Well-Meaning Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace
Everyone wants to be kind to a pregnant woman, to help her grow the baby. It’s anthropological. It’s in our DNA to pamper and take care of a gestating mother. From a husband, it’s endearing. From friends and even coworkers, it’s charming until it’s annoying. From an employer, unfortunately, it can become discrimination. “Taking it easy” on a pregnant mother can become denying her work opportunities or undue favoritism.
The EEOC draws the line at the employee’s choice. You may choose to ask for temporary pregnancy-disability accommodations. You may choose to ask for light duty, and your employer must grant it. But even a well-meaning employer can accidentally deny rights by insisting that a mother take time off, avoid specific work, or even grant privileges based on pregnancy. Or they might forget to respect your rights in specific ways, like providing a locked pumping room.
Here are a few tips for new mothers to take charge and help their good-natured employer avoid accidental pregnancy discrimination:
1. Officially Inform Your Employer and Team
Discrimination often happens when facts are left unspoken. If management is left “guessing” that you are pregnant, they are free to make decisions based on that almost-knowledge without officially crossing the line. Make it clear by making it clear. Officially announce your pregnancy either publicly or privately. Depending on your preferences and team, either make an open team-wide announcement or quietly let your manager know that you are pregnant and have your work plans under control for the upcoming months.
2. Be Clear About Your Own Performance Expectations
Employers often unintentionally assume that a pregnant mother will need light-duty work assignment, and you might, eventually. But “when” is up to you and your doctor to decide. Let your employer know –under no uncertain terms– that you will be pursuing your normal workload right up until the gravity of your gravidity is unavoidable. If there are projects or deadlines to consider, talk about them so your employer knows that everything is under control and scheduled with your pregnancy or you can make plans together with that understanding.
3. Do Ask If/When You Need Help or Accommodation
When the time comes, do ask. The EEOC defines that pregnant mothers qualify for a special accommodation called “temporary disability due to pregnancy“. It’s the unique arrangement so that mothers in early trimesters and those with easy pregnancies can carry on without impacting their work while mothers who do need accommodations can ask for and receive it. This allows you to ask for something as serious as disability leave or as minor as a foot-rest at your desk.
4. Propose or Provide Your Own Solutions
When it comes to accommodations, learn from the disability community: Provide your own solutions. The best way to get what you want and what you need from your employer during pregnancy is to make it happen. If you want to make a minor change, like that foot-rest, source your own box or upturned trashcan to fit the bill. If you need to change schedules, have a new schedule sketched out and ready to go. This makes treating you well the path of least-resistance for your employer.
5. Talk Frankly About a Pumping/Nursing Room if Necessary
Before the baby arrives, be frank about whether you’ll need your law-provided locked room for pumping or for feeding the baby. If you plan to go all-formula, just politely let your employer know they can skip that step. If you need the room, come in with a room and schedule already in mind. You are obliged to a lock and privacy, so make that easy for your employer if at all possible and they will likely comply.
6. Know When to Say “That’s Personal”
Finally, you can protect your own privacy simply by enforcing a polite/professional line between business and personal. If your employer (or coworkers) ask questions that shouldn’t be relevant, you can simply remind them each time that the answer is “personal”. No matter how well-meaning, ultimately, pregnancy is a private matter of the mother in question and only your work performance or specific workplace needs should factor in.
Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we know that most employers mean well. But when they don’t, or when they refuse to be corrected, the legal system is on your side. As an expecting or new mother, you have the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace and to determine if/when you do need disability accommodations. If those rights are not being respected despite your best efforts in the workplace, contact us today. We are here to help curb employers who are out of hand and formally remind employers who have forgotten the law. Let us help handle your employer troubles.