Pregnancy in the Workplace

If employment is supposed to be free of all discrimination (against race, color, gender and so on), then how is it fair that people can be fired from their jobs just because they are pregnant?  If a woman is in the final months of her pregnancy, she can be fired or forced to go on leave solely because of the fact that, in a matter of weeks, she will be giving birth.

While this practice seems wrong to me, I can see the logic behind it.  Pregnancy is a stressful time for the female body.  A developing fetus requires a lot of energy and nutrients to fully develop, and even if the mother eats enough for two people, she may still feel physically  drained.

A working mother has to deal with a lot of daily stress, and combining the stress of a job with the stress of bearing a child could be dangerous to both the mother and the child inside her.

This being the case, I can see why companies might make a policy of discouraging pregnant workers from coming in to work.  But forcing someone not to show up to their job or firing them outright is, in my opinion, way out of line.

If a woman is pregnant and she feels that she can safely handle the combined stresses of working and child-bearing, then all the more power to her.  She is getting ready to start the hardest job in the world (i.e. raising a kid), and if she can do that, then she can probably handle a job and an 8-month-old fetus at the same time.

If a woman is forced to leave her job just because she happens to be pregnant, I think that that is a form of discrimination.

What if, for example, someone with cancer showed up to work, told everyone that he had cancer, and announced that he wanted to continue working?  If this sick man demonstrated that he could continue to do his job just as well as he did before having cancer, then I don’t see how his company could fire him or force him to take days off.

“But what does cancer have to do with being pregnant?” you ask.  I’ll tell you.

Cancer (besides the fact that it is often malignant and poses a life-threatening danger to someone suffering from it) is much like pregnancy.   Both represent a condition unique to the individual.  They will not exhibit the same exact signs as another person with the same condition, and they cannot pass their condition onto anyone else — as they could with, say, a strain of the flu.

If an employee has a condition (cancer, pregnancy or what have you)  that isn’t contagious and doesn’t affect their efficiency or the quality of their work in any significant way, then on what grounds can their employer end their employment?

Sadly, some employers either don’t ask themselves this question or refuse to acknowledge the obvious answer that there is no reason to remove such an employee.  Pregnant women face a unique kind of discrimination, one that is especially insulting because it calls into question their abilities as employees.

Hopefully, some day in the near future will bring with it reforms that prevent this kind of discrimination.  While you can be sure that individual wars are being waged against forced layoffs due solely to one’s pregnancy, there needs to be a more widespread, more unified call for change.  Otherwise, I fear that nothing will really change, and pregnant women in the workplace will continue to suffer for making the most courageous decision anyone can make: becoming a mother.

 

Spencer Grimes is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at sgrimes@uci.edu.