Babygate: What You Really Need to Know about Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace

Babygate: What You Really Need to Know about Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace

by Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman


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Mothers-to-be often receive plenty of advice on what to eat during pregnancy, what to buy for the baby, and how to successfully endure labor, but rarely receive words of wisdom on how to keep a job after the baby is born. In Babygate, three legal experts share practical tips, real-life stories, and essential legal information in order to help women learn about the protections they have as expecting and new mothers and, if necessary, ways to address discrimination with their employers.

Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, and Elizabeth Gedmark, who all work tirelessly to advance legal rights for pregnant women and to empower working families, provide a comprehensive guide covering everything from pregnancy to nursing to parenthood and flextime that can help women know what to expect after baby is born and prepare to meet challenges at work. By clearly presenting their interpretation of the law and various employment policies, Bakst, Taubman, and Gedmark provide valuable information that allows women to advocate for themselves, effectively integrate pregnancy and parenthood into work life, and ensure fair treatment after returning from maternity leave.

Babygate is an inspirational and instructive guide that helps expecting and new parents to protect their jobs and paychecks while welcoming their little bundles of joy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781475975680
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/09/2013
Pages: 298
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

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What You Really Need to Know about Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace

By Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, Elizabeth Gedmark

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, & Elizabeth Gedmark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4759-7568-0


Congratulations—You're Expecting! Now What?

It's official. You peed on a stick and saw the sign. You are about to enter the next phase of your life. But now what?

Finding out you are pregnant should be an occasion for celebration, but it can also lead to anxiety or, even worse, unfair treatment on the job. You may start asking yourself questions: How and when should I tell my boss about my pregnancy? What if I need to take time off for prenatal appointments or morning sickness? What should I do if I think I'm not being treated fairly at work because of my pregnancy or impending parenthood? What are my legal rights as a pregnant woman, and which laws cover me?

This chapter aims to answer these questions and others you may encounter during your pregnancy. We start with a discussion of how to break the news of your pregnancy at work, including how to handle interview questions about pregnancy. Then we tackle the topics of morning sickness and prenatal care and whether you are entitled to time off to take care of your health needs. We discuss how disability laws may protect you while you are pregnant and how the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does (and sometimes doesn't) protect you at work. In addition to describing the law, we offer tips on how to handle situations not technically covered by the law. Ready? Let's get started.

Can We talk? Breaking the News of Your Pregnancy at Work

Many women we talk to say how afraid they are of telling their boss about their pregnancy. This fear is real and often based on true stories of women who lost their jobs after announcing their pregnancy. Here are two of them:

I received a FedEx envelope at my door one morning; the owner· of the gallery had been informed (from a colleague) that I had recently learned I was pregnant with my second child, [and] he felt that was an opportune time to "dismiss" me from my position as I would not be, as the letter of dismissal stated, "able to fulfill [my] obligations as Gallery Director."

I got fired from my job at a private ambulance exactly one week· after telling my boss I was pregnant. I was almost five months along. He immediately started looking for a reason to fire me. And he finally created one. You know what he did? He took the power stretcher off my truck and replaced it with a manual one (the kind you have to heave up to get it up/down/in/out the ambulance). I saw the power stretcher in the garage, unused and working perfectly, so I put it back on my truck, and used it to transport three patients. He then fired me for switching equipment without his permission ... The icing on the cake? He fired me one week before I was eligible for unemployment.

These stories are horrible and, unfortunately, not uncommon. Although there is no guarantee that your employer will welcome your pregnancy news, we want to offer some general thoughts and tips as you approach this important conversation.

Interviewing While Pregnant

What if you are trying to nail down a new job while pregnant? How do you handle that? First of all, you are not required to disclose your pregnancy to a potential employer, even if your bulging belly gives it away. You may decide to address the issue head-on and confront any assumptions your interviewer may have about your ability or intentions. But that's up to you. Generally speaking, potential employers should not ask you about your pregnancy or family plans during the interview process. Such questions could indicate discrimination. Although not all questions are illegal, they may be if directed at only some people (i.e., women) and not others. For example, an interviewer can't ask only women if they have children, and not ask the same question of men. Also, if you live in a state with more protective laws, certain questions may be expressly prohibited. (Check our state-by-state appendix B for more information.)

If you are suspicious of an interview question, first make a mental note, so that you can jot it down after the interview for your records. (Some helpful advice: it's always a good idea to take notes with dates of anything that smells fishy.) Then, instead of calling out your interviewer, try to address his or her underlying concerns while indicating that you don't think the question is appropriate.

Here's a hypothetical example:

Christina is interviewing for a job as the buyer for women's apparel at a large nationwide clothing store. She has excellent credentials and nearly seven years of experience in the business. Her current position, as an assistant to a fashion designer, has required her to work late nights and travel extensively. She recently got married and is looking for a position that will allow her more control over her schedule in anticipation of starting a family.

Interviewer: So, I see that you're working for Bob Duran. That's a plum job! Why would you want to leave?

Christina: Working with Bob has been at remendous opportunity for me, but I'm looking for a different kind of experience at this point.

Interviewer: And why is this job the answer?

Christina: I am eager to take on new responsibilities and apply my proven skill set to this position as a buyer, where I can have more creative control than as an assistant. I learned a ton from Bob, but it's time to break out on my own.

Interviewer: He does cast a large shadow ... So are you willing to put in Bob Duran–type of hours in this job? We really need someone who will put in 110 percent. Our last buyer was great, but she had a baby and wanted to work part-time, and that just wasn't going to work.

Christina: Well, I am certainly willing to work hard and get the job done.

Interviewer: But you also recently got married, right? Do you plan on having a baby soon?

Christina: I am really just enjoying being a newlywed at this point. My career is a major priority for me, and I am fully prepared to do an excellent job in this position no matter what my home life looks like. I have a solid work ethic and am excited to contribute to the team.

You've done your best interview jujitsu to deflect interview questions about your pregnancy or family plans, but you still don't get the job. What now?

First, you should know what the law prohibits. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because you are pregnant and may not consider your pregnancy or possible pregnancy when deciding whether to hire you. The law entitles you to be judged on your capacity to do the job. For example, an employer can't base his or her decision not to hire you on the assumption that, as a pregnant woman, you might have difficulty doing your job at some point or because he or she thinks customers would not want to deal with a pregnant woman. Similarly, an employer may not refuse to hire you based on the assumption that because you have (or will soon have) small children, you'll be a distracted and unreliable employee. However, the law allows an employer to refuse to hire you if you cannot perform the major functions necessary to the job. If you disclose your pregnancy and indicate that you will need an extended leave during a time when the employer needs all hands on deck or indicate that you will not be able to work the required hours for the job, an employer might legally consider that information in refusing to hire you.

Think back to your interview and any other comments or interactions you encountered during your application process. If you have a strong sense that an employer improperly considered your pregnancy in the decision not to hire you, you may want to reach out to a lawyer for specific advice regarding your situation. It can be hard to prove that discrimination was at the heart of a decision not to hire you, but a lawyer can help you determine your best options.

What if you are offered a job, and the employer doesn't know about your pregnancy? Again, you are under no obligation to disclose your pregnancy. In fact, if you do tell your new employer and the employer withdraws the offer, that alone could be illegal, and you can seek help from a lawyer. However, you may want to discuss your situation openly before accepting the job if you are concerned about how your pregnancy might interact with the job responsibilities. Also, keep in mind that you could risk the goodwill of your new boss if you keep this information to yourself and then announce, shortly after starting the job, that you are pregnant and will need time off. Assuming you don't want to start your new job off on the wrong foot, honesty might be the best policy.

When to Tell

After you've shared your happy news with your family and close friends, you may wonder when you should tell your colleagues and your boss that you are expecting. Unless you need to request time off for pregnancy-related illness, there are no real legal deadlines for notifying your employer until late in your pregnancy, when you might need to request leave 30 days in advance of taking off for childbirth (see chapter 2 for more information). Still, at some point before that it will be apparent to those around you that your body is changing. Ultimately, the decision of when to tell others about your pregnancy is yours. That being said, there are a few things you should consider when making your decision.

As you have probably heard, the most uncertain period of your pregnancy is the first trimester, when miscarriages are more common. You may not want to give notice of your pregnancy at work too early, only to confront the pain of sharing the news of a miscarriage with your employer too. Keeping the secret to yourself for a while can also give you time to do some initial digging about your employer's leave policies and some research about state and federal laws that might apply to you.

On the other hand, you may find it hard to stay quiet when you are exhausted, are feeling nauseated, and could really benefit from the support of your colleagues. Telling select colleagues early may allow you to talk openly with those you trust and find out how your employer has handled others' pregnancies and leaves of absence before yours. Telling your boss can help you avoid health risks for you and your baby if you work in a job with safety hazards and will give your boss more time to digest the news, adjust to any restrictions that your pregnancy poses, and prepare for your leave. Sharing your news early also may generate goodwill from your boss (a valuable commodity!), who will certainly appreciate the extra time to plan around your maternity leave.

If your employer has a human resources department, you might consider telling them about your pregnancy first, before telling your supervisor. They may know more about the company's policies than your boss does. However, be aware that the HR department's first priority is your employer, not you. The department is not there to protect your interests.

It all boils down to how you feel about your work environment. If you feel comfortable and confident that your employer will take your news well, then by all means feel free to share as soon as you want. Beware, however, that a previously supportive supervisor can turn nasty once you've announced your pregnancy. We hear stories like this all the time through our hotline. If you already suspect that your news may not be well received, don't feel pressure to disclose your pregnancy before you are ready. Take your time!

What to Say

When you do decide to tell your boss about your pregnancy, keep in mind that your happy news may be a source of stress for him or her. Despite the fact that the majority of working women return to work after giving birth, and most very successfully, some employers still fear that pregnancy and motherhood will mean losing a dedicated employee. To ease any worry your boss may have, reassure him or her that you are committed to your job and that you plan to return to work after the baby arrives. Offer your help in planning for your absence—for example, in planning who will cover your work while you are gone and how/if you will stay in touch while you are on leave. Be prepared for a conversation about maternity leave, and do your homework so that you know what the law guarantees and what you want to request from your employer (see chapter 2 for more information on the law, and take a look at the chapter 2 resources page for templates and tips to guide you in your negotiation). This will help you to negotiate the best possible outcome for you and your family.

So far, we've been assuming that you want to return to work after your baby arrives. But what if you don't want to? It can be hard to anticipate how you will feel post-baby. The idea of caring for a dependent little person while also going to work every day may seem daunting in those early weeks. But you might also crave some independence and the benefits that work provides (not the least of which is money!). Give yourself time to make this decision so that you don't close any doors on yourself unnecessarily.

Feeling Queasy? Dealing with Illness and Prenatal Care

Alexandra worked for two years as the office manager in a small· doctor's office. Her relationship with the doctor was generally strained, but in the months after she announced her pregnancy, it got progressively worse. The doctor did not allow Alexandra to take a lunch break or use any paid time off for her prenatal appointments, so when she had to visit the doctor, she had to take a full day off work without pay. Halfway into her pregnancy, the doctor told Alexandra that he was demoting her and cutting her pay and instructed her to train another employee to take over her responsibilities. Shortly thereafter, he fired her. Alexandra's boss told her that he should have fired her on the spot once she informed him she was pregnant and that any reference he might give her would depend on how she handled her termination.

I was pregnant and had horrible morning sickness (my doctor· was going to hospitalize me—it was that bad) and was running to throw up every twenty minutes. [My bosses] seemed like they would be accommodating, having a separate place for women to pump, but they told me [that] they would only give me one extra fifteen-minute break (that I couldn't split [it] up into fifteen one-minute breaks to get sick; I could only take one a day) AND I had to e-mail someone and get permission before I could use it ... I was fired when one day I was driving to work and threw up in the car and was late to work because I had to change and clean up ... I called to let them know, and they told me to come in covered in puke if I had to, but if I was late, [not to] bother coming in.

Unfortunately, we hear lots of stories like these—stories of bosses who seem downright hostile to the health needs of their pregnant employees. Although we hope you are fortunate enough to have a boss who is understanding and eager to help, we realize this may not be the case. Even those who have good relationships with their employers sometimes see those relationships sour once they announce their pregnancies.

In the following pages we summarize the laws that cover you while pregnant and provide some tips for how you can achieve the best results for yourself and for your health and that of your baby while staying in your job. Keep in mind that even if your employer does something illegal under the law, litigation may not be the most effective strategy for you. For example, it may be too hard to prove that your suspicions are right if you don't have enough evidence to show discrimination. Or you may not want to jeopardize your career in a particular field by filing a claim against your current employer. Or maybe you just don't want to deal with the time and expense of litigation. Knowing your rights up front may help you to avoid the worst-case scenario of litigation. We hope the information we offer here can help empower you to stand up for yourself or seek help as soon as you sense a problem. Prevention is often the best medicine.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act in a Nutshell

WHAT? The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law that prohibits unfair treatment of women because of their pregnancy. It requires employers to treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same as other job applicants or employees who are similarly limited in their ability to work (such as someone who has an injured back, for example).

WHO? If you work for a private employer with fifteen or more employees, you are protected by the PDA. You are also covered if you work for state or local government. The law protects you as a job applicant from unlawful discrimination in hiring decisions as well. If you work for a private employer with fewer than fifteen employees, check the appendix at the end of this book to see whether your state has a sex discrimination law that applies to smaller workplaces.

Excerpted from Babygate by Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, Elizabeth Gedmark. Copyright © 2013 Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, & Elizabeth Gedmark. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Cynthia Calvert & Joan Williams....................     vii     

Preface....................     ix     

Acknowledgments....................     xi     

Introduction....................     xiii     

Chapter 1 Congratulations—You're Expecting! Now What?....................     1     

Chapter 2 Bonding with Baby—Planning for Parental Leave...................     37     

Chapter 3 Getting Back in the Groove....................     67     

Chapter 4 The Parent Trap—Confronting Stigma and Bias at Work.............     93     

Conclusion....................     115     

Appendix A: Additional Resources....................     121     

Appendix B: A State by State Guide....................     129     

Endnotes....................     249     

Index....................     261     

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