The Wall Street Journal recently posted an entry on its blog “The Juggle,” entitled “Laid Off . . . And Pregnant,” describing the position of tens of thousands of pregnant women laid off in the current economy. As noted by the article, pregnant women are just as subject to any one else to being laid off for economic reasons, as long as they are not specifically targeted based on their pregnancy or assumptions about their future commitment to the job as new mothers.
A woman laid off while pregnant, however, is in a uniquely difficult position. Legal prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination notwithstanding, women with a visible belly are not the most competitive job candidates. Most unemployed women “showing” their pregnancy assume (with good reason) that they will never get hired, and therefore remove themselves from the job market. Others hope to land a job offer before their appearance forces them to disclose their condition.
Although it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a candidate simply because of her pregnancy, the employer is likely to assume that the employee will be unable to work for at least some period in the near future. In addition, there remain societal assumptions about a new mother’s lack of focus on work (that the EEOC’s Guidance on Family Responsibility Discrimination (pdf) was designed to combat). Even if, subconsciously, one would anticipate most employers to reach the decision that another (non-pregnant) candidate was better suited for the position. It goes without saying that an expectant father who is laid off does not face the same hurdles.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but not that far.
There’s no easy answer to this issue. I’m sure there are plenty of expectant mothers crossing fingers and toes (if they can reach them) and hoping that they remain employed through the duration of their pregnancy.