Maloney O'Laughlin PLLC fights for employees throughout Washington, from Seattle to Spokane.

Maloney O'Laughlin PLLC fights for employees throughout Washington, from Seattle to Spokane.

What is “forced leave,” and what effect can it have on women?

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2024 | Pregnancy Discrimination

It wasn’t that long ago that women in the workforce took great pains to hide the fact that they were pregnant from their employers as long as they could – because the moment they started “showing” their employers were likely to make them take leave (if they weren’t outright fired).

In many cases, employers simply considered it “unseemly” to have a visibly pregnant worker on their staff. In other cases, they simply regarded a pregnant worker as a nuisance whose need for any accommodations was “more trouble than it was worth.” It wasn’t until 1978 that forced leave was banned via the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Unfortunately, forced leave still happens – although usually an employer will couch their decision to send a worker out on leave in terms that make it sound like they are doing the pregnant employee a favor. Even if a pregnant worker says they are capable of performing their job duties, stereotypes and misconceptions about pregnancy tend to die hard.

Why is forced leave so detrimental to women?

Aside from the immediate effect forced leave can have on a pregnant worker’s income, this practice can:

  • Stall advancement opportunities: Forced leave can lead to missed opportunities for career advancement. Women may be passed over for promotions or important projects, impacting their professional growth. This setback is not only detrimental to individual careers but also contributes to the broader issue of gender inequality in leadership roles.
  • Create skill or knowledge gaps: Some industries change and evolve very rapidly, and a stint away from the workplace can cause a worker to have trouble remaining competitive.
  • Encourage resentment: The workers who are left to pick up the slack while a pregnant worker is on extended leave may become resentful and frustrated – and they may target the worker rather than management with their displeasure.

Forced leave due to pregnancy when there’s no medical necessity is not acceptable. If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination in any form, it may be time to explore your rights and options under the law.