Posted by: Ophelia | April 1, 2008

Pregnancy in the workplace

More Women Pursue Claims of Pregnancy Discrimination.

Pregnancy related discrimination claims have apparently taken a 40% jump from a decade ago.

“While employers can indeed fire, lay off or refuse to hire pregnant women, they can’t single them out for worse treatment — and they must be able to prove they held men to the same standards or asked male job candidates comparable questions.”

“To succeed in a claim, a woman generally must be able to prove an adverse action was motivated by her pregnancy or her status as a mother.” This quote has been interpreted to mean that women should inform their bosses of their pregnancy through some written medium. Ideally, it would provide proof that the employer was aware of the pregnancy in case of any untoward treatment that requires reporting.

I’m torn over this. Pregnancy discrimination is generally sneaky. It’s rare to find an employer who will flatly state that pregnancy is why you’re being fired, demoted, etc. It is more usual to say assign new projects that the woman will be unable to complete, or suddenly decide that her performance is no longer up to snuff. The article itself provides an example of a woman who returned from maternity leave to find that her position had been “dissolved” when in actuality it had been given to a woman without children–and she was given a new unfamiliar position in which she floundered. Informing an employer about a pregnancy is just assurance that your case may have a better chance, but no guarantee that you won’t suffer discrimination and possible job loss.

On the one hand, you may be giving advanced notice allowing your employer to discriminate against you, on the other hand, you’ll have proof and some sort of redress if this discrimination happens. Of course, proving employment discrimination is notoriously difficult, so who knows if proof will help the hypothetical case. Pregnancy and maternity leave is treated as this inconvenient irritant that comes with hiring women of child bearing age. It isn’t okay to ask women if they are married/plan to become married in job interviews, but they’re expected to disclose the status of their uterus just in case the employer decides they’d rather not have a pregnant worker/one missing for 14 weeks post birth. We’re talking about the symptoms of basic gender based discrimination. However, piecing together a redress for this situation isn’t easy, I mean, how much protection should pregnant women receive? Should maternity leave be paid? How long should maternity leave be? Furthermore, who should bear the cost, individual businesses or the government? I’m not sure of the answers but the questions should be posed, considering women are losing their jobs for…being women.

One last thing: If fathers were more able to take paternity leave, would the stigma of parenthood continue to affect women’s jobs in the same way? Rather, would there be a stigma to parenthood in the first place?

Another last thing: What if you report the pregnancy, and end up miscarrying? I suppose it would be your duty then to inform them of your lack of impending parenthood too.

I’m still thinking on this, so there will probably be more later.

Originally spotted at Alas a Blog

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