To follow last week’s interview with authors Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, and Elizabeth Gedmark, here’s an excerpt from their new book Babygate. Don’t forget to take a copy of their discussion questions to your next book club meeting!
Are you pregnant or thinking about taking that step? Maybe your partner is pregnant, and you are trying to plan for the big changes that await you. Or perhaps you are eagerly anticipating a new baby through adoption. No matter how you got here, welcome!
You’ve probably been reading about what to expect from pregnancy and how to prepare for childbirth. Maybe you’ve even started thinking about the early days of parenthood and how to care for your new baby. We are here to help you learn about your legal rights as an expecting or new parent. Specifically, we wanhttp://www.abetterbalance.org/web/news/babygate/babygatebookclubst to help you plan how to integrate pregnancy and parenthood into your work life. How do you plan for maternity/parental leave? What are you entitled to? What do you do if you suspect workplace discrimination? What if you want to work part- time after your child is born?
Don’t know the answers to these questions? You are not alone. We work on these issues every day and talk with plenty of people who don’t understand their rights as working parents. Many more don’t realize how limited their rights are in comparison to the rights of parents in other countries around the world. For example, we got a call to our hotline from a woman who was born in Denmark, where parent-friendly laws are the norm. Helena was now living in the United States and was pregnant with twins. She worked for a small company that didn’t offer any paid maternity leave. Her boss wanted her to return to work two weeks after her babies were born, but Helena (understandably) wanted more time to recover from giving birth and to bond with her newborns. Helena couldn’t get much information out of her employer, but she thought she was entitled to twelve weeks of unpaid leave under federal law. Unfortunately, because her employer was too small to be covered by the law, Helena had no guarantee of time off. When we broke this news to Helena, she was shocked. She couldn’t believe that a country as rich as the United States, whose politicians profess their commitment to family values, could leave someone like her in the lurch—and at such a critical moment in her life.
Helena’s situation is all too common in the United States, where parental leave, child care, and flexible work schedules have been left largely to employers and employees to work out on an individual basis. As we describe in more detail throughout this book, there are some federal laws to protect employees and lots of state laws too, but mostly employers still call the shots. And in a struggling economy many employers have cut back on what limited benefits they do provide to employees, making the situation that much worse for expecting and new parents.
On top of all this, bias against pregnant women and new mothers is still a serious problem in the United States, despite the fact that Congress outlawed discrimination based on pregnancy about thirty-five years ago. Apparently, many employers haven’t gotten the memo. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency that enforces the law) saw a steady increase in charges of pregnancy discrimination over the decade between 2000 and 2010: complaints jumped by 50 percent. And according to a recent MSNBC poll of over 7,000 people, more than 62 percent have personally seen or experienced workplace discrimination against pregnant women. By that measure, pregnancy discrimination is the norm, not the exception, in today’s workplaces. Given that women make up half of the workforce, and 80 percent of American women will become pregnant at some point in their lives, there’s a high likelihood that you, your partner, or a friend may encounter pregnancy discrimination on the job. How’s that for a sobering thought?
As you prepare for parenthood, you may find yourself focused on picking a name for your baby or items for your registry. But we urge you to save some time, amid all the excitement, to learn how the law protects you as an expecting or new parent and how to fend for yourself where it does not. . . . We hope the pages that follow will inform and empower you to be an advocate for yourself in the workplace. And in addition to providing this resource, we hope we may inspire you to help improve policies in the United States for working families like yours.
Here’s to making this country fair to those who parent – and may you only give birth in a state with paid time off.
’til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington