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Ask The Experts: I Think I’m Being Discriminated Against For Having A Baby

As if having a baby wasn’t stressful enough, coming back to a hostile work environment makes things seem impossible.

Ask The Experts: I Think I’m Being Discriminated Against For Having A Baby
[Photo: Flickr user Daniel Lobo]

Recent pregnancy discrimination cases have brought the issue of expectant mothers workplace rights to light. But much more difficult to pin point is when a new mother returns to work and feels her opportunities have diminished. Psychologist Art Markman helps a reader with this problem assess her options.

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Hello,

I have been working for at a national car repair chain for about two years. I am a great employee, qualified, good at my job, and well-liked by customers. I was full-time before I was pregnant, but because of complications I had to cut my hours and eventually go on disability while I recovered.

Before I was pregnant I had spoken to my bosses about working in the shop full time as a mechanic, and it seemed like a sure thing. However, things have gone downhill fast since I’ve been back from maternity leave. My bosses have refused to let me go in the shop and they still schedule me for only about 16 hours a week.

Even after the district manager told me that I would be promoted to the shop, my manager hired a younger and less experienced man and put him in the shop instead full time.

I have tried to bring these things up with my managers but they seem to always have a reason why I’m wrong. I feel like my rights are being pushed aside because I’m a female who wants to work in the shop. Am I being discriminated against? What should I do?

Thanks for your guidance,

A.


Dear A.

First off, congratulations on becoming a mother. With all of the problems you are experiencing at work, don’t lose out on the beauty of the early time with your child.

That said, it does sound like there is the potential for discrimination here. The aspect of your situation that has the biggest legal implications is the issue of equal treatment. If your company has a policy where they reduce hours and remove people from the shop for any employee who takes a leave for a medical or disability issue, then they are treating all employees equally (though perhaps not morally correctly). However, if they are singling you out for taking maternity leave, when they have let people return from leave for other medical or disability problems, then that suggests there is unequal treatment. If you suspect that you are a victim of unequal treatment, you should contact a lawyer or union representative (if applicable) for another opinion.

Even if the company has acted within the bounds of the law, though, their treatment is a real problem. You work in a profession in which men outnumber women both in jobs on the floor as well as in management roles. Every organization benefits from diversity and particularly from gender diversity. Diversity creates a more open workplace in which a variety of opinions are likely to be expressed. It can help to make a workplace more creative by fostering an openness to new ideas. There is also some evidence suggesting that work groups with more women in them are more sensitive to the needs of group members in a way that promotes higher levels of productivity.

Of course, it is easy to say that stifling diversity is a bad thing. It is harder to suggest what you should do. You seem to have an advocate in your district manager. One thing you might consider is to meet with your district manager and talk about what has happened. This district manager might be able to put more pressure on the store managers to get you back in the shop and get your hours reinstated. Because your outlet is part of a chain, there may be an opening in the shop at another location where you might be able to work.

As you are addressing the legal and work issues, though, try to find some ways to manage the stress. Having a new child is one of the most difficult situations that anyone can go through. It can be hard on the relationship between mother and child, and it can be hard on the relationship between the parents. Find ways to relax when you can, and find ways to connect with your partner to ensure that your personal relationships weather the added frustration of your job issues.

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Good luck.


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