“Will my boss let me off to go to my doctor’s appointments?” is a common question that I’ve heard from women newly pregnant who are actively involved in the workforce. If you consider that most pregnant women have between ten and 15 prenatal visits over the course of nine months, it’s understandable that this would be a concern.
To answer the question of whether or not your employer will let you off of work, I’ll answer with the “spirit” and then the” letter” of the law. From a “spirit” perspective, most employers will be understanding and as long as you aren’t pulling a fast one with your appointments, they will be accommodating. They will allow for the time off either from sick time allocation through FMLA or if you prefer, from your vacation allotment.
In order to be a good employee while you’re preparing to be a good mom be sure to try to time your appointments so that they will not put undue hardship on your boss or co-workers. Realize that other working moms-to-be may be vying for the same prime apointment times with your doctor so plan your appointments ahead so you can be sure to get the best slots. I would imagine that first in the morning, over the lunch hour and last of the day are probably pretty popular with other women who work. Typically, a mom-to-be will visit her doctor or midwife every four weeks during the first and second trimesters. In the third trimester, you’ll be seen more often, typically once every two weeks until 36 weeks, then weekly until the baby is born. You should ask your doctor at an early visit if you can plan these appointments ahead.
Also, it is important to be considerate about how long you take for these appointments. Although it may be tempting to sneak in a manicure after your visit and before you return to the office, your co-workers may notice your new blinged out nails and be a little suspicious of how you spent your time. You’ll feel guilty and they’ll start to resent your pregnancy.
From a “letter” of the law perspective, if your employer is large enough to be bound by FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), then you are entitled to some accommodations during your pregnancy. Employees can use FMLA for pregnancy any time they wish during the duration of the pregnancy and for one year after the birth or adoption of the child. In general, the FMLA requires employees to request leave at least 30 days before taking it so the earlier you let your manager know that you are pregnant, the more likely they are to be ok with your doctor visits.
The FMLA permits employees to take leave on an intermittent basis or to work a reduced schedule under certain circumstances. If you take the doctor visits as FMLA intermittent leave remember that only the amount of leave actually taken while on intermittent/reduced schedule leave may be charged as FMLA leave. Employees may not be required to take more FMLA leave than necessary to address the circumstances that cause the need for leave. That means that your manager cannot force you to take an entire day of absence in order to accommodate a doctor’s appointment in which you’d only be gone from the office for an hour and a half.
Realize that any time you take FMLA before you give birth will deplete time from your bank of hours available for the entire pregnancy and year after birth. Think ahead as to how you will utilize sick days, FMLA covered days, vacation, unpaid leave and any other time off made available to you by your employer to ensure that you are able to take all the time you have available to be with your new baby. Each employer may have different ways of administering time off and in some states they are required to provide additional accommodations so be sure to work very closely with your manager and HR to ensure you are all happy with the arrangement.
Now you’re all set to leave the office to go put on a revealing patient gown and lay on a cold table while you wait for your doctor. Just how you wanted to spend your afternoon, right?