Pregnant Employees: Fight On.
In the centuries since the Industrial Revolution, there has been only a short time that the effect of pregnant employees on the workplace has come to the notice of employees, employers, and political authorities. As recently as 1976, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in General Electric Co. vs Gilbert, et.al. that the exclusion of pregnancy from a disability plan was not an act of discrimination against women. The resulting outcry resulted in the enactment of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Since then, discrimination against women in the workplace has gradually declined.
Pregnancy discrimination takes place when pregnant employees are treated differently than other employees. Before the Enactment of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, it was not uncommon for an employer to include questions about possible future pregnancy plans at the interview. These questions, of course, would only be addressed to female interviewees as women were the only candidates subject to the condition. Suddenly, such questions became an act of discrimination. Before 1978, women employees felt the need to hide their pregnancy to keep their jobs as long as possible; after 1978, women no longer felt the need to hide their condition.
It took a while for women to realize the freedoms guaranteed by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It took a new generation of women entering the job market, a generation that knew their value and understood the new laws that protected their reproductive rights in the workplace, to finally assure the enforcement of the 1978 Act. Employers were shocked by the change in business environment when they discovered they could no longer rid themselves of pregnant employees. The assumptions of the past would not work in the present and a new series of policies were developed to ensure business morale and productivity.
To many who were established in the workplace, the change came grudgingly. Reports of fellow-employees showing resentment and discontent over the fear of a greater workload due to a group member’s pregnancy ran rampant through study after study. New studies were authorized by disgruntled employers again and again throughout the 1980s and 1990s. These studies only served to reveal the social conflicts inherent in the business system. Fellow-employees acknowledged the importance of children but felt that a teammate’s pregnancy impacted them more than the pregnancy impacted the teammate. Resentment came in large packages with looks and utterances and outright objections voiced in the work group.
It was not until the 2000s that employers found some reasonable answers.