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A pregnant pause

Your career Pregnancy

I am a chartered civil engineer in my early thirties and work for a fairly large contracting firm. I have just been promoted and my new job will involve a fair amount of overseas travel as well as lots of site work. A few days ago I found out that I am pregnant. My partner and I are delighted by the pregnancy, although it is something of a surprise. I am also really pleased with my promotion. However, I can not help feeling a little dishonest as I haven't told my boss about the pregnancy yet. The books I have read on the subject recommend not saying anything until about 12 weeks - which is still several weeks off. I am worried about what will happen with my job once my pregnancy is obvious and when the baby is born. I intend to carry on working, but would like to work part time. How should I approach this with my company? Name and address withheld Our experts advise Chris Marshall, director, Symonds Group.

You should not feel under any pressure to tell your employer about your pregnancy in the very early stages. However, it would probably be wise to confide in your boss ahead of making a more general announcement.

This should create an atmosphere of trust in which to discuss your future.

While you do not have an absolute right to part time work, case law firmly places the onus on your employer to give any request serious consideration.

At Symonds, we always try to have an open discussion with the individual, and we reach diverse solutions including part time work, and, in some cases, significant role changes. Generally, if both the individual and the manager approach the discussion creatively, a solution which is satisfactory to both parties can be found. For example, we have some part timers working regular hours, while others work a much more ad-hoc pattern to fit in with the demands of their job and/or lifestyle.

The feasibility of overseas travel for a new mother will depend on the type of travel (short or long term, residential or visiting) and on your arrangements for childcare during any absences. Subject to these practicalities, there should be no obstacle in principle to overseas work.

Finally, try not to cast everything in stone too early. Leave some room for manoeuvre until after the baby has arrived, when you will have a fuller picture of both the practical consequences of motherhood and your own feelings about the balance between work and family.

Penny de Valk, managing director of work/life balance consultancy Ceridian Performance Partners.

Congratulations on your pregnancy. This can be an exciting time but, as you have discovered, it can also raise a number of questions and concerns as you try to balance the needs of yourself and your baby with the demands of a challenging job.

Deciding when to announce your pregnancy is a very personal decision. Many women do decide to wait until after the first three months of pregnancy, others may wait until after receiving the results of tests such as an ultrasound or amniocentesis.

What is important is that you feel comfortable with whatever time you choose and do not rush into making a premature announcement.

The travel and site visits involved with civil engineering can be physically demanding and you should discuss specific concerns with your doctor or medical practitioner. If they have any specific recommendations, make sure that you talk about them to your manager or human resources department.

You may also want to discuss the organisation of your job. It might be possible to reschedule or delegate some of the travel and onsite work, especially during the later months of your pregnancy.

It is good to begin to think about your options for returning to work and although there is no automatic right to return on a part time basis, your employer cannot reject the suggestion out of hand. It is a good idea to think through the practicalities involved and to build a sound business case to put to your manager. Would working part time create any difficulties for colleagues or clients and if so how could these be addressed?

You may want to try to talk to other women who work part time, within your company or in similar industries, to see how they have managed their work.

Part time work is becoming more common so you might find that you get a more positive response from your company than you imagine.

Sue Nickson, partner and national head of employment law at legal firm Hammond Suddards Edge.

There is no reason why you should delay telling your employer that you are pregnant.

If you are dismissed or demoted because of the fact that you have told your boss that you are pregnant you will have a claim for unlawful sex discrimination As soon as your employer becomes aware that you are pregnant he should carry out a risk assessment of the role. This means he should consider the duties you are required to do and assess whether they will put you or the baby at any risk. If a risk is identified then the employer must make adjustments to remove it and provide assistance for physically strenuous tasks. If the duties cannot be adjusted to remove identified risks the employer is obliged to suspend you on full pay until such time as you are no longer at risk.

Many women find that after maternity leave the extra commitments of motherhood mean they are no longer able to attend work on a full time basis. However, there is no statutory right to return to work part time. The government is considering changing the law in this regard but until changes are made an employee can only rely on the provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which make indirect discrimination unlawful. Basically this means that an employer cannot stipulate without justification a requirement that substantially more women would find difficult to comply with than men. The requirement to work full time has been accepted by the courts as substantially more difficult for women to comply with, however the employer may be able to justify it if it is clear that the duties cannot be carried out on any other basis.

Sue Moynihan, human resources manager at Birse Construction.

There is no legal obligation to notify your employer yet, so do not feel guilty. Most expectant mothers would want to wait until the end of their 12 week period before telling anyone, but you should notify your employer as soon as is reasonably practicable after that. The main concern for any employer, once notified you are pregnant, should be the health and safety of yourself and your unborn child. It should ensure that the health and safety manager/officer carries out a risk assessment based on your role and working environment. If the assessment raises any health and safety issues these should be discussed with you and may result in your being offered suitable alternative employment.

Key points You are not obliged to tell your employer in the early stages of a pregnancy Consider your options and then confide in your manager when you are ready Have some ideas on how you will cope with your change in circumstances, your boss must consider them Know your rights but be prepared to be flexible

Your career is compiled by Fiona McWilliam

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