Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace Is on the Rise, Says New Study

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

I was terrified to tell my news director I was pregnant with my second child. My baby’s due date was right in the middle of sweeps, that all-important month when TV audience size is measured and news stations set the cost for advertisements on their station.

Vacation days during sweeps are forbidden and, although it isn’t legally enforceable, anyone who’s ever worked in a newsroom knows sick days are strongly discouraged. You can imagine how well the executive producer of the evening newscast turning up pregnant with a due date in the middle of sweeps went over.

Luckily, my news director was nothing but congratulatory. There was a brief, uncomfortable moment when the station manager lamented my poor pregnancy timing instead of congratulating me; he was kidding, but not really. I felt guilty and ended up working right up until I went into labor because I felt intense pressure to perform.

But my experience was minor compared to what many women are dealing with. As BuzzFeed reports, a new study shows discrimination against pregnant women at work is on the rise and it isn’t just pressure to perform, it’s women losing their livelihoods because they’re choosing to have children.

Citizens Advice published the findings, May 2, which say there was a 25 percent rise in people seeking advice about pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace between April 2015 and March 2016; almost 2,000 people seeking advice about the issue, up from just over 1,500 in the previous year.

While 25 percent may not seem like a huge number, it’s actually a shocking statistic considering the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) has been in affect for nearly 40 years. Enacted in 1878, the PDA says “discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees.”

You may think discrimination isn’t happening, but oftentimes it’s so subtle it’s tough to pinpoint. Pregnant women and new moms get less assignments, people assume your “delicate” condition prohibits you from kicking ass in the same old way, and all the usual pregnancy stereotypes are dumped at your feet whether it’s reality or not: She’s tired, can’t think clearly, is suffering morning sickness, has mom brain.

Ignorant coworkers view your maternity leave as a luxurious vacation, no matter that you basically underwent major surgery and now have a human being to keep alive as a result. Just look at the clueless Meghann Foye, demanding all childless employees get a “meternity” leave so they can ponder life’s big mysteries. And then there is the overt discrimination that Citizens Advice reveals in their study: Pregnant women having working hours cut or told they aren’t needed while new employees are being hired behind their backs.

Not only that, as BuzzFeed notes, “a study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) found that over three quarters of mothers reported a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work during their pregnancy, maternity leave, or on their return to work. One in six mothers reported a negative impact on their health or stress levels because of poor treatment at work, and one in nine pregnant women and new mothers lose their job.”

Let me repeat that: ONE IN NINE WOMEN LOSE THEIR JOB at a time when they need financial stability more than ever because they chose to have a child. On the bizarre flip-side, we still judge working women who choose not to have children. The dichotomy is insane.

Enough. Pregnancy is not a sickness. It does not prohibit us from working but if it does, if pregnancy-related illnesses arise, we should be treated in the same manner as a coworker dealing with any other kind of illness. Maternity leave is not a vacation. As Julie Scagell so beautifully articulates, returning from maternity leave is a terrifying time:

“You move quickly because you don’t have any time to waste. There is pressure all around you to pull your weight, get more done in less time because you ‘chose’ to reproduce, and do it all without anyone catching on that you just read the same two sentences of a companywide email 47 times because you were asleep with your eyes open. We fear we will be passed up for a promotion that we’ve been working years for because we chose to have a family.”

The last thing a pregnant woman or new mom needs to feel is a threat to her income or her job security, and yet it’s constantly the case. I’ve seen women fretting over how and when to tell their bosses, women hiding pregnancies until the very last second because they fear discrimination. It’s wrong and it needs to stop.

Know your rights. If you feel like you’ve been discriminated against because of your pregnancy, you can file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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