Should You Tell Your (Freelance) Clients You’re Pregnant?

freelancebossWhat do you do when you land a client and you’re weeks away from your due date? Picture it. You’re nine months pregnant and about to burst.

Put your head down and work.

Unless the position requires intense hands-on attention or in-person meetings, there’s probably little to no need to divulge your pregnancy. Freelancers are hired to complete various tasks, not run a client’s company (unless you were actually hired to run the company). If I can complete the task at hand, then why open the door for potential headaches and discrimination bias?

Studies show pregnant women can do the same quality of work as men and employers will still view them as less competent. 

I’ve been pregnant twice and I made some of my clients aware of my situation and due date, and some were left in the dark.

The ones I tell are clients I’ve developed a lasting relationship with, where the tasks are impeded by my needing to take an absence, and where I’ve established myself as a quality freelancer. I also come to them with a contingency plan of how the work will get done while I recover. This usually involves working longer hours to pace ahead before I’m due and then working at reduced capacity for about a month.

I did divulge my pregnancy to one brand spanking new client who wanted to hire me in the middle of my third-trimester. I knew there was a risk she would bail, but I also knew the job would be difficult to complete without telling her. She also has children of her own, created the business to provide a flexible lifestyle for her family and wanted to only work with women.  It turns out she only wanted a few weeks heads up reminder and to tell me when I was ready to take on small projects afterwards.

If you take the route of not mentioning your impending delivery to your freelance boss, you sure as hell better have a back-up plan in place to cover yourself. You could get sick, go into labor early, develop preggo brain where you can’t remember anything except what you ate for breakfast that morning and otherwise deal with numerous unexpected events.

So what does a freelance pregnancy back-up plan even look like?

* Plan your freelance lifestyle around family. Things happen and people end up pregnant unexpectedly all the time. But most people have some idea when they’re going to try to start a family. Consider what you need your career to look like. How can you create meaningful, relevant and flexible work for yourself? How can you ditch clients that require constant hand-holding and meetings? How do you find work that pays within 30-days instead of suffering through long, never-ending projects that pay months later?

* Don’t sign a contract with a client that specifically forbids outsourcing. Not all clients are cool with outsourcing, especially if they’re hiring you for very specific expertise like your writing or design style.

* Discuss outsourcing the project with a trusted freelance colleague who won’t steal a client out from under you. The idea is you want to form a trusted relationship with someone junior, but talented, to your skill set. This way you can still manage along the project and direct them towards your goal. In my experience.

* Find a  virtual assistant on Odesk or similar site. It’s very easy to get screwed over on sites like Elance from contractors who promise the world for pennies and don’t deliver. Start by assigning them a small task to see how it goes and gradually increase their responsibilities.

* Take on shorter, one-off projects. Building up a stable freelance business is easier if you can find long-lasting, high-paying clients. But when you’re a parent, or pregnant with kids underfoot, it’s not always a wise move. Instead, pitch for single assignments and keep in touch with the client. Once you’re recovered and over the shock of having an infant invade your home, you can work out how to continue freelancing.

* Use the time for business building. Every freelancer has lulls in their employment from time to time. This is generally a normal part of the cycle. Use the lull to get use to parenthood and send out at least one new pitch a week. If you land an assignment, you can solicit help from your colleagues or try outsourcing part of the project.

But if you feel your pregnancy somehow compromises your freelance work or feels unethical not to divulge to your boss – tell them. It’s better to play it a little safe and keep your freelance reputation in tact than piss off someone who could otherwise help you out down the road. It’s possibly you won’t get hired from them again, but you can still envelop them in your network and ask for a referral or testimonial.

Keep the news to yourself if you feel you’re capable of completing the tasks at hand, meeting deadlines and compensating for your pregnancy.

Discrimination against pregnant women is prevalent whether you work in an office 9 to 5 or are a freelancer.

It’s highly probable your freelance clients will judge you harshly and turn your expanding belly into a scapegoat for a difficult assignment. Unfortunately as a freelancer you don’t have the same time of recourse and legal protection that a fully staffed Mom has.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t pertain to freelancers and leaves you without many options.

But working 9 to 5 doesn’t necessarily give you much protection either. Your boss can still fire you; banking on the idea you won’t have the guts to file a suit or keep you tied up in courts and legal fees for years. Instead, many Moms would probably opt for some severance instead and focus on their baby.

Laws in the workplace can’t always protect you even when you’re loyal to a company.Pregnancy discrimination is very difficult to prove and can lead to unneeded stress and legal expenses. Instead, don’t give your freelance clients an opportunity to discriminate just because you’re a parent. Instead, design your career around thriving throughout your pregnancy and beyond.