Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination in the Workplace

Women worldwide are subjected to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Women account for close to half the working population, and among those, 85 percent will have a child during their careers. Many countries have implemented policies and regulations, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, to protect women against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Despite such efforts, women still face the following forms of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination starts even before a woman is employed in an organization. Some employers are reluctant to hire women, citing lost input and revenue when a woman takes maternity leave. Furthermore, they argue that pregnant women are less productive and incapable of performing tasks, especially those requiring extensive travel, physical movements, and working overtime. Such employers view men as assets and women as a liability, resulting in women being denied jobs and promotions.

The legal and social environment has not evolved at the same pace, allowing organizations to fire pregnant employees without facing ramifications. In most developed countries, employers cannot fire pregnant workers even if they wanted because of reputational damage, lawsuits, and hefty settlements. However, the law and societal values in certain countries, especially developing ones, do not protect women against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The high number of unemployed people in those nations allows employers to fire and replace pregnant employees immediately and without a backlash.

Another form of pregnancy and maternity discrimination involves unpaid maternity leave. Some employers do not pay women on maternity leave, arguing that it is not an illness and those on leave do not contribute to company profits. They claim that the financial responsibilities of a new mother fall on the father-to-be and not the employer. Maternity discrimination and income loss force women to abandon maternity leave and return to work without bonding with their newborns or taking enough time to recover physically and emotionally.

Pregnancy discrimination also constitutes verbal harassment. Pregnant women encounter offensive jokes, insults, and demeaning comments from supervisors and coworkers. Specific jokes and comments are solely made because an employee is pregnant, not because of other reasons. Such includes jokes on a person’s body and walking style when pregnant. The employer may also comment on how one’s pregnancy adversely impacts performance and productivity in the workplace. The law does not protect individuals against verbal harassment because it is not illegal to make offhand comments, including demeaning jokes or insults. The workplace may be a hostile environment for pregnant women when employers or colleagues decide to harass them verbally.

Pregnant employees are discriminated against by being denied reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Pregnancies and pregnancy-related health conditions require special considerations, as is the case with other physically constrained employees. However, some employers refuse to offer such services, denying expectant mothers the resources they require to work comfortably and deliver healthily. Recently-pregnant mothers need breaks and space to pump breast milk. Failure to provide a secure and private place for such activity exposes expectant and recently pregnant women to shame and ridicule, making life unbearable at work.

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