Friday, 13 April 2018

Dear (ex) Employer

Dear (ex) Employer,

When I told you I was pregnant at the age of 19, I didn't really expect the reaction from you that I got. I was partway through a degree, working all hours under the sun and actually succeeding in the role that I played in the male dominated workplace. Of course I expected some shock. I was shocked myself that I was pregnant and I didn't really know what to do or expect. What I didn't expect was the negativity in the workplace that went alongside it. 


I was a good employee. One that was always early, always worked late and worked her socks off to prove she was worth of having a place at the table that was sat at by so many men. to some it was just a sales job, to me it was something that I could have seen myself working at for much longer than the few years I did. I remember the text I got from my manager at the time when he found out I was pregnant. A simple "Wow, I didn't expect you to get knocked up" left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

For when I told everyone I was pregnant the mood and change shifted. No longer was I included in the jokes, I was the jokes. I was laughed at for keeping my unborn child, I was told that I was too young to be a mother and I was throwing my life away. I was told I would end up like Vicky Pollard, a parody of teen parent stereotypes that isn't true in the slightest. I was left feeling like the most worthless employee in the room. All of a sudden I went from loving my job to having what turned out to be panic attacks related to working.

The lack of support didn't end with the name throwing. I wasn't given sufficient breaks, I wasn't allowed to sit down for long periods of time and the heath and safety checks were pretty much thrown out of the window. I worked up until the week before I gave birth, and not once did I feel supported by management. Of course I had one or two employees I could lean on, but in the bigger picture? I felt like as soon as I uttered the words pregnant, my employment was doomed.

The lack of keeping in touch should have rung alarm bells with me, and when I called them to say I wanted to come back I was told I had to have a sit down chat with the new manager. What ensued was a meeting that left me in tears and an even greater feeling of uncertainty hanging over me. For I had to return to work. Not only did I need a job, but written in my contract was the clause that I had to work for at least a month after maternity leave or pay back my pay from them. I was in their hands and I didn't actually know what I could do.

The new manager sat me down and told me that clearly my priorities had changed. Of course they had, I had a small child at home crying for me. But I was also returning to university as well as work. I was ready to feel a bit more like Laura as well as mum. But for him, that didn't make sense. In that hazy meeting I remember hearing the words "stay at home", "clearly not ready for the workplace" and the worst of all? "Go on benefits, all you teen parents do, you'll have a life of luxury". In what world is it okay for an employer to dictate how an employee should live?

I had gone from being a hard worker to a stereotype in their eyes. A person that would tarnish their company. Which baffled me as there was already two young dads in the workplace and I expected more. I left the meeting having been sent to another store to work as my original one didn't want me. Within a month I had been written off sick with anxiety and then handed my notice in. I couldn't work in a place that didn't support my decision to be a mum.

With my confidence at rock bottom and postnatal depression riding high, I didn't actually know that I could take them to a tribunal. I didn't know about maternity discrimination until it was too late. And I doubt that my employers knew they were being as horrible as they were to me. There's a fine line between workplace banter and discrimination. No one in that job recognised my experience and worth, no one realised that I was still the same person as I was before my maternity leave and it took a different employer to see the benefits of hiring a parent to give me a chance.

From the moment I uttered I was pregnant, I was doomed in that job. I should have seen it coming but I was blinded by the fact I was a good worker. I never expected my uterus and unborn child to receive derogatory abuse and discrimination that ultimately resulted in me resigning. An employer needs to support their employee in whatever they are going through, they need to help and be there for them. They need to know they are worthy in the workplace, they need to know flexible working is an option. They need to know that they are a valued employee.

Today, Pregnant Then Screwed is asking all mothers that have experienced maternity discrimination to write a letter to their employer telling them how they felt, what the experienced and why it's illegal to treat an employee this way. With over 54,000 women losing their jobs because of maternity discrimination each year something needs to change. Whilst I have left the workplace and can't change your policies, I would hope that for someone else in the future, things would be different.

Yours Sincerely,

Laura

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