March is Women's History Month. March 8 also marked International Women's Day, which is a day to not only celebrate the women in your life, but also to take some time to reflect on women's rights and the work that still needs to be done.
On IWD, I was ruminating on what to post on our social channels to mark the day. For whatever reason, I kept coming back to a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote about men sharing the burden of childrearing. Specifically, RBG said: “[w]omen will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” Maybe it was overthinking, but I ultimately decided not to post the quote because, taken literally, it feels like it's meant to apply only to a traditional male-female relationship. The quote is from 2001, after all.
But, I also interpret it more broadly than referring only to an immediate male partner. To achieve true equality, women – whether they are single, single moms, in a same sex relationship or in a relationship with a man – do need male allies and one of the purposes of IWD is to include all people in the pursuit of women's equality. In fact, the themes usually have something to do with everyone doing their part to #BreaktheBias (2022) or #ChoosetoChallenge (2021). Our bosses and coworkers, our legislators, our president, if not a male partner in raising our children.
In that sense, men can share the responsibility of bringing up the next generation, if not literally by doing the laundry and their fair share of childcare, then by supporting pregnant women and families so they can thrive. In addition to staying healthy, in its most basic sense, thriving often means simply retaining one's employment. And we'll take that one step further to include being paid fairly in that employment – which includes during maternity leave.
Since that's our wheelhouse, here are some employment issues to be aware of and support:
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: There is currently no federal law requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnancy related medical conditions. Under current Supreme Court precedent, it is possible to make a pregnancy or sex discrimination argument when pregnant women who need accommodations are not treated the same as others who need accommodations, but there is nothing explicit in Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. New York law does have this protection, but it should be on a national level.
Paid Family Leave. There is also no national paid family leave for the birth of a child or for pregnancy-related medical conditions. The Family and Medical Leave Act does provide for 12 weeks of job protected leave to care for a newborn or adopted child, but that is unpaid. And while the law also allows for time off for pregnancy related serious health conditions or prenatal appointments, that would count against your annual 12-week allotment. The FMLA also only applies to public or large (50 employees or more) employers which leaves out a lot of people who need leave. New York and several other states do have paid family leave but, again, why should that depend on where you happen to live?
The Paycheck Fairness Act. This is a law that would essentially beef up the Equal Pay Act. Right now, it is not that difficult, under the EPA, for an employer to articulate a “legitimate” reason for paying women less than men, even if the real reason really is discriminatory. The Paycheck Fairness Act would change that, as well as enhance anti-retaliation provisions, and prevent employers from requiring that salary information be kept confidential among employees. (Because how do you know you're being paid unfairly, if you don't know what anyone else is making?) Studies have shown that the wage gap is worse for mothers, so supporting this law is another way men and women can support, as RBG said, bringing up the next generation.
We hope you will consider voicing your support to your elected officials on these issues. And if you have been negatively impacted in employment during a pregnancy or because of your sex, please feel free to give us a call. We're happy to see if we can help.