10 Maternity Leave Myths — What You Don’t Know Can Hurt

  • By Koa Beck, DailyWorth’s Senior Editor
  • December 05, 2014

maternity leave

This week, the Supreme Court heard the case of Peggy Young, who says she was forced into unpaid leave from her UPS job in 2006 — because she was pregnant. Young reportedly presented a note from her doctor saying that given her pregnancy, she could not lift packages exceeding 20 pounds. UPS told Young that since she could not perform those duties, she could not continue as a driver. As a consequence of her unpaid leave, pregnant Young lost her medical coverage. She then went back to work two months after giving birth.

With Young’s case, the Supreme Court is slated to revisit the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1978 to protect against Young’s exact circumstances. The act maintains that a pregnant woman (or a woman who has just given birth) “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

But anyone who has been pregnant in a blue-collar job (or otherwise) knows that workplace culture, not the law, often determines how your pregnancy is treated in the office. Here are 10 maternity leave myths surrounding your “protected” rights in the workplace.

MYTH: You're Legally Entitled to Paid Leave in the U.S.

Nope. Presently in this country, we have only the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which holds your job for 12 weeks unpaid.

MYTH: You're Legally Entitled to Unpaid Leave in the U.S.

No again. This piece of legislation is applicable only to women (and men) who have worked at a company for at least a year AND work at a company that employs at least 50 people full-time. Don’t have both those things? Sucks to be you.  

MYTH: Most Women in the U.S. Are Offered Paid Leave Anyway

Also not true. According to MomsRising.org, 51 percent of new mothers don’t have paid maternity leave. Most of those women get by through some combination of FMLA, disability leave, vacation days, and sick days. However, some ultimately quit or lose their jobs.

MYTH: You Can’t Be Fired While Pregnant

Not legally, but absolutely, you can be fired while pregnant. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) says it’s illegal to fire a pregnant woman, there are many loopholes couched in “performance” language. A study in Gender and Society found that employers often get away with firing pregnant women by saying their performance is suffering (perhaps because they are growing a human?).

Reginald Byron, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor of sociology at Southwestern University, commented, "This strategy of portraying pregnant workers as undependable and costly seems to legitimize their terminations to external audiences.”

MYTH: Most Women Want to Quit to Be Home With Their Baby

Lies. A new study of Harvard Business School alumni found that (high-earning) women still want high-achieving careers after they have babies. Female breadwinning is on the rise: Four in 10 households with a child under 18 have a mother who is the primary or sole breadwinner. Two-thirds of these women are single mothers. And before the recession in 2007, 20 percent of ladies polled said they would prefer to work full-time rather than part-time or opting out. (That number rose to 32 percent by 2012.)

Sadly, there's more. Read the next five myths. 

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