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Study: Workplace pregnancy bias affects mother's and baby's health

Workplace pregnancy discrimination is illegal. Yet, over the last 10 years, more than 50,000 pregnancy discrimination complaints have been filed with the EEOC and state human rights agencies. We know that pregnancy discrimination happens all too often, but a new study indicates that the consequences may be worse than many realized.

Researchers from Baylor University surveyed over 250 pregnant employees to measure their perceptions of pregnancy discrimination, their perceived stress level, and any postpartum depression symptoms. They also measured the babies' health outcomes, including Apgar score, gestational age, birth weight, and number of visits to the doctor

The results indicated that pregnancy discrimination has a negative impact both the health of the mother and that of the baby. In particular, pregnancy discrimination was associated with increased postpartum depression in the mothers, lower gestational ages, lower birth weights, and increased doctor visits for the babies.

"This just shows the far-reaching implications of workplace discrimination and highlights the importance of addressing it," commented the study's lead researcher.

Pregnancy discrimination comes in many forms. It is defined, essentially, as any adverse job action a company takes against an employee because of her pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act both prohibit discrimination against pregnant workers in any aspect of employment, ranging from recruitment and hiring, to promotions, assignments, and termination.

Additionally, California's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law covers disabling conditions related to pregnancy, including morning sickness and postpartum depression. The law requires reasonable accommodations to be made for workers suffering from a temporary disability related to pregnancy. This can include taking leave, including intermittent leave.

What can you do to prevent pregnancy-related problems at work?

If you are pregnant, you may be unsure about how to protect your legal rights at work. Learn about your company's policies on pregnancy discrimination. You will need to tell your employer that you are pregnant if you are seeking an accommodation for your pregnancy or a related condition.

Try to build self-care into your workday. For example, consider leaving for work 10 to 15 minutes early in the morning so that you don't have to hurry. Set boundaries and realistic deadlines. Try to build in cushions between meetings so you can take care of your needs. Protect your private time from encroachment by workplace demands.

Sit down and decide how much you are willing to do for your employer during your pregnancy and after birth. Be assertive about what you need and be prepared to put your foot down if your company begins making unreasonable demands.

Remember that your well-being has a direct impact on how well you perform professionally, and keep in mind that most employers understand that.

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