Things have changed dramatically for women in industrialized nations over the past century. While there are still inequalities and injustices, we’ve made definite progress. One of the areas that still seems to fall behind the times, however, is pregnancy. Women are often left out in the cold in terms of their career when they become pregnant.
This seems to be the case in New Zealand right now, according to a report from the Human Rights Commission on pregnancy in the workplace.
Many complaints from pregnant women
In the past two years, the Human Rights Commission received a total of 84 complaints from pregnant women regarding mistreatment in the workplace. There are a number of specific types of complaints, including things like:
- Being treated differently once an employer is aware the woman is pregnant.
- Having your job terminated while you are pregnant or while you’re on parental leave.
- Not accommodating reasonable needs of pregnant women.
- Not correctly or adequately organizing parental leave time.
This has led the Human Rights Commission to offer specific guidance to employers regarding pregnancy and maternity rights.
Not always crystal clear
Meanwhile, some employers claim that there are other reasons for making the decisions they make. For example, one hair dresser in Whanganui was told that her employer would not pay for maternity leave, and wouldn’t keep her job open when she was away from work.
According to the owner of the salon, however, the woman was undercharging clients, and in some cases even sending clients to a competing salon because their salon didn’t have the particular hair color the client wanted.
The Employment Relations Authority awarded the hairdresser $4,000 as well as maternity leave, ruling that her employer really fired her because she was pregnant, rather than the reasons claimed by the employer.
The path ahead
Maternity rights are one of the last great frontiers when it comes to equality. While no one is suggesting that a woman should be guaranteed a job if she suddenly stops performing well, or that employers should be forbidden from ever firing a pregnant woman for a legitimate reason, too often employers find other excuses when really they don’t want to pay for maternity leave.