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Off-limits to bosses: Talk of child-rearing

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Some things are best left unsaid. That includes any comments about how hard it must be for a mother to have a career and raise children. Tell managers to keep the topic out of their office chitchat.

Recent case: Robin was hired to sell cloud-computing services. She got an excellent interim performance evaluation after just a few months, praising her ability to get up to speed. Her manager concluded that, in a short time, “Robin has had an incredible positive impact on the company.”

Then she got pregnant. Almost immediately, a supervisor who would later become her boss began almost every conversation with a comment about how hard it is to balance children and a career.

Robin took a brief maternity leave after giving birth. When she returned, she learned that her new boss would be the man who had been so concerned about her career. Soon after, he terminated Robin, allegedly because she hadn’t done a good job on a web project.

She immediately suspected pregnancy discrimination and sued.

The court said she had enough for the case to go to trial. The fact that Robin never received any negative feedback on her work before she was fired, coupled with the supervisor’s running commentary on working mothers, was enough evidence that her pregnancy rather than her web skills might have been why she was fired. (Brown v. Intralinks, No. 11-CIV-7049, SD NY, 2013)

Advice: Instruct supervisors to ignore a subordinate’s pregnancy unless it is relevant to her effectiveness at work. Yes, a supervisor can address upcoming leave and the employee’s return, but it must be done in a strictly businesslike way—no social commentary allowed. The assumption until proven otherwise should be that the employee will remain dedicated and hard working.

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