Everyone loves a baby- unless it affects workplace productivity. Pregnant women not only have trouble finding and securing work, but in many unfortunate cases, these women experience severe abuse and mistreatment in the workplace.
The glass ceiling is one theory used to explain the many barriers that prevent workplace equality for women, and pregnancy is one of the major barriers that manifests itself in a extremely ugly way.
Despite the fact that most countries have at least some form of legislative protection for pregnant women in the labour market, there are still many cases of mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace.
Although most women are granted pregnancy and maternity leave, this doesn’t change the fact that many people still discriminate against women in the workplace, leaving many without safe work or job security.
Pregnant women, and women in childbearing years face some of the toughest workplace mistreatment and discrimination of all social groups.
Here are 12 horrific examples of what can only be described as a primitive mistreatment towards pregnant women, and women in childbearing years, all of which are, unfortunately, still happening today.
12 Redundancy Dismissal
Redundancy dismissal is one of the most common, subtle, and hard to combat forms of discrimination towards pregnant women in the labour force.
Redundancy occurs when a specific job is no longer required, and employees holding those positions must be dismissed. When an employee is let go on the grounds of redundancy they can’t file for wrongful dismissal unless the employer still needs the job to be done, and hires someone else to do it.
Because employers cannot legally dismiss an employee for being pregnant, or for applying for pregnancy or maternity leave, they often use this law to ‘push’ pregnant women out.
This is usually done so that they don’t need to hold the employees position and seniority during their maternity leave. In many cases companies will offer the maternity covers a permanent, “alternative position” in the firm, which is usually just a modified version of the original post.
This loophole allows employers to legally dismiss their pregnant employees without breaking discrimination laws, and without legal repercussion
11 Career Derailing
Many women who get pregnant, and take maternity leave, return to a work environment where they were given less responsibility and opportunity than before.
This has also been referred to as the “mommy track”, in which women who are pregnant or have just returned from maternity leave, no longer follow the same career track, or are offered the same career opportunities as other employees.
One study of 2,000 working women showed that six out of ten women faced open discrimination, and felt their career options became limited from the moment they announced their pregnancy.
This discrimination is a major barrier for women who are too often forced to choose between having a family and being sidelined, or refraining from having children to advance in their careers.
10 Guilt Tripping
In the same study mentioned before, half of the women surveyed said they were made to feel guilty for applying for maternity leave.
Maternity leave plays an important role in the relationship between a mother and child. The reason maternity leave is granted is to give women time to heal, and more importantly gives them a time to bond with their baby.
Employers and employees alike often lash out at pregnant women, blaming them for increased workload and reduced productivity. Despite the fact that maternity leave has been granted to women by law for many years, most companies have yet to adjust their internal culture and policies to better deal with employees while they are on leave.
9 Questioning Career Commitment
Pregnant women, and women of childbearing years are being overlooked for promotion opportunities in their careers.
This is due to the unfortunate social perception that women who want to have children and a family don’t value their careers and will never put their job first. This is particularly true in patriarchal societies, and has even become a contingency factor in the recruiting process.
Although recruiters are prohibited from asking certain questions, they have means of figuring out if a woman wants a family and children, and as one Canadian CEO said in a 2011 interview, “We have learned to avoid hiring people we feel will be having families”.
8 Failure to Accommodate
In 2012, a Jersey city prison guard named Yvonne Coleman Davis sued her county for mistreatment during her high-risk pregnancy.
The prison she worked at failed to change her duties, leading to an incident of a prisoner kicking her in the stomach, after which her supervisors forced her to fill out a workplace incident form before allowing her to go to the hospital.
This is just one atrocious example of an employer who fails to maintain their duty to accommodate. Duty to accommodate is a legal requirement that forces employers to adjust job tasks to accommodate employee needs to the point of undue hardship (where the business or organization faces severe loss).
Unfortunately, this happens more often than not to pregnant women who may need an adjustment of duties to perform their jobs without jeopardizing their own or their baby’s health.
The next few points explain a few more common examples of how employees continue failing to accommodate pregnant employees.
7 Refusing Breaks
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is compiling a list of the abuse of pregnant women in the workplace, and have many cases of management refusing breaks to pregnant employees. Frequent urination is just one of my many side effects of pregnancy.
Many women say that they had to pee at least every hour during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, many employers do not respect this need and in one case outlined by the ACTU a check-out operator wet herself at her post after a supervisor refused to allow her a washroom break.
In another tragic and horrifying case, a supermarket cashier was refused a break for 35 minutes while she was miscarrying.
6 Hard Labour
Hard labour is strenuous in the best of circumstances, but for a pregnant employees, it is particularly dangerous to both her and her baby.
One case taken on by the ACTU outlined a woman who was forced to perform hard labour in dangerous work conditions, leading to a premature birth. Her baby had to be resuscitated, and suffered severe permanent brain damage as a result.
This is a disgusting practice, and has unfortunately worsened over the years as companies continue outsourcing to less-developed countries for cheaper labour.
In fact, in 2013, Apple had to look in on it’s Chinese suppliers Foxconn and Pegatron after discovering that they were forcing pregnant women to work six days straight for eleven hours, standing up.
5 Penalty for Absence
An inconsistency in work and work attendance, even if due to environmental or physical factors will inevitably have an effect on future job prospects.
Pregnant employees often need to take sick or vacation days, for doctors appointments, pain, or sickness. However, many women are penalized for this, particularly if they are within their probation period.
Citizens Advice, a UK-based legal aid service reported one case where a young pregnant woman requested a week of sick leave, to which her employer replied that she should not return at all because the company didn’t want inconsistent employees.
This is a case of failure to accommodate, however there is also another type of penalty for absence, in which women who take time off to be at home with their children, struggle to rejoin the labour market. Women who quit their jobs to be stay-at-home moms for a few years face extreme prejudice when applying for positions equal to their previous postings.
This is due in part to a cultural attitude towards women who want families, but also due to the simple fact that recruiters and employers do not consider “stay-at-home mom” as a real job with relevant experience.
4 Increased Workload
Related to the previous point of penalty to absence, many pregnant women are put under pressure to make up for lost time due to increased sick or vacation leave for pregnancy-related issues and check-ups.
The guilt and pressure put on women from the moment they announce their pregnancy is a major issue and adds unnecessary and dangerous stress to them and their baby.
3 Explicit Discrimination
There are many cases where companies engage in explicit discrimination towards pregnant employees. Although it also happens in developed countries, it is most prominent in production industry and supply sectors outsourced from developing nations.
Female employees in particular, who are already subject to hard labour for low wages, are often either refused maternity rights, or simply dismissed once discovered to be pregnant. This leads to pregnant workers hiding their pregnancy to keep their jobs, putting themselves and their unborn child at risk.
Nike is one major corporations highly criticized for this horrid discrimination when a 2012 report was published outing the terrible work conditions of their factories in Bangladesh.
In a study of 133 pregnancy discrimination complaints, twenty-eight percent of women said they received negative or innapropriate comments from their supervisors related to their pregnancy.
Passive aggressive or directly aggressive comments make pregnant employees feel inferior and guilty, sometimes forcing them take legal action and usually leading to them leaving their jobs.
Although verbal abuse is more common than physical abuse, the physical abuse often manifests itself in the form of forceful hard labour and unsafe working conditions.
The Gawker reported a case where Amazon refused to open the doors of their overheated factory to allow two pregnant women to get medical attention for dehydration. Their excuse? They had ice pops and water.
1 Forced Out
All of these examples of mistreatment and discrimination are factors that contribute to the unfortunate event of forced turnover.
Employers will often adjust a position or work conditions such that the pregnant employee has no choice but to resign. Human Resources refer to this loophole as constructive dismissal, and it is used as a tactic to remove employees who are deemed ‘unproductive’.
As if women didn’t already face enough inequality and adversity in the labour market, they are being condemned for a basic, biological part of life???