Employment rights for spewing mummies
I've been advising a friend of mine this week who works for a big, well known supermarket in the UK and is being treated unfairly due to pregnancy sickness. Like 30% of pregnant women she has needed to have a few days off work because she's spewing up constantly. Now I don't know about you but I don't particularly want people spewing up at work in the supermarket I shop in... Clearly she needs to be off for a bit.
But her employer is being difficult about it and saying they may have to look at disciplinary action if she phones in sick again... Despite knowing that she is pregnant. This is a depressingly common story and is an unacceptable situation! They are also threatening to demote her from her role, which is outright illegal!
Rest is an important part of self managing pregnancy sickness and for some women could prevent symptoms escalating into full blown Hyperemesis Gravidarum. In the UK we are entitled to take time off work for sickness and we are also entitled to not be discriminated against or treated unfairly when pregnant. Obviously your employer needs to know you are pregnant for your rights to be triggered so it's a good idea to tell them straight away if you are phoning in sick due to pregnancy. It can't then be recorded on your normal sickness record or used against you in disciplinary or dismissal cases.
Women have always had a tough time when it comes to employment rights and there are still sectors today where we earn less than men. But if government and society want women to work outside of the home and also to continue populating the world with people to continue the human race then they need to start treating us better in the work place!
Personally I was so lucky with my employers during my pregnancies. They were very supportive and kind... Working for NHS GP practices as a nurse you would hope for good practice although I know other nurses and even doctors who have suffered terribly at the hands of their employers.
It's not just the women suffering that can face discrimination either. A good friend of mine's husband lost his job during her second hyperemesis pregnancy as he had to take time off work to care for their first child while she was in hospital! Imagine sacking someone because his wife is in hospital... What sort of society do we live in?
So what can you do if you are having problems at work? Know your rights and let your employer know that you know them! Print off the information for employers from the PSS website and give it to your manager along with your sick note. Read the page for employees too, there are links there for where to get extra help from Citizens Advice and Maternity Action. If fighting for your rights yourself is too difficult when you are sick then perhaps ask your partner or a relative to advocate for you. Get them to explain the situation to your manager - they can say they've been looking into entitlements and so on in a gentle way that hopefully won't make your return to work awkward. Like with doctors, it's about trying to form a partnership with the employer so that they feel like you are being proactive and not just difficult.
You also don't need to feel like you have to take action whilst still sick. If your employer treats you unfairly during pregnancy then once you are recovered and have the strength you can then take action to exercise your rights and claim compensation.
We need to start standing up to the prejudices and unfairnesses we experience so that society can improve and develop for the good of our daughters and granddaughters. Illegal practice needs not just to stop but to become socially unacceptable and no longer tolerated by women the way they are now. It is small minded bosses and colleagues who have never actually been ill themselves that perpetuate myths and nonsense about women in employment and pregnancy sickness... Education and action is the way forward.