Women and the Workplace: Pregnancy Discrimination in the United States

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Women and the workplace: Pregnancy Discrimination in the United States

I. Abstract
With an increasing number of women entering the workforce, pregnancy discrimination has become a pervasive problem. This paper, which focuses on the United States (US), thus considers the underlying reasons and impacts of this biasness from the perspectives of both employee and employer. It then follows with a study on the legal protections in place to prevent such behaviour. And lastly, it will analyse various ethical issues involved in this unequal treatment of pregnant employees in the workplace using ethical frameworks such as Utilitarianism theory, Kantian Ethics and John Rawls’ Justice as Fairness. These ethical frameworks will help highlight how pregnancy discrimination is morally wrong and in addition, more has to be done to further curb this prejudice.

II. Introduction
Modern society may seem more understanding of our needs and reflective of a shift towards family-work balance, but the increase in the number of cases of pregnancy discrimination in the US tells a different, appalling, tale. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits increased by about a third over the past decade, from 3,977 in 1997 to 5,797 in 2011. Coupled with the increasing number of women entering in the workforce today at a childbearing age, these figures call for serious concern. Pregnancy discrimination is defined as the unfavourable treatment of a woman because of “pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.”

The conflict between pregnant women and the workplace has intensified as more women enter the workforce and take on roles which were previously predominantly held by men. It is estimated that three out of four women are likely, at some point, to be expecting while working and a substantial number of them may already be expecting while applying for jobs. The physical and mental incapacity of these expecting mothers has been a key point of contention. Despite the anti-pregnancy discrimination laws put in place, false beliefs and expectations of expecting women’s inability to work while pregnant have plagued corporate America for decades. This has resulted in prejudices beyond the gender discrimination that women already face.

III. The Employee Perspective
When Angela Anderson learnt about her promotion, an opportunity sought after by many, she was so excited she quickly shared with her boss the additional good news of her recent pregnancy. She never expected that would be mistake; his face changed upon hearing it, and he withdrew the promotion as he felt that he could not rely on a pregnant employee. While this seems like a case of blatant discrimination against pregnant women and absolutely unfair, in reality this is hardly an isolated case. Pregnancy discrimination can result in financial loss, like in Angela’s case, workplace harassment and increased stress. With a change in job scope or time off on maternity leave, co-workers may have to shoulder heavier duties. Unhappiness may follow, and result in verbal harassment. Also, the lack of faith that pregnant employees can be as serious and committed to their work as before often leads to loss of advancement opportunities or even the job itself. In general, even subordinates have a more negative mind-set of pregnant mangers compared to a one who is not pregnant. As if handling the pregnancy and work isn’t stressful enough, pregnant employees have to deal with all these additional stress. The financial insecurity and humiliation faced hence leads to huge distress and uneasiness, and at such a critical phase of a woman’s life.

IV. The Employer Perspective
Despite no open acknowledgement about employment decisions, pregnancy inevitably affects a woman’s chances of getting a job. While there are laws in place, such as prohibiting private questions about...
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