Many Employers Continue to Express Reluctance to Hire Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Despite Clear Laws on the Subject

Women have gained considerable ground in the workplace over the past few decades, but they continue to face substantial obstacles. Sometimes, these obstacles manifest themselves overtly, such as when an employee is subjected to sexual harassment or other forms of gender discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination is particularly troublesome, since it overwhelmingly affects women and can be very subtle and difficult to identify. A recent survey of managers found that over 40 percent admitted to being hesitant about hiring younger women because of the possibility of pregnancy and maternity leave. This survey, as reported in The Guardian, was conducted in the United Kingdom, but its findings seem similar to attitudes expressed here in the United States.

Federal law and the laws of nearly every U.S. state prohibit employment discrimination based on pregnancy and conditions related to pregnancy, but it continues to be a major problem all over the country. In the U.K., pregnancy discrimination is also against the law, but the survey cited by The Guardian reports that 44 percent of managers stated that they would hire a man over an equally qualified woman of “childbearing age” in order to avoid issues relating to pregnancy. About one-third of survey respondents also expressed a belief that women returning from maternity leave “are not as good at their jobs” as before they left.

A survey of 20 years of data on stereotypes about pregnant workers in the U.S. found that many common stereotypes did not change significantly between 1989 and 2009. This included stereotypes about women having to choose between having a job and having a child, that pregnant workers are “emotionally volatile” and cause commotions in the workplace, and that they may be “more trouble than they’re worth” both during the pregnancy and after childbirth. The researchers found that these attitudes may lead to pregnant workers, and those who recently gave birth, missing out on work opportunities, not to mention opportunities for advancement in their careers. At the same time, multiple surveys have demonstrated the benefits of gender diversity in the workplace, expressed in terms of both higher revenues and higher net profits.

Some employers in both the U.S. and the U.K. seem to be holding on to outdated views of pregnancy, but it is worth noting the differences in how each country’s laws treat pregnancy and childbirth. The U.K. has rather extensive protections for both pregnant employees and new parents. Beginning in April 2015, parents in the U.K. may share up to one year of maternity/paternity leave, much of it paid.

The U.S., on the other hand, is reportedly one of only two countries in the world with no distinct system for paid parental leave. The other country is Papua New Guinea. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave per year for qualifying situations, but it only applies to full-time employees of companies that employ 50 or more people. Only a handful of U.S. states, including New Jersey, require some form of paid parental leave.

The pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of workers in the New York City area in claims involving discrimination, harassment, and other unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled advocate, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Pregnancy Discrimination Complaint Alleges Employer Fired Woman Soon After Learning She Was Pregnant, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 25, 2015
Fighting for the Right to Continue Working During Pregnancy, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 11, 2015
Pregnancy Discrimination Case Causes Controversy, Although Maybe Not for the Right Reason, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 4, 2015

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