Nurturing a small life inside your womb is a unique experience that is the basis and essence of motherhood. While pregnancy itself does not hinder your ability to pursue professional ambitions to the fullest, pregnant women are increasingly facing unjust treatment at the workplace.
Problems like health and safety risks faced during pregnancy should not be taken lightly as they can have serious consequences not only for women but also their unborn children and consequently, their families.
How does it affect you?
Pregnancy, in general, is an emotionally and physically challenging period for women. When you have a baby that is on the way, the last thing you need to be worried about is job security. Being under constant stress due to discriminatory behavior at work can be a serious health hazard for pregnant women.
Also, raising a child in a suitable environment requires financial stability, one that may be threatened by certain actions of employers. Women need flexible working hours during pregnancy to take better care of themselves.
Pregnancy discrimination is not a myth:
A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that 20 percent of women reported facing discriminatory behavior during their pregnancy from their employers and colleagues. Also, 10 percent of women said that they were discouraged from attending prenatal appointments.
According to the data available from EEOC, almost 31,000 charges were filed between 2011 to 2015 against pregnancy discrimination. The highest number of reported cases was found to be in the health care and social assistance industry. Approximately 28.5 percent of charges were filed by black women and 45.8 percent were filed by white women.
Another survey carried out by Women’s Aid Organization showed that almost half of all surveyed women reported a lack of job security during their pregnancy and nearly 31 percent said that they consciously delayed their pregnancy due to the fear of losing their jobs.
What constitutes discrimination?
For most women, a professional career isn’t just a way of making ends meet, but rather it provides them with social, intellectual and personal satisfaction. However, many women continue to face problems in the workplace simply because they are pregnant. This type of discrimination can take many forms and puts women at a significant disadvantage when compared to their male counterparts.
Pregnancy discrimination is formally defined as unfair treatment of expectant mothers and occurs when they are fired, refused employment or discriminated against due to their pregnancy or their intention to become pregnant. Pregnancy discrimination can take many forms including:
- Denial of maternity leave
- Not being promoted
- Rejected increments or demotion
- Harassment or vexatious comments
- Seclusion from top assignments
- Uneven pay
- Forced to take time off
Hazardous working conditions:
There is no doubt that women are just as tough and resilient as men when it comes to performing professional duties. However, the baby inside them is in a delicate condition and needs gentle care. Everything you do will affect the unborn child including your diet, emotions, and work.
There are certain jobs that require physically strenuous tasks, such as standing for long hours. While this can cause discomfort for a pregnant woman, it is extremely dangerous for the baby. In a study, it was found that women who spend many hours standing during pregnancy gave birth to children with approximately 3 percent smaller head size. The study included data of more than 4,600 pregnant women. This is an alarming fact because smaller heads may be detrimental to brain development.
Some other health complications that can arise from standing for long hours during pregnancy include;
- High Blood pressure
- Lower back pain
- Aggravated symptoms of Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction
- Premature birth
While it is quite obvious that smoking and alcohol are harmful during pregnancy, work that requires pregnant women to be in the presence of toxic chemicals or fumes also has detrimental effects on the fetus.
There are some ways chemicals can enter your body including contact with skin, breathing and accidental swallowing. It is extremely important to fully understand the effects of any chemicals that you may come into contact with at work, as they can cause a miscarriage, congenital disabilities and developmental problems.
Chemical exposure is especially harmful in the first trimester of the pregnancy as the formation of limbs and organs takes place. There are many factors that influence the effect of chemical exposure, including the type of chemical, the nature of contact and duration.
Working long hours
Most people find it difficult to keep up with long working hours without being completely exhausted. However, for pregnant women, this is specifically challenging and risky for the health of unborn babies.
Studies show that pregnant women who work more than 25 hours per week give birth to babies that weigh up to 200 grams less than average. Children that are born smaller are more susceptible to heart defects, breathing problems, digestion issues, and learning difficulties.
There are reasons why this happen. Performing physical work can reduce the blood flow to the placenta, making it difficult for proper nutrition and oxygen to reach the fetus. Likewise, stress caused by working long hours could also be a possible reason. Moreover, women who work long hours during pregnancy are also at a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia.
Dealing with these problems:
As a pregnant woman, it is your right and your responsibility to make sure that the baby is safe without compromising your professional career.
Know your right:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a federal law that is meant to safeguard pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace. Any company that has 15 or more employees must adhere to this law.
This law includes protection from discrimination regarding hiring, firing, training, promotions and pay scale. It states that pregnant women should receive all the necessary assistance and accommodation that any other temporarily disabled person would receive.
If you are a victim of pregnancy discrimination, you can file a charge against your employer within 180 days of harassment.
Know your options:
Pregnancy can be an overwhelming experience in the best of times. Being a mother means prioritizing your child’s needs. If you feel that personal, professional or educational circumstances do not allow you to become a parent, it is in the best interest of your child to consider other options as well. Pregnancy is only the beginning of a lifelong commitment that cannot always be kept up to par with career objectives.
Keep yourself and the baby safe:
Although pregnancy itself can seem like a full-time job, most women can manage work during pregnancy right up to the third trimester. Also if your pregnancy is considered to be low-risk and you don’t have any medical conditions, you may be able to work right up till you go into labor. However, it’s imperative that you take active efforts to keep yourself and the baby safe, such as:
- If possible, switch to a more baby-friendly job position
- Use safe work practices in the presence of chemicals
- Be super conscious about personal hygiene
- Take regular breaks
- Consult your healthcare provider about any possible risk
Although many companies nowadays are more accommodating to the needs of pregnant women, the problem is still as real as it was a decade ago.
The problems women face in the workplace can make it difficult for them to pursue their careers. But with the right knowledge, women can overcome challenges.