Bosses and Work Colleagues

My boss and colleagues keep asking me about when I/we plan to start a family. How do I politely tell them it’s none of their business?

Many of us have experienced the nagging questions from friends, family members, acquaintances, bosses, co-workers etc. “When are you going to have a baby?” Ironically, while it would be considered socially inappropriate to ask a work colleague how much money they make, their religion, or their sex life, there seems to be no social boundaries or etiquette when it comes to questions related to a person’s fertility status! “Are you planning on having kids” and “When are you going to have kids” and “Are you planning to have more children” are questions that are commonly and casually asked, without any consideration of this being a private and personal issue. Not only are these questions annoying and inappropriate, but they can touch a nerve especially if people are trying to get pregnant but are having difficulty, would really like to have kids but don’t have a partner, or are feeling uncertain about having children.

How you elect to respond to the children question depends a lot on the relationship that you have with the person asking the question. If this is someone who is your superior, you likely need to be mindful of being polite and respectful – even if it means having to bite your tongue. On the other hand, if the question is being asked by a noisy colleague, you’ll likely feel freer to answer in a way that makes it clear your fertility decisions are none of their business.

Your answer should fit your relationship with the person. That said, you might want to come up with a short, stock answer you offer in these circumstances. Smiling, and saying something general like “We’re starting with a puppy” is light and non-specific, but likely won’t prevent future questions. A response like “I appreciate the question, but I prefer not to discuss my personal life at work” is appropriate too, if you’re comfortable setting this boundary. If you want to send the offending party a clear message, you might say “My fertility is none of your business”. Or saying something like “Sadly, we haven’t been blessed with children” usually stops them in their tracks.

When my boss hired me, he/she asked if I was going to have kids and I said no, but now I’ve changed my mind. How do I tell him/her this?

First, legally, you don’t have to tell your boss if you are thinking of having kids in the future. In Canada, and in many other developed countries, it is illegal for employers to discriminate based on your fertility status and the possibility that you might have kids. But unfortunately, employers don’t always follow the rules and you can be left in a vulnerable position – especially during difficult economic times when jobs are in high demand.

It’s understandable that you might feel wary about getting pregnant when you and your boss have this unspoken (or spoken) understanding that you were planning to remain childless. If you aren’t pregnant yet, you need to ask yourself if you should wait until you are pregnant to raise the topic, or speak with your boss now. If you are determined to ease your conscience and get everything out into the open, schedule a time to sit down with your boss to let him/her know your plans. Tell your boss that you value your job and your relationship with him/her. For that reason, you want to be open about the fact that you’re considering having a family. Let your boss know that you continue to be committed to your job. Discuss how much time you anticipate taking off and when you would expect to be back at work. Brainstorm some ideas for covering your responsibilities and making the transition easier (e.g., beginning to train your temporary replacement).

Unfortunately some women report discrimination once their boss determines that they are on the “mommy-track.” They end up being passed up for promotions, or not receiving bonuses or raises. If you experience this, or other forms of discrimination, access the Employment/Labour Standards office in your province, state, or country for advice.

According to Canadian employment standards, you only have to tell your boss when you are giving your notice for maternity leave. Your individual employment contract may stipulate how much notice you need to give your employer.