Can You Be Fired for Doing Fertility Treatments?
After blowing your mind with the idea that there are married women without children yesterday, I’d like to dial it back by talking about a settlement that happened this week in regards to a woman who was fired for doing fertility treatments and subsequently getting pregnant. It wasn’t what I expected to encounter via the EEOC. I clicked on the headline because it was about pregnancy. I didn’t realize it was also going to be about infertility.
To tell or not to tell your employer that you’re having trouble with family building?
We opted for disclosure because (1) my boss seemed understanding and (2) I was a teacher and the daily monitoring impacted my first period class. She shifted my schedule so first period was my planning period. On days when I had to go in for monitoring, I just stayed late and did my planning after school. She made fertility treatments possible; I’m not sure how I would have managed otherwise considering the amount of time I would have needed to take off from work in order to make treatments possible cycle after cycle.
I’ve heard more than one story of a teacher getting fired for doing IVF, but in those cases, it was because the act (IVF) conflicted with the religious ideology of the workplace (Catholic school). What about those of us who work at a secular institution? Can we be fired for missing out on work time?
The short answer — according to this EEOC statement — is no.
A female retail buyer in Honolulu informed the company that she began treatments for infertility in 2011. Upon disclosure of her disability, a company official allegedly made offensive comments about her intentions and became even less receptive upon disclosure of her pregnancy later that same year. The buyer was disciplined after disclosing her need for fertility treatments, and then discharged when she disclosed her travel restrictions due to her pregnancy. Such alleged conduct violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Later in the statement, it provides a concrete quote by Timothy Riera, the director of her local EEOC’s office:
“Federal law protects workers who are discriminated against due to their infertility, a covered disability. Workers who undergo fertility treatments should be treated like any other employee with a disability – with equal and careful consideration of reasonable accommodation requests.”
Of course, reasonable accommodation leaves a lot open to interpretation. But isn’t missing work or trying to navigate work while infertile one of the most stressful things about the financial side of infertility? The lack of flexibility in the workplace foments the stress already present with family building. Think about how many people would do a BETTER job at work if they didn’t have to waste energy with the tension of trying to secretly balance treatments and work, but instead had employers work directly with employees to help them perform well while addressing a medical situation. This, of course, is not just true for infertility. It’s true for every medical situation that impacts work time.
Telling my employer could have gone otherwise. If she was a less understanding woman, telling her could have bitten me in the ass. Because, sure, it’s all well and good to have laws in place, and there is always the option to pursue legal consequences if you are fired like the woman above, but all of that takes money and energy. I think we all know that people are unfairly fired all the time. It was a lucky break that I had years to build up my reputation at the school BEFORE I had to use that good will for treatments. It was a lucky break that my boss was an understanding woman.
Technically adoption should be covered as well — right? — though I’m not certain since this case only covers fertility treatments.
Are you (or have you been) open with your employer about family building?