If you’re a mother living in Alabama, then getting maternity may not be as simple as you would expect. At least not anymore, that is.
Alabama is unfortunately one of many American states that lacks adequate legislation protecting women and mothers from discrimination in the work force. The state does provide basic protections, mainly stemming from the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employees to treat pregnant women the same as other workers who have a disability.
But even though the Family and Medical Leave Act gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical and family reasons, like pregnancy, certain federal restrictions and loopholes make this difficult to enforce. Oftentimes, this leaves women having to choose between maternity leave or keeping their jobs.
This was the case for 26-year old Alabama mother Haley Gentle. After delivering her daughter six weeks earlier, her doctor said she’d need another two weeks off to attend physical therapy for a pelvic injury she incurred during labour. However, less than a week later, the new mother was told she’d be out of a job if she didn’t return to work immediately. Her family wouldn’t be able to survive without her income, so she returned early against her doctor’s recommendations.
Haley ran into more trouble when she tried pumping at work. The Affordable Care Act requires some employers to allow women a private space to breastfeed. But when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission helped her launch a complaint against her employer, the boss said Haley had lost her old job when she took maternity leave. He explained he had given Haley a different position when she came back, which “doesn’t allow for a person to take two 20-minute unpaid breaks during the workday.”
But this was all new to Haley, who said she was never informed she’d lost her original position. “I had never been told that my position was over, nor that I would be rehired,” Haley said. “My stuff was still at my desk. My picture frames of my kids were still sitting there. If I didn’t work there, why was my desk still set up?
She added, “I’d been worried about those two weeks, but now I’ve got a real worry. I’ve lost my job. I’ve lost my health insurance."
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One year ago, I operated on a patient who had a baby and lost her uterus. . . Today, she brought cake and celebrated her beautiful baby’s one year birthday with us. . . A high risk pregnancy comes in many forms. Sometimes it ends well, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between. . . I hugged her tightly and got to hold her precious baby. . . Today was a great day 💙 . . I wish you all a wonderful weekend my loves!
Haley has since decided to take legal action against her former employer. But she isn’t the first woman to challenge Alabama’s laws about pregnancy in the workplace. Several years ago, for instance, a Tuscaloosa police officer sued her city after she was forced to quit when her bosses wouldn’t let her breastfeed. She won her case, including $374,000 in damages.
“I didn’t want any other mother to endure what my family went through,” Haley said of her decision to take action. “This happened to me; let’s not let this happen to someone else. It’s 2019. It’s time.”
It’s clear that the lack of legislation protecting pregnant employees in Alabama puts women at a serve disadvantage. It’s especially problematic since approximately 70 percent of women with kids under the age of 18 are in the American labor force, the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms.
To learn more about this ongoing problem and what you can do to support pregnant employees in Alabama, head to the Reckon Women Facebook page.