Is Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace Real?

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Tania Zarak, a former Netflix Manager, who only had praises to hear about her work from the executives, was fired from her job. The reason; she was pregnant. Once she told her supervisor that she was expecting, his behaviour towards her changed. He eliminated her from the information loop and excluded her from the meetings of a series they were working on. He began to create a negative and abusive environment by commenting on how frustrated or tired Ms. Tania looked after her pregnancy. She was discouraged from taking maternity leave and one day, she was just laid off without an explanation. 

This is a high-profile example of what we call pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Many do not see the light of day. Pregnancy discrimination is one of the biggest challenges women face in the workplace today. I would let numbers do the talking. Statistics by the Bipartisan Policy Centre show that 1 in every 5 women in the U.S. experience this type of discrimination and almost 1 in 4 have contemplated leaving their jobs because of less flexibility and accommodation. A research study by Madhu Gupta in 2021 revealed a significant number of pregnant women in India are mistreated at work.

Pregnancy discrimination can take many forms but it virtually refers to a discriminating attitude towards women during pregnancy, childbirth and conditions associated with them. It may involve any negative employment action associated with pregnancy such as denial of leave, reasonable accommodation in schedule or firing. With women traditionally being forced into the role of caretakers of children and domestic chores, this treatment is unfair and inhumane but, unfortunately, very prevalent. What can be the reason behind this? Employers must pay the women as well as compensate for the tasks to be completed. To get rid of this extra cost, employers are hesitant to hire pregnant or even young women in the first place.

What is more to this is the impact this unjust ordeal has on women. Research by Hackney and his colleagues (2021) discovered that when women perceive pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, they end up experiencing increased stress. On top of that, they experience increased symptoms of postpartum depression. You would be surprised to know but this also affects the child in the form of low birth weights and gestational ages.

Although labour laws in India as well as specific acts and policies like the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 and then its latest revision in 2017 do account for some security for women, they do not need cosmetic alterations to what is already established. They require detailed deliberation and reformation to put an end to the loopholes the employers currently exploit. This may range from tax reliefs and additional benefits to organisations to reinforce them to retain and hire pregnant women while providing them with the necessary support. Flexibility in work hours, work-from-home or creche services should be seriously implemented. The government can collaborate with NGOs to provide neighbourhood creche services. 

Finally, cases of such discrimination should be promptly resolved in the court. Education about such forms of discrimination and spreading awareness about the policies that women can benefit from are viable first steps in this process. These should target both the employers and the employees. However, the current scenario in the Indian context calls for sincere efforts at the organisational level to create the desperately needed cultural shift to support women during pregnancy.

Shared By :  Bushra Rashid

Author’s Bio : Bushra Rashid is a BSc. in Psychology (Honours) graduate from CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru. Having a high drive towards erudition and self-growth, she aspires to channel her passion for psychology into her expertise and serve society. She is interested in pursuing her master’s degree in Organisational Psychology.


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