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What can discrimination look like after maternity leave?

Across the country, women face thousands of challenges in their working life every day. But few things are as professionally devastating as coming back from having a child to find your entire workplace different.

A few weeks back, a famous female politician related the story of how she had been fired from her job in 1971 after getting pregnant. It was met with dozens of stories from women recounting similar circumstances. Those stories highlight a sad fact: while outright pregnancy discrimination has been illegal since 1978, the practice is not eradicated. It’s just changed.

Disguised discrimination

Employers still discriminate. If they did not, then there would never be a need to vigorously protect the rights of any worker. What has happened is that the methods for discriminating against any one group, such as pregnant women and women who have recently given birth, have become much more subtle.

Quiet hostility

As a fact, maternity leave and pregnancy can leave a staff short-handed. But there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with that. If your managers constantly use your absence as a reason for the difficult situations your coworkers face, it can lead to a hostile environment on your return.

Changing circumstances

Even without an overt campaign against you, your workplace may change drastically in staffing or organization while you’re out. The job you return to may not be anything like the job you had before you gave birth.

Assumptions about your priorities

In ideal circumstances, your workplace will have banded together and stayed relatively stable while you were away and everyone is very understanding. But there is such a thing as being too understanding. If your duties change because your bosses and coworkers assume you have a new priority, that is a form of discrimination.

If you didn’t ask to change how you did your job, then you shouldn’t have your role reduced. If you didn’t ask for a new set of responsibilities, then you shouldn’t have new ones foisted on you. Just because you are a mom now doesn’t mean you are only a mom.

Keeping focus

After you have a child, and indeed throughout your pregnancy, you deserve to work in the way you are accustomed to. You do not deserve to have your job changed on you just because you had a child. If that happens to you, there are options available.

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