More women than every before are working hard to balance starting a family and building their careers. That can mean working throughout a pregnancy, and then returning to conquer the corporate world after an appropriate amount of medical leave following the birth. There are federal laws in place intended to protect the rights of working mothers to do exactly that. Sadly, not every employer chooses to support working mothers.
Some employers choose not to advise pregnant mothers or even those about to adopt about their rights to leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Others may refuse to accommodate basic medical needs during pregnancy, such as reduced lifting capabilities. In extreme cases, women may find that their jobs are not held for them during maternity leave or that employers find an excuse to fire them before the child is even born.
Discrimination starts small but has a big impact
Sometimes, it starts out with jokes. Your boss could send an email, humorously hinting that you won’t be back after your maternity leave. Clients or co-workers could choose to comment on your appearance or make jokes at your expense. These jokes can make you start to question your value as an employee or wonder if you really belong in the industry where you’re working.
Other times, discrimination can be downright mean. You could overhear managers or people from human resources complaining about the effect that pregnancy and labor-related costs have on the health care plan at work. Perhaps the people in your department or on your team at work start grumbling about needing to cover some of your tasks while you’re on leave. Suddenly, you no longer feel like a valued member of the team. You feel isolated. Your workplace has become hostile.
You have the right to take leave and come back
Provided that your employer has at least 50 employees and that you’ve worked there for at least a year, you have the right to unpaid maternity leave under the FMLA. Although employers can offer pay or partial pay, they are not required to. Most women taking maternity leave will only receive the bare minimum twelve weeks allocated under the law.
Many employers try to push workers to make that very short recovery period even shorter. They may request that you work from home or try to push you to come back after only a few weeks. Some employers even require pregnant women to use accrued vacation days or paid leave during their FMLA leave. Others may choose to fill a position held by a new mother, effectively terminating or demoting her for taking the leave promised to her under law.