In case you aren’t aware of it, pregnancy discrimination happens. This post seeks to illuminate exactly what pregnancy discrimination is and how bad it is, as well as to help business owners eliminate it. To access the best online applicant tracking system for small business hiring, click here to use Recruiteze. We make online recruiting and hiring easy.
To Prevent Pregnancy Discrimination, You First Have to Realize That it Exists
What is Pregnancy Discrimination?
First, we need to discuss what pregnancy discrimination is? It is any time that a woman’s ability to work is stifled at the hands of another because of her pregnancy. This can occur during her attempts to become pregnant, for instance if she expresses a desire for kids or is receiving treatments to become pregnant, while pregnant, and shortly after having given birth. Discrimination includes degrading language, firing, refusal to hire, withholding of promotions or raises, refusal to meet reasonable requests for accommodation, and more.
How Often Does Pregnancy Discrimination Occur?
Frighteningly often, and incongruously so in light of all the attempts companies make to reach gender equality and even to try to serve mothers and fathers with family leave and in-office daycares.
The New York Times shared a quote from Professor Joan C. Williams at University of California Hastings College of Law, “Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling.”
Despite policies to end gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination not only continues, it is growing. The New York Times also reported that, in 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “received 3,184 pregnancy discrimination complaints, about twice as many as in 1992, when it began keeping electronic records.” The number of incidents is probably actually much higher because it is common for women to not report incidents of pregnancy discrimination because they don’t realize there is action to be taken regarding what happened to them, it seems too difficult to actually receive help, or they are afraid of retaliation.
Pregnancy discrimination can happen anywhere, from labor jobs paying minimum wage to executive positions in powerful, well-thought-of companies. Sometimes the discrimination is blatant and physically dangerous, while at other times it is more subtle, harder to prove, but still very damaging. It is also not always perpetrated by men; women discriminate against other women. Fathers can also be discriminated against because of extra demands that may be put on him because of a pregnant partner or a new baby.
Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination
Many women in physically demanding jobs ask for a change in job duties at some point during their pregnancy. They may need assistance with one task, to be excused from one task, or ask for a different type of role altogether, for instance a police officer asking for desk assignment, someone who typically unloads a truck asking to stock shelves, or someone who works around strong smells asking for a job without those smells.
Unfortunately, many managers and employers simply refuse to make a change, sometimes even when the woman brings a doctor’s note stating the necessity of the change.
It is also quite common for women to be out of the running for promotions and raises. They just keep getting overlooked mysteriously, promotions go to other people with no obvious explanation.
Many women are demoted or fired or run out of the workplace because the conditions are so intolerable. Her wishes being ignored, being asked to do something that’s dangerous, being ostracized, and being openly degraded are all ways that women are pretty much forced to quit.
The New York Times article highlighted examples:
A senior employee at Glencore, Erin Murphy, got pregnant with her first child and was told outright that it would “definitely plateau” her career. When she became pregnant a second time, she asked her employer about potential career moves and he replied, “You’re old and having babies so there’s nowhere for you to go.”
Rachel Mountis was an award-winning salesperson at Merck when she became pregnant. She had loyal clients and would not be able to communicate with them during her “several week” maternity leave. She was laid off with a “handful” of other employees in a downsizing. After having the baby, she was hired back to a job that amounted to a demotion with less bonus potential, and when she got pregnant with her second child, she was demoted again. She resigned and ended up working for a less prestigious company and says she’s still trying to regain her momentum. “On paper, I was the same professional that I was nine months earlier,” she said about having been laid off.
When she got pregnant, Otisha Woolbright had a job at Walmart that involved repeatedly lifting 50 pound trays. At 3 months, she suffered bleeding and was told at the emergency room that she might miscarry. She took a doctor’s note to her employer and asked if she could be switched to a light duty job, but they refused. She couldn’t quit because she needed the money and knew no one would hire her while she was pregnant, so she continued working and ended up in pain and back in the hospital.
Candis Riggins, also working at Walmart, had a job scrubbing toilets when she was pregnant where the cleaning chemicals made her nauseated. She asked to be given another job and was refused, so she continued to work though she had to pause periodically to vomit. When it was discovered that the chemicals were making her sick and threatening her and her baby, her employers finally switched her to another cleaning job that was no better. She began missing work and was fired.
The Spiggle law firm gave an example where an administrative worker, Marlena Santana, was treated in a hostile manner when she told her employers about her pregnancy. She was removed from her usual work and given “demeaning” tasks that included “filling water bottles, getting snacks and soda from a store, and spending 10 days redacting and changing medical records instead of shredding them.” They cut her work in half and hired someone else to do the work she had previously been doing. They eventually fired her without a plausible explanation.
Fast Company listed several instances of pregnancy discrimination including one from the “woman-positive” company Nasty Gal. The company decided to layoff 10% of their staff, including the only three pregnant women and only father asking to take paternity leave. The only four employees affected by pregnancy all laid off at the same time for “restructuring” sounds more than a bit sketchy.
How to Prevent Pregnancy Discrimination
Want your job to be friendly to pregnant women? Read these tips to avoid pregnancy discrimination.
Assume Your Company Needs to Work on Pregnancy Discrimination
You may want to be and believe you’re accepting of pregnant women and men who are supporting them without actually being so. Many companies find that out the hard way. Don’t let yourself be one of them.
If you aren’t actively working on any goal, you’re going to fail. You aren’t checking to make sure your net, dam, whatever analogy you want to use isn’t full of holes. And if you aren’t checking, it is. Netlight is a profound example of a company who found this out the hard way. As well as Merck and Nasty Gal mentioned in this very post.
Look Out for Sneakier Discrimination
Don’t assume that it’s only men who discriminate against pregnancies. Women do it too. If you’re a woman, watch yourself for unconscious bias and monitor female managers as well as males.
Watch for unconscious bias period. Managers may start overlooking pregnant women because they think they can’t or don’t want to work without even realizing they’re doing it. They also may read an action in an employee as a sign of physical limitations or “typically pregnant” mood swings that are not true.
Educate Yourself on Relevant Discrimination Laws and Ensure Compliance
Make sure you are up-to-date on pregnancy discrimination laws in your state. Also make sure your managers are trained to comply with these laws and checking to ensure that they are being upheld.
Then make information your employees need to know about the laws and how to recognize and report pregnancy discrimination if it happens to them readily available. If a report is made, engage in monitoring to ensure no retaliation occurs.
Discuss and Trust
When they notify you of the pregnancy, don’t assume they’re not as interested in their job. For many parents, continuing to work is actually even more important because having and raising a child adds financial responsibility. Let them say if it’s going to impact their job and trust their assessment. Keep records of discussions you have with the pregnant woman or her spouse to help ensure and prove compliance.
Be Prepared to Make Work Arrangements
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that you make reasonable arrangements for a woman to work safely, should they be needed, and actions must be the same as those given to workers similarly disabled for other reasons.
Go Above and Beyond the Law
Discrimination laws are important, but that doesn’t mean they are always as protective as they could be. They also just prevent discrimination, they aren’t dictating a level of comfort or “friendliness” that may be ideal.
States have different laws. One may guarantee more protections or benefits than another. Major companies like Google have benefits packages that include perks that are not legally required but invest in an employee’s mental and physical wellbeing to promote their happiness, engagement, and productivity on the job.
Regardless of what federal and state laws demand, you could offer:
- Extra breaks
- Longer breaks
- Lengthy parental leaves for both parents
- Paid leaves for both parents
- Help paying for daycare
- Onsite daycare services
- Lactation rooms
Want your job to be friendly to pregnant women? Don’t assume you know what they want or need; listen to them. Educate yourself on federal and state laws regarding pregnancy discrimination and ensure your company complies by engaging in regular training and monitoring. Allow constant access to information on reporting this and all other kinds of discrimination. Consider doing more than is required by law to ensure a truly supportive and productive workplace.
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