The new Trump Administration will bring change on many fronts, and policy around pregnancy discrimination in the workplace could be one of them. While the discussions around possible federally mandated paid parental leave have got women just about ready to pull the goalie, it’s also worth taking a closer look at what the workplace environment could be like for a working mama-to-be under President Trump.
“There could be some light at the end of the tunnel for parental leave, but for pregnancy, the story is a little bit dimmer,” says Tom Spiggle, an employment attorney and founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, who focuses on workplace discrimination and wrongful termination due to pregnancy and other family care issues.
Below, Spiggle outlines 3 things you need to know when it comes to pregnancy discrimination under the Trump Administration.
1. It’s not necessarily policy that will change, but priority given to women pursuing pregnancy discrimination cases. Spiggle points out two areas where Trump could make changes that would affect pregnancy discrimination negatively:
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Under the Obama Administration, the EEOC has had pregnancy discrimination as one of its priorities in its strategic enforcement plan. That means when the EEOC is screening cases and deciding where to put its resources, it would put a high priority on pregnancy discrimination. “I think we’ll see that evaporate under the Trump Administration, since as with most federal agencies, he’s likely to weaken the EEOC,” says Spiggle. Although the statute will still be there, and women can still pursue it, the EEOC could take on fewer individual pregnancy discrimination cases.
- The Federal Judiciary: If the EEOC doesn’t take your case because it’s underfunded and overworked, the next step is filing in federal court. But with conservative appointees to federal positions, we’re likely going to see a Federal judiciary that may not favor civil rights causes of action, says Spiggle. They could be more hostile towards discrimination cases, or more likely to kick cases out before they get to a trial. So it’s going to be an uphill climb for women pursuing pregnancy discrimination claims.
Spiggle notes that some states (New York, California, and Maryland are a few) have laws that disallow pregnancy discrimination and enable women to bring claims to state court, which bodes well for working moms-to-be. But, he adds, “It’s a tale of two Americas. Most of these laws are in the blue states, while a lot of the red states don’t have those statutes.”
2. It could take a while for anything to change. Until Trump is in office, we don’t know what his priorities will be, but most suspect that employment issues may be lower down on his list. “I would not be surprised if it’s a year or more before we see a lot of movement -- it won’t be like flipping a switch,” says Spiggle. He speculates that Trump could first turn his attention to overturning recent regulations that greatly expanded the number of people eligible for overtime, which typically help pregnant women and families. But changes to the EEOC or Federal Judiciary won’t be immediate.
3. Brush up on the law, and protect yourself. Pregnancy discrimination happens more than you think, and it’s not always overt. Yes, women do actually get fired during pregnancy or laid off during maternity leave, but there’s also other more subtle forms of discrimination like “benign paternalism,” says Spiggle -- when your boss unilaterally decides that a work challenge is just too much for you in your pregnant state, or scales back on opportunities available to you.
“Most employers want to do the right thing,” and many HR departments have policies in place to protect you, he says, but “companies don’t always have the resources to enforce those policies.” Here are a few tips to help you protect and advocate for yourself during pregnancy:
- Do your homework. Know how your state law relates to pregnancy and maternity leave, and read your company’s handbook. Understand what your protections are.
- Be proactive about your pregnancy and maternity leave. Have the conversation with your workplace early and give your employer a plan as it relates to your pregnancy and maternity leave.
- Be prepared in case you do feel you are being discriminated against. There are so many good organizations that have resources that can help you, including A Better Balance and Work Life Law. Know what to look out for and what steps to take if you experience pregnancy discrimination.
Photography by Amy Frances for Well Rounded.