Below is my Miami Herald story today about pregnancy discrimination. I'm glad I'm all done having kids. I feel for those women who can't take the career risk to start a family in this recession or who are pregnant and contemplating a job search.
Samantha Stone, 29, would like to have a baby soon. But with the job market
tenuous, being pregnant in the workplace has become much more risky.
Just look at the number of pregnant women who are blogging about job
discrimination, filing lawsuits for unfair removal and turning to advocacy
groups for relief after being targeted in job cuts.
Claims of pregnancy discrimination are on the rise, maternity leaves are a
luxury and conducting a job search while pregnant is like trying to win the
Even more, many pregnant women are shocked to learn they have few workplace
protections. Women swept into the layoff frenzy are discovering you can be fired
while pregnant or on maternity leave.
In the tough economy, employers consider expecting mothers to be expendable
employees, says Robert Weisberg, a Miami labor lawyer who represents victims of
discrimination. ``In these times, pregnancy is viewed as a real liability.''
Weisberg says more employers consider new mothers less productive and don't
want the disruption of maternity leave. ``Women are telling me they've been
encouraged, coerced or told by their boss to have their baby and stay
He adds, ``When business is good and the job market isn't as tight, they're
much more tolerant.''
The numbers reflect this lack of tolerance. Pregnancy-bias complaints
recorded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose 14 percent in 2008
to 5,587, the biggest annual increase in 13 years.
As the complaints stream in, Nora Curtin, an attorney with the EEOC, says,
``It's still shocking to me that some employers are blatant about this kind of
In Florida, the EEOC is suing one of the largest general contractors in the
Southeast, Choate Construction, on behalf of an administrative assistant. The
woman claims a manager on a construction site criticized her for getting
pregnant, harassed her, and called her a liability. She was fired shortly after
she complained to human resources.
Choate denies the claim and says the firing was performance based.
Attorney Stuart I. Grossman says the most common employer defense against
pregnancy bias has become the economy. ``Companies will assert they need to
reduce their workforce to survive and the burden shifts to the employee to prove
What employers cannot do is treat expecting mothers differently than they
would another employee or job candidate. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act says
it is illegal to fire, or not hire, a person because she is pregnant. To succeed
in a claim, a woman who brings charges must prove an employer's action was
motivated by her pregnancy or status as a mother.
``The law is not designed to treat a pregnant woman or new mother differently
or give them more rights. It's designed to keep them equal,'' explains Grossman
of Tew Cardenas, which defends employers against bias claims.
In the most obvious way, getting the ax while pregnant is a double whammy.
Employers are warned that asking personal questions in job interviews can get
them in legal hot water. But in a tight job market, chances of finding work
while pregnant are minimal, even with the law on your side.
Combine job fears with economic factors and it is no wonder America's first
decline in births this decade came in 2008. Florida and California, the two
states hit hardest by the housing crisis, saw the largest drops.
``I had really hoped to have two children by the time I was 30,'' says Stone,
who fears being laid off, pregnant, and without health insurance.
Stone works at a construction company and her husband is self-employed and
covered by her policy.
Such risk has become too high for families that depend on women for economic
security, says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women &
Families. ``In this recession, many men have been laid off, leaving families
with the wife's paycheck as the primary source of income.''
New moms often are unaware they aren't entitled by federal law to paid
childbirth leave. Nataly Kogan, founder of WorkItMom.com, says if your family
needs your income you have to make some judgment calls. ``The harsh reality is
that it's important to be in the loop, be visible. That may mean shorter
maternity leave,'' she says.
It may also mean grappling with how to handle a job search. Career websites
are filled with pregnant women out of work querying whether they should tell a
prospective employer they're pregnant during the interview process. Kogan says
the key is to emphasize commitment to your job. ``The burden is on the employee
to emphasize your productivity and your intention to come back.''