Jen from Chicago got laid off from her job in marketing on Oct. 25 and gave birth to her son on Nov. 3.
It was odd, and potentially illegal, timing. You see, you can’t just get rid of an employee because she’s pregnant. I know some of you are thinking, “Duh Eve, tell me something new.” But pregnancy bias is still a big problem in this country, even prompting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to hold a special meeting on the issue last week, which I covered and wrote about.
I’m not saying everyone who gets canned while their pregnant is a victim of discrimination. But Jen had worked for the company for two years and even though the firm was recently acquired by a larger company she was surprised to get the ax.
“I knew changes were a possibility but as the weeks went by, I figured if they were going to make any changes with my position, they’d do it after the baby. Nope. I got a call (I was working from home the last week on advice of my doctor) from my boss saying that my position had been eliminated.”
It’s something so many soon-to-be moms have to deal with.
Labor lawyer, Hanan Kolko, said there were two questions he’d ask before he went down the bias road:
Did they actually get rid of Jen’s position?
And, was she or any other pregnant employee subject to negative remarks or behavior by management?
I asked Jen, and she said:
“They did eliminate the position (and just shifted the work). I don’t know what the long-term plan is and whether or not they will recreate the position with a new title.”
And, as for behavior by management:
“Once the company was purchased, I got a form letter about non-compete information (I didn’t have a non-compete). Nobody else got this letter. Twice, though, our HR person asked me if they offered a package to leave, would I take it. The first time, I thought she was asking as a friend but the second time it seemed weird.”
What ever was really behind her firing is unclear. But what is clear is pregnancy discrimination remains a problem in this country.
According to EEOC data, nearly 5,800 women filed pregnancy bias charges with the agency last year. That’s up more than 15 percent in the last decade.
And it’s not just firing pregnant workers because they’re pregnant that’s illegal. Employers are also required to make certain changes to the work environment to help cater to a pregnant employee’s need, just as they would accommodate a disabled worker.
In one case, a pregnant administrative assistant at Engineering Documentation Systems, Inc, based in Las Vegas, asked her boss to allow her to sit closer to the restroom because high risk pregnancy caused severe nausea and vomiting. According to an EEOC suit:
The manager also allegedly made derogatory remarks about her pregnancy, and treated males who had short term medical conditions more favorably. Ultimately, EDSI fired the administrative assistant as a form of reprisal. EEOC asserts that her husband, also employed by EDSI as a Lead Engineering Technician, was also retaliated against in that he was demoted from his lead position and eventually terminated after participating in the EEOC’s investigation of his wife’s case.
So, employers have to try and accommodate pregnant employees medical needs, and they can’t fire people who complain about pregnancy bias. Seems pretty straight forward, right?
Alas, not to many employers. Commissioners at the EEOC were scratching their heads during the meeting over why we still have this problem in the U.S. workplace. “It’s a puzzle to me,” said EEOC Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru.
It is puzzling and it stinks for women who face two of life’s biggest challenges — unemployment and motherhood.
“At first I was in shock and, of course, angry and scared,” Jen explained.
Adding insult to injury, Jen’s employer, which owns radio stations, recently started running a contest encouraging companies to “Get America Back to Work.”
Everyone but pregos I guess.