You’ve returned back to work after accomplishing one of the greatest milestones of your life and having a baby…. and things just aren’t the same. The projects are piling up, more work is being routed to you than anyone else, and it feels as though the Company is trying to catch up and make up for all of the work that accumulated while you were on pregnancy leave.
It’s no surprise that returning to work after having a baby can be a frustrating and emotionally infuriating experience. As if you needed more trouble to add to the responsibilities of feeding, bathing, and caring for the new little addition to your family. The U.S., however, is the only country in the developed world that does not have paid maternity leave. 62% of American mothers are working mothers, and child birth can require changes to a mother’s schedule that can sometimes clash with employment responsibilities.
But when does the treatment cross over into actual discrimination? What are the signs of pregnancy discrimination? Most importantly, you may be wondering whether you can do about it? Read on for our tips on identifying pregnancy discrimination and the top signs of pregnancy discrimination:
#1 – Marked Changes in Responsibilities
If you have returned from pregnancy or maternity leave, and your responsibilities are completely different when you return, it may be a sign that pregnancy discrimination is occurring. The change in responsibilities usually falls into two different types: a dramatic increase in responsibilities, in order to overwhelm, overload, and make the new mother miserable. On the other hand the change can also result in the reassignment to duties that are boring, extremely undesirable, or tasks that no one in the office wants to do. For example a new mother may have been previously assigned to a prestigious department within a company, and after returning from maternity leave, may be reassigned to menial tasks that would be considered far below her capabilities. The change in responsibilities can be accompanied by a shift in attitude or treatment by supervisors, or on the other hand the company can take the position that this was simply a organizational change necessitated by the demands of the business, and that it purportedly has NOTHING to do with the mother’s maternity status. Obviously, many companies will say and do anything to justify their actions.
#2 – Increase in Write-Ups, Criticisms, Negative Reviews
Here’s another common scenario: you return back from work after taking maternity leave, and all of a sudden everything you do and say is closely scrutinized, as though you are under a giant microscope. Being late to work a couple of minutes results in getting yelled at or written up by a supervisor, while transgressions by other colleagues or coworkers go unnoticed, and it seems like no matter what you do, nothing is good enough and there are constant criticisms, write-ups, and negative performance reviews over every trifling matter. If you are experiencing this type of behavior at work, it is usually because the company is trying to create a document trail that they can rely on for the purposes of letting you go. See in the past few years, the United States Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings that have been very unfavorable to employees, making a lot easier for companies to terminate employees if they can show that a reason for the termination had nothing to do with an employee’s protected status (like race, gender, nationality, national origin, religion, etc.). Maternity status is a protected class under both California and federal laws. So, if the company can fabricate a number of reasons, often performance related, that supports terminating the employee, they will usually rely on that as a defense if the employee makes a claim that they were unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of maternity status. But the problem with all this is that it’s very transparent, and creating a long paper trail immediately after a new mother returns to work, to justify terminating her, can actually be an indicator that the company is simply fishing for reasons to terminate the new mother.
#3 – Increase in Travel Schedule, Evening Commitments, and Work Function Events
Another sign of maternity discrimination can include being instructed to attend greater travel, traveling, and other related business function event commitments, including evening meetings, weekend meetings, and other work that would really disrupt responsibilities to a new baby. For example, women being discriminated against on the basis of maternity can have their travel schedules altered so they are on the road more or longer, or be given new or increased responsibilities that require traveling in or out of the state for sales pitches, conferences, or other work. Because a new baby requires constant mother’s care, creating scheduling obligations that a new mother can’t attend because of the baby’s schedule can make life very miserable for the new mother. When the new mother tells the company she simply cannot attend due to responsibilities for the new baby, the company then takes the position that the new mother isn’t making work a priority and isn’t committed to the success of the company. Companies tend to do this to, again, bully and pressure a new mother into quitting by imposing a miserable travel schedule. For example, if you have returned from maternity leave, and your responsibilities are being changed to include flying around country, when these tasks were never really a part of your job duties prior to your pregnancy, pregnancy discrimination may be happening.
#4 – Reassigned to a Bad Boss
In every office, there is usually a middle manager, supervisor, or other boss, that is widely disregarded as a horrible boss. A bad boss can be overly demanding, unreasonable, unsympathetic, extremely nitpicky, very difficult to get along with, a sociopath, psychopath, or all of the above. The bad boss probably has a reputation for making people cry, crumble, quit. If you returned from maternity leave, and have found your reporting relationships altered so that you now report to a bad boss, this may be a sign that you are being discriminated against on the basis of maternity or pregnancy status. It can be a move that is cloaked by the company as a “reorganization,” or “restructuring”, but we all know what it really is – the companies trying to get you to quit by making you work for someone who will make you miserable.
#5 – Anything Else that Will Persuade you to Quit
Most of the items above are underhanded ways in which a company tries to persuade a new mother to quit. Why does a company try so hard to get new mothers to quit? A couple of reasons. First of all, if you quit the company does not have to pay you unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits are generally only paid when a person is fired without cause. Because it can take time to fabricate and properly document the steps needed to fire someone “for cause” and therefore get out of paying unemployment benefits, the easiest option is for the company to simply make work so unbearable that the employee quits by choice. Second, it is much more difficult to bring employment claim for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, if an individual voluntarily quits. “Wrongful termination” requires just that: a termination, not a resignation, that is unlawful. It is certainly possible to bring a claim, termed “constructive termination,” which is basically when the company creates an unreasonable set of circumstances that make it so miserable the employee can no longer work there, but these can be slightly harder to prove.
What Can You Do?
If you feel that you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination, it’s extremely important that you speak to an attorney immediately. The law limits the time that new mothers have to bring legal claims for pregnancy or maternity discrimination, and failing to act quickly can result in your claims being expired forever. In today’s economic climate, it takes an average of 7 1/2 to 9 months to get new work after being let go. Getting a pregnancy discrimination attorney involved early, when the first signs of pregnancy discrimination have raised themselves, can even, in some cases, allow the employee to avoid being let go, because most companies know better than to terminate an employee who has hired employment counsel.
AXIS Legal Counsel is an employment law firm representing clients in numerous kinds of lawsuits and disputes involving some of the nation’s largest employers. Whether it is pregnancy discrimination, harassment, discrimination, medical/disability discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, wage/hour, workplace bullying, or other claims, AXIS Legal Counsel is experienced in the field of employment and labor law and focused on providing high-quality legal service. AXIS’s managing attorney, Rabeh M. A. Soofi, is recognized as one of the “Top Women Lawyers in Southern California” by SuperLawyers Rising Stars, and is a Los Angeles Employment Attorney with experience representing numerous employees with a wide variety of employment claims.
For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel for any employment matter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation, or visit our Employee’ Rights Practice Area, or Individual Rights Portal. AXIS is a Los Angeles, California employment law firm serving employees all over Los Angeles and California.
Pregnancy Discrimination is Illegal.
If you or a loved one has been the victim
of pregnancy discrimination, get help now.
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