More Expectant Mothers At Work

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
January 15, 2010

textbooksThe number of expectant mothers in the workforce appears to be rising, and so is the amount of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits.

The Wall Street Journal reports that according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 61 percent of expectant or new mothers were in the labor force in 2008. During the three preceding years, the amount was about 57 percent. Moreover, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that 6,196 pregnancy discrimination complaints were filed in 2009--up from 5,587 in 2007 and just slightly below the record high of 6,285 in 2008. And because women now make up about half of the labor force, such numbers are bound to increase.

For example, this week the Ohio Supreme Court heard from a woman who claimed to have been illegally fired from a nursing home because of pregnancy-related swelling. The woman, Tiffany McFee, had been working as a nurse at Pataskala Oaks Care Center for eight months when she requested unpaid leave after her doctor said she was unable to work. Her request was denied because of a policy that only grants 12 weeks of unpaid leave to those employed for at least a year. McFee went on leave despite the denial, and subsequently was fired.

"To become pregnant is tantamount to dismissal under a no-leave policy," said Solicitor General Benjamin C. Mizer, who was quoted in The Columbus Dispatch.

Peter Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, argued that granting such leaves to new employees would prevent nursing homes from adequately caring for patients. He noted that about 90 percent of nursing home employees are women, and many are of childbearing age.

"We view it as being very disruptive to our workplaces and our ability to provide continuity of care," he was quoted as saying in the Dispatch.

Similarly, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that a woman recently filed a discrimination lawsuit after she was fired from her job as a dental assistant because of her pregnancy. Jennifer Fuller claimed that she discovered she was pregnant less than a month after she was hired. But after she informed her employer, she was subsequently told that her boss would not grant her any maternity leave or time off. Fuller was then fired.

But The Wall Street Journal reports that some companies have made efforts to accommodate pregnant women and have benefited from doing so. These businesses say that being able to handle multiple maternity leaves fosters a sense of teamwork which pays off in the long term. And companies which allow flexibility and provide help with child care say that doing so results in shorter maternity leaves and increased loyalty.

The Journal notes, for example, that at Words & Numbers, a Baltimore-based company employing 93 people, 10 babies were born to female employees in the past two years. The company offers on-site child care, job flexibility and other support for new parents.

"It isn't a workplace my father would recognize," said Glenn Evans, who heads the company and was quoted in the Journal. "But so far, it's working for us."

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