancy, it might be an idea to mention to her that you would like to make vacation plans so as to minimize the disruption at work.

That can then allow you to ask her about her vacation plans. Any imminent maternity leave would then manifest itself.

2

You say that you would take over from her in the case of an unexpected (or expected absence) or at least you think you will.

Are you prepared for the getting hit by the bus scenario, I mean actually hit by a bus? What happens then? If you are prepared for that then you are prepared for this. The issue is not the pregnancy (or lack thereof) but the lack of cover. The potential pregnancy is just what is highlighting the issue. No need to discuss it as it is not the root problem.

If you are not prepared then you need to prepare for it. Go talk to your boss about or her if more appropriate about the getting hit by a bus scenario and saying there is not enough cover for the team.

In fact look at the rest of team, even the ones you don't think are pregnant and make sure you (as in the company) could handle a sudden long term absence by them.

1

Take a wild guess of her delivery month based on your "observations", just like you assume that she is pregnant. Lets say you guess it as August, then casually mention it to her that you may be planning for a long vacation in July or August and ask her if she can be your backup. She might open up or if she says its fine, then you know.

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    That seems awfully manipulative. Basically, your advice boils down to: construct a lie in order to force a coworker to reveal personal information. At some point the OP might have to own up to the lie. Why create that kind of situation? – Caleb Apr 11 '17 at 16:25
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    And... co-worker, who just put on some pounds, says "yeah sure I'll back you up. You back me up when I need it, right?" and then OP is forced to take vacation weeks he never intended to, or own up to "yeah I lied to see if you were pregnant or not"... that will surely end well :/ – Patrice Apr 11 '17 at 18:15
  • @caleb Agreed. It's a shame that she is setting her coworkers for a stress-filled, unprepared-for absence, but I don't know if I would say she is being manipulative. – Mason240 Apr 11 '17 at 20:27
  • @Mason240 Please don't misrepresent what I wrote. Thanks. – Caleb Apr 11 '17 at 20:30
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    I agree resorting to lies in order to get personal information isn't very good thing, but on her part, covering up her pregnancy and then all of a sudden dumping all her work on the OP isn't good, either. – olegst Apr 12 '17 at 8:46
1

I wouldn't worry about it, there will be plenty time to make sure you get any handover and knowledge sharing you need. If she hasn't told anyone she is pregnant its perhaps because its still relatively early in the pregnancy, and she doesn't want to tell people and then tell them all it didn't work out.

If your company has a policy that offers generous maternity leave it also probably has a policy that requires significant notice for that (in the UK, you have to give notice of maternity leave 25 weeks into the pregnancy, that still leaves the business 15 weeks +- to prepare).

If she is pregnant, then I am sure she will tell people when she is ready, and in plenty of time to allow handover.

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Have you ever thought she hasn’t told anyone about her pregnancy because she’s afraid of being fired in a shady way? It happens quite often and you need to be aware of the difficulties of not only finding a job while pregnant but keeping one too. Yes it’s illegal to get fired due to pregnancy but it happened to me and my pregnancy was too important to stress over it and take them to court which would take months. Respect her god damn privacy and prepare yourself as much as YOU can. It has nothing to do with what she needs to do. That is very insensitive. You need to put yourself in her scared shoes. She’s trying her best prepare financially for her baby and her leave, please respect that... idk if you know but when a woman takes time off work, even if she has maternity income of some sort, it’s never anywhere close to what we normally make working our regular full time jobs. Her life is changing, a new person is GROWING INSIDE OF HER and honestly if you only could tell she was pregnant based on her apparence change? Than Koodos to her for not being so god damn sick that shes leaving early and calling in sick and running to the bathroom to throw up. It seems you don’t have much of an idea of what pregnancy entails, and if she’s a first time mom, you should be even easier on her. You need to prepare yourself if you think she’s leaving. You can ask your boss to cross train you without giving away that you assume she’s pregant. Selfish selfish people. It’s her decision when she wants to tell you that she’s pregnant. She is not legally obligated to tell you or her employer yet

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    Hi, welcome to the Workplace. While i totally get why you chose to answer this question and what you say, please, take a look at the dates before you answer, the question was posted almost two years ago, and also have an accepted answer (the one with the green tick) – Sebastian Aguerre Feb 23 at 15:29
  • Hi Dee. FYI the woman in question had the baby in July of 2017, just about a year and a half ago -- To that point, she went on maternity leave, I ended up sharing her duties with a temp who was hired to help with the workload, and she's back now. – Sidney Feb 25 at 15:21

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