Working for Justice

“Take care of your kid situation”—Employers are Failing Working Moms During this Pandemic

Posted August 12th, 2020 by in Gender Discrimination and Harassment.

As many schools go fully virtual this fall, working parents are faced with many questions about caring for and educating children while working.  Working moms also face an additional question: will my boss perceive me as less committed to my work because I am a woman with children?  Unfortunately, too often the answer is “yes.”

That working moms face a “motherhood penalty” and working dads face a “fatherhood bonus” is well-documented.  Women lose 4% of their hourly earnings on average for each child, while men earn 6% more.  These figures reflect unlawful gender stereotypes: the moms take care of children; dads work to provide for children.  Assuming the primary job of moms is to care for their children, employers unlawfully assume that women with children are less committed to work.  They also apply the opposite stereotypes to men.

These stereotypes can be exacerbated during the pandemic, when women are video conferencing with their bosses from home, and children are very much “in the picture.”  Too many employers are requiring working moms to “prove their commitment” to their jobs.  In contrast, employers assume working dads are already committed.  Many bosses even praise dads for taking care of kids, assuming that it is not their “job” to do so and they’re going above and beyond.

I talked with one working mom recently whose boss chastised her for having her children visible during one-on-one video calls.  The boss said something like “you are showing that you are not a professional,” but I think he really meant something like “I don’t think you can be a good worker and a good mom, and I am reminded of this when I see your child.”  One woman filed a lawsuit after she was fired because her children were creating background noise while on calls.  Her boss told her she “need[ed] to take care of your kid situation.”  She responded that she couldn’t lock them in a room, and he told her to “figure it out.”  Again, in the eyes of the boss, she could not be a good worker and a good mom, so he fired her.  Another women asked for time off to care for her son when his school closed.  The employer refused, saying that it “was not in the interest of the company or yourself,” and she too was fired soon after.

Working moms are dealing with so much during this pandemic; they should not also have to tolerate unlawful gender stereotypes.  If your boss is demanding more of working moms than he (or she) is demanding of working dads, you should consult with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.

Kate Mueting is a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Ms. Mueting is responsible for managing much of the KPMG gender discrimination litigation and also represents employees in other individual and class discrimination and overtime cases.
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