I recently had the opportunity to chat with Tom Spiggle of Spiggle Law. I am so excited about his soon to be released book, You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired! and I wanted to be sure all my readers could get a sneak peek. He’s a great guy who has helped many people who have been challenged with balancing work and family. Although he represents employees in many different matters, Tom is especially interested in helping clients suffering discrimination because they are pregnant or have family-care issues, such as caring for a sick child or an elderly parent.
Read on to hear Tom’s advice for caregivers in the workplace…
Given that you’ve got four kids of your own, I can imagine it is easy for you to relate to the challenges of working parents. What really sparked your interest in elevating the issues of caregivers in the workplace today?
Before I was a parent I didn’t realize how hard it would be to juggle it all. Thankfully, my wife and I both had jobs that were sympathetic to family and I still wonder how it is all even possible without a supportive workplace. In the US our laws that protect caregivers do a poor job of supporting families so what we really have to do work to enforce the few laws that we do have. It’s all very complicated because there’s not one law that protects caregivers, but a number of laws that apply. In many cases, because it is so confusing, there are HR departments who really aren’t sure how to apply the laws appropriately. That’s why I wrote You’re Pregnant You’re Fired to put it all down into one book that covers all the ins and outs of your parental rights in the workplace.
What advice do/will you give your kids about balancing work and family?
My oldest is eight so we spend most of our time talking about ninjas instead of discussing deep issues of work-life balance. However, when the time comes, I will encourage them be careful of the assumption that “work comes first” and that you do whatever it takes for the job. Sometimes you sacrifice your support network when you move for a job. For example, our parents aren’t close to where we live. They’d be willing to be involved if they were. It’s wise to live near your family if at all possible so you can have support as you’re raising your kids. Luckily we’ve had a good nanny situation but you’ve got to be prepared and build resources and a support network if both parents are working.
You’ve done quite a bit of research in this area. What data have you gathered that was surprising, or even shocking?
You know it really wasn’t the data that was shocking but the stories of real people that moved me to action. Pregnancy discrimination is on the rise and it peaked in 2008-2009. It’s leveled off a bit since then but it is still an issue. I had assumed we were more enlightened as a nation but there are still people blatantly violating the law. It is unfortunate that for every one person who files a complaint or lawsuit there are probably ten more who didn’t.
It is usually a few bad apples that spoil the bunch so what can a well-intentioned company do to help managers handle issues facing caregivers in the most productive way?
I think it’s important to let managers know that they won’t be penalized for accommodating an employee. A well-meaning company has guidelines about how to accommodate for the needs of caregivers and good corporate communications to educate their workforce. Part of the problem is that boardrooms are overwhelmingly male so they just don’t know or understand the issue. Most likely if they understood they would be willing to be supportive.
One thing to consider is that any kind of different treatment offered to a woman – good or bad – can be seen as discriminating. Companies get into hot water when they make choices for a woman that could impact her upward mobility. Like determining if she’s promotion eligible because there’s travel required. Even though they may be well intentioned, they shouldn’t make those decisions on her behalf.
Talking about “the law” sometimes sets bosses on the defensive. What can a caregiver do to help their manager offer solutions instead of roadblocks and hopefully avoid making a discrimination claim?
The spirit of the law is to keep women in the workplace and it’s not only there to punish the employer – that’s the last resort if the guidelines weren’t followed. In most cases if both the employee and the manager can stay with the spirit – keeping caregivers in the workplace – then there can be a good healthy conversation and you avoid the legal issue altogether. Caregivers who are informed and make the first step to a healthy dialogue can usually avoid taking legal action because they were able to work out a solution that was a win-win for both sides.
Some managers just won’t get it and employees will be left with no route but a legal remedy. If an employee’s history with a manager or company leads them to believe that the situation will go south quickly, what can they do at the onset to be prepared?
I highly recommend that women not only tell their managers and HR departments that they’re pregnant as soon as they are sure but that they also share it in writing. That starts the clock on the time period that the employer knew you were pregnant and now you have a timeline if you suspect that you’re being treated differently now that you’re pregnant. Read up on all the laws, communicate with your HR department, and get your doctor involved if you need accommodation. And if all else fails, seek legal counsel from an attorney familiar with employment law and if you can find someone with pregnancy discrimination experience, even better.