pregnant worker illustration

What we can do about the bump bias: Ovia co-founder Gina Nebesar on pregnancy discrimination at work

Every day, there are more than 500,000 questions and answers posted in Ovia Community, and many of them are from women asking for advice on how to handle pregnancy discrimination at work. One woman recently posted, “My boss cut my hours and acts like I’m incapable of working when I’m only 23 weeks pregnant.” Another said, “It’s crazy. This is my first pregnancy, and I didn’t know stuff like this really happens to pregnant women all the time.”

Today, there are 25.1 million working mothers with children under 18 in the U.S. alone. Being pregnant and having children is something that is natural and normal – yet, somehow there’s still a stigma in the workplace.

We know that pregnant women and mothers are entirely capable of succeeding – and excelling – at their jobs. But clearly we have a long way to go in changing how women are treated in the workplace. So how do we make that change happen? Here are a few places to start.

Know your rights

In the U.S., employees who are pregnant or new parents are protected by certain federal laws. Even if you’re not experiencing discrimination, it’s can be helpful to familiarize yourself with these laws.

  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) ensures that you cannot be fired for your pregnancy and enforces other standards for hiring, training, sick leave use, and workplace accommodations.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires companies with 15 or more employees to provide you with work accommodations if you have a pregnancy-related condition that affects how you work, such as preeclampsia, depression, gestational diabetes, and/or cervical insufficiency.
  • And once your little one arrives, the Families and Medical Laws Act (FMLA) gives new parents 12 weeks of unpaid, job- and benefits-protected leave. (It also covers medical leave in case of a family member’s illness.) You can read a helpful FAQ about the FMLA from the National Partnership for Women and Families here.

Certainly, the hope is that your employer will be doing all they can to support your pregnancy and journey into parenthood. But if at any point in your pregnancy you think your legal rights have been violated, you’ll want to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the event. Pregnancy discrimination is serious, and filing a charge requests that the commission take remedial action, which could lead to mediation and settlement, investigation, or even a lawsuit.

Do what you can where you are

Even though these laws are in place, the stigma still exists – and there is action we can all take to fight it. If you think your employer could be more women- and family-friendly, you’re probably not the only one in your organization who thinks so. Bring your concerns to the attention of your Human Resources representative, and suggest solutions if you have them!

And if you’re in a position of power at your organization, you should do all you can to advocate for women and families, from formal policies to day-to-day practices that will help improve your workplace culture. At Ovia Health, I work with some of the biggest employers in the U.S. to help them deliver maternity and family benefits to their employees. I’ve learned that the most successful employers are the ones supporting women and families, because this sort of support is good for employees and businesses.

Again, we have a long way to go in changing how women are treated in the workplace. But all women and parents deserve to feel supported. Women are strong, capable, and talented – at home and at work – and it’s time they were treated this way.

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