America, the land of the free and the home of the Super Size bucket o' fries, is supposed to be a place of opportunity, where everyone has a fair shot at one day growing up to be the Monopoly Man. But, as many women are finding out, the way we treat working women who dare choose to get pregnant is anything but welcoming or opportunity-enabling. In fact, some women are finding out the hard way that opting into motherhood is read by some employers as opting out of working. Yes, Virginia. You can get fired for getting pregnant.
The US is the only developed nation that doesn't provide or require some sort of paid maternity leave, but what your HR rep might not tell you is that despite laws that bar the discrimination against pregnant women, it's not that tough for certain employers to fire you after you get knocked up, as long as they don't outright say you're being fired for being pregnant. And if that fails, they sure as hell can make your life pretty difficult.
Today, the New York Post profiles three women who learned after they chose to become mothers that their future path involved a lot more red tape and closed doors than they thought it would. The Family Medical Leave Act (abbreviated to FMLA, which I can't help but mentally read to myself as the "Fuck My Life Act") guarantees that an employer must hold an employee's job if the employee leaves for a period of 12 weeks or less due to injury, illness, or, uh, childbirth — but it does nothing to guarantee paying new mothers any kind of income. If women want that, they often have to apply for temporary disability, which only pays a puny couple of hundred dollars per week.
You're even more screwed if your company has under 50 employees; in that case, they're totally exempt from FMLA requirements. One woman the Post profiled was told by her boss that she could take time off to care for her infant, but was then given the dodge when she tried to return to work. Her boss informed her that they didn't have room left for her at the company, and that everyone had assumed she'd vacated her position. She hadn't. When she filed for unemployment, she found out that she wasn't eligible, because she had "quit," and you're only eligible for unemployment benefits if you had the good sense to piss your boss off enough to fire you.
Other women who have given birth while on the job have found that employers are hesitant to make basic accommodations for pregnant employees, including giving women the option of working from home during a difficult pregnancy. Others have been told that they're not allowed to take as much leave as they thought, or that they're not eligible for any pay while they're off work.
We do a lot of things well here in Amurrica — win Olympic medals, make movies, act disconcertingly friendly to strangers to less hug-friendly countries — but one thing we're not really into doing, as a country, is supporting women's reproductive choices — any of them.