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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Women, The Workplace, and Their Damn Internal Organs

Cross-posted with BlogHer...

It's amazing what people will do to get out of work. I heard tale that there are laaaaaaaaaazy women out there who love having their cervix manipulated in order to have a catheter shoved through to their uterus so an embryo that was created out of an egg that they had surgically removed from their body can be transferred back. All just to get out of that 8 a.m. staff meeting. You know that kind of woman also is the type who looooooooooooooooves to waste time with things like having mammograms or colo-rectal exams. Slackers.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week on a federal appeals court ruling protecting women who need to miss work in order to pursue fertility treatments. The case involved a secretary who missed work during an IVF cycle that was ultimately unsuccessful and asked for additional time to try again.

Here's the thing: women are going to be the ones who miss work even when it's male factor infertility because pregnancy occurs inside the woman's body. Which means that if a male employee has azoospermia, he will not need massive amounts of time away from work (at the most, he will need to provide the sperm on the day of retrieval) though his fertile wife will need to take off from work in order to conceive with him. This is why infertility is not only a condition of the person, but also a condition of the couple (when a person has a partner) since both people will be affected by the others' infertility.

Of course, there has to be a fine balance. Personal life cannot trump productivity--they need to work in a give-and-take with one another. Work places cannot function if employees are taking off continuously, leaving work unfinished. Fertility treatments can interfere with travel and meetings as well as physical labour. But where is the give when medical issues or situational conditions necessitate the utilization of reproductive assistance?

The comments on the article tell the larger story of both people who have undergone IVF and are grateful for understanding bosses as well as the anonymous commentors who say, "I don’t get this. You’re making a choice, and you expect your co-workers to simply accept it because it leads to having a child?"

At the heart of this lawsuit is the fact that personal life always negatively affects work life. Therefore, those opposing this ruling such as the anonymous poster who commented on the Wall Street Journal article, "Why should anyone from your company give you slack? Because you are infertile. This and the lawsuit that brought up this topic are a joke. Your personal defects should not allow you to screw over a private business just because you want to have kids" would also probably agree that we should simply stop having children. C-sections take around six weeks to heal and there is simply too high a risk of c-sections when you factor in about 40% of pregnancies necessitate them. Therefore, we need to do away with children. Also, fights with spouses disrupt sleep and are too big a risk when you consider the divorce rate is about 50% in the United States. Therefore, no marriage.

Or, the heart inside the heart of this is that, as this commentor points out, the problem is simply in employing women:
I can tell you this is another reason to hire less women & limit their access to promotions. It is fine if you can actually handle your job & proceed through the treatments, the possible pregnancy & then the time off you will need to take care of your sick child & all childhood emergencies. But you have to look at this realistically at all the time involved & time when you will not be able to focus on work.
Which is precisely why this court ruled to utilize the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and call out this inequality towards women. Because women should not be penalized in the workplace simply because the future of the world is directly tied to our uteruses. We can, of course, dismiss each individual woman as not important to the perpetuation of the system, but we cannot as a whole dismiss women and their necessity in bringing forth the next generation.

We've given women the right to employment but placed such heavy glass ceiling above her that she'll never be able to push through without laws in place protecting her.

The infertility blogosphere is all over the board on the decision whether or not to tell employers about treatments. Egg Drop Post had a post this week about whether or not to tell a new employer about an upcoming IVF procedure. She will need three days off total to recover from surgery and to rest after transfer. She writes:
Now I just started my new job on July 1. Should I tell my boss that I’m having a procedure done and that I’ll need to take some days off, even though I can’t predict when those will be? or should i just call in sick? I definitely don’t feel comfortable telling her that I want to get pregnant and that I am going to do in-vitro. What would you do?
Egged On had a dilemma at work but came down firmly on the side of not telling: "I'm not opposed to anyone knowing about it, per se, but I really don't want to tell anyone else. If I tell someone, it's like an open invitation for them to give me their opinion. And I don't need that. But I do believe it's in my best interest for my bosses to not know about this."

Fussbucket returns directly to this ruling, and muses about the farther reaching reprecussions of this ruling: "I wonder whether this would have implications for health insurance coverage of these procedures. Does health insurance typically cover this now? I seem to remember about five years ago there was push back from the insurance companies over whether or not infertility was a medical condition."

I'm not even hoping for more mandated coverage. I'm just hoping that the backlash of this ruling isn't to stop employing women, especially the baby-hungry ones who are secretly checking Celebrity Baby Blog during the workday (um...ladies like me). To implement some sort of profiling system at the workplace to judge the ripeness of a woman's ovaries or her desire to adopt prior to offering her the position. Truly, I hope this ruling has simply raised that glass ceiling a bit so women can take a breath if they want to pursue family building rather than smashing it down on their head in simply a different but equal way.

What are your thoughts on this ruling or being honest in the workplace about medical conditions and your personal needs, especially as it pertains to family building through treatments or adoption (both which necessitate time off with little notice)?


Murgdan said...

I'm actually in the midst of the interview process AND IF testing. I'm not sure what to do. I want to know about what IF treatments are covered on the new insurance plan, what happens if I get pregnant in the interim before their insurance kicks in, etc...but couldn't exactly ask those things at the first interview.

I'm planning on waiting until they make the offer, then get more info on the insurance plan and pregnancy coverage. Then they can't exactly revoke the offer...I think if they aren't allowed to discriminate against pregnant women, they shouldn't be able to discriminate against women who are TRYING to become pregnant...but we all know discrimination wears many disguises and you can make things APPEAR in any way you want...

I'm lucky enough that I'll be able to set my own schedule when it comes to time off so that isn't so much of a concern.

Great topic though. I'm going to write about mine as soon as the offer is made...

Sarah said...

Being that I havent had my second cup of coffee yet, I cannot even begin to articulate how livid this statement made me;
"Or, the heart inside the heart of this is that, as this commentor points out, the problem is simply in employing women:"

Right now, the only thing I can muster is(and pardon my language) ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!? Said commenter is a flaming asshole. And quite obviously has never experienced the devastation of infertility of ANY sort.

I've read through many of the other comments and my oh my the trolls had a hay day with this topic. I need more coffee.

LJ said...

My co-worker is also adopting along side of me, and we're both trying to walk the fine line of when to tell folks. We don't want to leave our clients high and dry, because we are conscientious workers (stop laughing at me, Mel. I see you there).

I find comments like those just to be so upsetting - would someone try to make that argument to my face?

On the CBB part. I have this thing - I love looking at that site, but then, at the same time, I feel guilty about it. Sigh.

Anjali said...

Brilliant post, and so right on. Yes, it really does come down to employing women, because we can't and shouldn't have to have hysterectomies to ensure that our reproductive selves don't interfere in the workplace.

Kristin said...

That asshat anonymous commenter sent me over the edge with his attitude...GRRRRRR.

~Jess said...

It is rather unfortunate that we as women have to deal with all of this on top of infertility. I still stand with infertility is a medical condition: While not life threatening it should be a persons choice to be treated, same as any other condition (carpal tunnel, dental, etc).

It is for these reasons that I have not told my boss about our IF issues. As well as her also saying that treating infertility is wrong: Things happen for a reason.


Kate said...

It's not enough to have to deal with the emotional trauma of IF, but add to it insurance coverage questions and time off of work and you have an almost unbearable combo. There is still so much fear of discrimination regarding pregnancy and pregnancy related health issues that sometimes I wonder if the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has done any good at all. I am getting a Masters in HR and I will be bringing this issue up in my Legal Environment class, for sure!

JuliaS said...

Since no one chooses infertility, why should choosing to pursue treatment be viewed much different than choosing to pursue treatment for other "legitimate" reasons (ie: cancer) for time off? Americans work harder/longer than anyone else - my Australian friend from college use to take month long holidays from work! Dh gets fewer and fewer three day weekends each year. Ugh - this totally gets my ire up. I'm sure my employer would consider the frequent time off I would need for treatment of my multiple miscarriages pretty inconvenient too. Should never have chosen to get pg in the first place then I guess . . .

Jobs are not more important than lives. I cannot conform my biology. So why should I be penalized for it?

Biting tongue to keep from launching a long winded nasty diatribe on masogyny, patriarchal dominance and a call for castration . . .

Suzanna Catherine said...

Being older, I have first hand knowledge of outright discrimination in the workplace regarding pregnancy. Not only were there no laws to protect women, it was simply common practice to NOT hire women who MIGHT decide at some point to start a family. Add on top of that being a "military wife" whose husband could be transferred at any time, but would surely be transferred within the next 2 years, and you were lucky to get an interview, let alone a job. And when do you NEED a job the most? When your husband is a low ranking member of the military and you are 6 weeks pregnant and trying to make ends meet and have a little left over for the baby.

In my case, I got the job. Six weeks later I was fired because I had a miscarriage and had to miss a week of work. It sucked big time then and 43 years later it still sucks that women are having to deal with some of same issues.

loribeth said...

I'm glad you (& Sue Shellenbarger -- love her WSJ column!) are addressing this subject, Mel. The laws may be slightly different here in Canada (& I am going to write soon about my experience with my leave-after-stillbirth arrangements soon), but discrimination against women certainly knows no borders. :(

I had two close friends at work (one of whom was doing treatments herself) that I told, but nobody else. I think my boss would have been sympathetic, as she was after the stillbirth of my daughter, but I really didn't think it was anyone's business but my own. I didn't want people staring at my belly & discussing "Is she or isn't she?" (any more than they usually do, lol). I was usually about a half hour later than usual on clinic mornings (& still got in before most people!), but tried to make up for it with shorter lunch hours, etc. For midday appointments, I simply told my boss that I had a dr's appointment, without saying what KIND of doctor. ; )

I did leave a clue, though: I marked my clinic mornings in my desk calendar as "Clinic" -- so anyone wondering where I was & looking at my book who had half a brain could probably have guessed what I was doing.

tammy said...

Well, I have the boss from Hell. One minute she is happy, the next she is the devil.

I unfortunately had to explain some of the difficulties in conception and that we were seeking help. Now, she sees it as an open invitation to be short-sighted, closed-minded and judgemental. I get asked embarrassing questions and some are just flat out rude. If I get this job that I am interviewing for, I will not be telling a single soul until I know I am in the 'safer' zone of pregnancy.

I am like Murgdan though, I am not sure what I will do if I get a + before short-term disability would kick in. So I am leaving it up to the fates.

By the way, where on earth do these commentors get off saying women are the issue? WHat if it is the Male Factor and the woman has to do procedures becasue of that? Are they related to my boss, who is female and that way?

Trace said...

Oooh, that "slack" comment pisses me off. We discussed this in my infertility support group on Tuesday and how employers may not legally be able to fire you for excess absenses from work, but they can come up with something out to get out of it.

Like other commenters, I just say I have a doctors appointment and given that I have MS no one says anything. I did tell our office manager because I thought I'd be out a lot during the IVF (little did I know I'd be hyperstimulated and recovering for a week), and since everyone in my office knows about our bad adoption experience no one really questions. I'm not a high powered position though.

My name is Andy. said...

Great post! I think that there needs to be the give and take style of working and management for this type of thing. Employees can take time off to accomodate appointments, but need to be willing to give back that time somewhere else, weekends, evenings etc.. To me, that is the best of both worlds and makes for a happier workforce.

Cassandra said...

This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot as I am about to switch temporarily from a job which I love love love that has full flexibility and a leave-friendly environment (but poor benefits) to a job with much less flexibility, mostly for the health insurance and higher salary (gotta pay for those IVF cycles somehow).

What will likely end up happening is that I'll take less time off for the next IVF than for the previous one, having to go back to work the day following or maybe even the day of the egg retrieval. Unless it magically falls on a weekend...

In the case of the new job, if I need to call in sick on a certain day I can, but I feel like I have to pick my spots. I think my new boss would be supportive of pursuing treatments (I find her very family-friendly), but I have no plans to tell her unless absolutely necessary.

nh said...

The fact is we don't choose to be infertile and why shouldn't we have treatment; why should we forfeit what others take for granted because we have something wrong with us.

I've been honest at work - and my boss on a good day is ok, and on a bad day a knightmare.

Jen said...

I think it depends a lot on how the individual handles the time off. My husband and I owned our own business so I can see this from the employers side of things as well. We only had three employees, so it was a big problem for us when one of them was gone all the time. (Not for IF or medical reasons, just personal.) We couldn't afford to be paying the salary and benefits for someone who was never there. (I mean, she was really never there. Matt and his mom had a bet that they would go out to lunch when this employee worked a full week and they never did.) Eventually, she was gone so much that we learned to split her work up among the rest of us and didn't need her anymore. (Plus, she was a terrible employee and didn't do much work, so it wasn't that hard to split up her work.)

Now, we wouldn't have had a problem with someone who treated their absence responsibly. But if you aren't doing your work because you are never there and your company doesn't need to hire a temp to replace you, obviously you aren't essential. Now, this probably sounds horrible, but keep in mind that we personally spent around $80,000 on this woman through salary and benefits and she never worked. We couldn't afford that. And this was a very unique case. All the IF people I know through blogs seem responsible and make up their off time by working late and working from home. But I wouldn't personally expect a company to pay me at 100% if I weren't giving 100%. I would expect them to reasonably work around my schedule and I would expect to be required to make up any extra time off.

CappyPrincess said...

Just how does one be honest in a room full of folks who have struggled mightily with IF and loss without making somebody mad? I wish that in this day and age we didn’t need a bunch of court rulings in order for life to be deemed “fair” in the workplace. We now have rulings to protect employment practices based on age, race, sex, religion, orientation and now fertility status (as well as others, I’m sure). It’s a sad commentary, really, when it’s come down to having to have legislation on these issues, but what’s next?

Let me say upfront that I don’t think it’s wrong to want to have a family. Nor do I believe it is wrong to go about achieving that goal using various methods. But I also don’t think it’s wrong for an employer to expect their employees to be able to perform the job for which they were hired.

I’m of the opinion that employment is a two-way obligation. It’s my employers obligation to tell me the terms of my employment and it’s my obligation to tell my employer if there is anything that may prevent me from fulfilling my duties. If the two don’t match up, then it’s time for a serious discussion on whether the employment relationship can continue.

Some employers are able to provide more flexibility due to the size of the office and the resources they can use to back up a person who needs to miss work frequently or suddenly. Others are not able to provide that kind of flexibility and the court action makes me concerned for those businesses.

I do wish everyone well who is struggling with these issues. I know the decisions you have made took a lot of thought and courage and I hope things turn out as you wish.

Dr. Grumbles said...

I am not entirely surprised by the lack of understanding out there given that even pregnancy is sometimes seen as an annoying, selfish, inconveniencing situation by co-workers and employers. There is an increasing attitude that working women who take their jobs seriously do not "need" children, they merely want them and thus should find a way to have them without missing any work. Ridiculous.

Reminds me - I need to eventually tell my new chair I am pregnant. How wrong is it that I feel I have to apologize to him for something I have wanted and worked toward for so long?

Hez said...

Lucky me-- when I was going through IVF the first time, my boss was an IVF veteran who recommended I use the clinic she had used. And the second time, my new boss was just as understanding, even if she'd never had IF issues. Their boss believes that there is nothing more important than family. It made that part of the IVF equation so much easier.

That said, I work for a company that's been on the list of Best Companies for Working Mothers (and other than insurance coverage, I would say for Working Women-Who-Want-To-Be-Mothers, as well). If only all companies aspired to be on that list.

Lut C. said...

That bright commentor on the WSJ (I'm betting a male) better not run into any health trouble himself. And if he does, resign immediately so as not to inconvenience anyone.

Lisa said...

Thanks for this post -- the topic definitely needs LOTS more exposure.

Silver said...

Personally I think fertility treatments are a medical issue and that is all an employer should have to know. Details should be personal if you choose to keep them that way. But that's just my opinion.

Jenn said...

I applied for FMLA for infertility treatments and was denied. I fought it and lost.

In Due Time said...

I think a lot of it has to do with what field you are in. I am in the medical field and find that if I was doing treatments I would probably have the support of my largely female office staff/bosses. I think they would work with me vs. my old field of being a nanny. Interesting article, for sure.

SarahSews said...

I work for what I believe to be a very family friendly employer. It's a nonprofit and it is not unusual for people to schedule their workdays around their kids soccer practices or to suddenly work from home to take care of kids when the babysitter cancels. I was open about my desire for children before we TTC as it related to a possible promotion and when we had trouble, I sat down with my managers and told them I would be seeking treatment and that my schedule would be unpredictable and I might have to call in at the last second to make an appointment. They were nothing but supportive as long as my work got accomplished somehow -- if I worked from home or could delegate to a coworker.

I was in treatment for a whole year -- at a clinic that was an hour round trip from work. My bosses never once complained or gave me a hard time. I had at least four appointments a month that whole time. I burned a lot of vacation hours but they never bat an eyelash.

I didn't get pg that year. But when I did over a year after treatment ended, they were thrilled. When I miscarried, they knew how crushed I was and they were crushed for us. I ended up taking 10 days off to deal with the miscarriage over the course of a month and they were caring and concerned. When I told them I was pg again two months later, they were lovely. I was out during the pg several times and ended up with 8 weeks of bedrest before the babe came.

I knew I was lucky but this reminds me that I have a lot to be thankful for. Despite the trouble it took to get to parenthood, and the lower salary my job offers due to the nonprofit status, my employment was never in danger.

Star said...

As someone who has been discriminated against in two different jobs for having a baby (once while I was pregnant and then at a second job when I was nursing and pumping), I am definitely in the "don't tell them anything" camp. Obviously this will vary depending on your employer, but it is true that in many workplaces, having a child or any type of commitment outside of work is considered selfish, the worker who has that commitment considered lazy, and puts her at risk for adverse employment action based on that outside commitment. Employment discrimination is never cut and dried anymore -- it's always a combination of the fact that you have an undesirable characteristic (you're a parent, a minority, gay or lesbian, a woman, etc.) and that the employer decides that they don't like you personally, which may sometimes but often does not correspond to the actual quality of your work. However, the employee always gets blamed for any problem in the relationship. My advice to women is always do everything they can to protect themselves first. Usually that will mean not telling an employer about plans to try to conceive.

Samantha said...

I feel like the situation becomes a vicious circle, especially in the United States. There is so little support for family-friendly policies, so you either have to work or you have to do child-rearing. There is little support to do both. So when confronted with this, many women end up deciding to opt out of the workplace, which doesn't offer a lot of flexibility. Then employers start assuming that women will opt out upon becoming pregnant, or even being of fertile age, and thus get discriminated against. It may be unfortunate that laws need to be instituted to protect certain groups, but it's good to have them.

I think there needs to be a better balance between work and personal life overall. I agree that employees can't just walk all over their employers, who have hired them to do a job, but there should always be some sick and vacation time available to employees, and when possible, flexibility to allow employees to better able balance personal and work life.

Bea said...

"Which is precisely why this court ruled to utilize the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and call out this inequality towards women. We can, of course, dismiss each individual woman as not important to the perpetuation of the system, but we cannot as a whole dismiss women and their necessity in bringing forth the next generation."

Good point, well made. Won't stop some from trying, of course, but that's another story.

My GP said it was a "grey area" whether to take IVF leave as sick leave or holiday. I told her I don't believe it is. Doing IVF is not a vacation I choose - it's something I do because of a medical need. If my colleague gets pregnancy leave on sick pay, I get IVF leave on sick pay. Full stop.

Having said that, I did appreciate my employer's position and tried as hard as I could not to take the piss. I took the time I needed rather than the time I wanted, and arranged to swap shifts with willing colleagues rather than have someone else sort out the problem. Swapping was never a problem, since no-one wanted to do the late, closing shift and my appointments were in the morning.

At the end of the day, it's give and take. But at the end of the day, my treatments were legit and had to be done when they had to be done.


JamieD said...

I am one of the lucky people who has a very understanding director who is a close friend. She understands and sympathizes with what I am going through and the unpredictibilty of it.

I would have to think honesty would be the best route. IF is kept such a 'secret' you may have a boss who understands more than you realize. And they are bound to find out the reason eventually. Wouldn't they appreciate hearing it up front from you?

My husband and I live by a simple motto - when we die we aren't going to look back on our lives and wish we had worked more. A career is important (or maybe I should say income) but is it really more important than your family?

Dawn's Recipes / The Baby Blog said...

I know this is an old post, but I had to come back to it to say THANK YOU! I'm going through an IVF cycle right now, and I was trying to work something out through the HR department at work. I tried to get the ball rolling on the possibility of intermittent FMLA months ago, but was told infertility is not a serious illness. I was assured they'd "come up with something." Well, I never heard back, so I forwarded them the WSJ article saying, "Hey, this reminds me my issue is still unresolved." Wouldn't you know it? That's all it took to get the ball rolling. I've since been approved for FMLA. When I asked the nurse at my RE office if they could fill out the form for me, she said, "Sure, we do it all the time!" Grrrr! What's wrong with my company? Oh well, I got approved in the end. Hopefully this will pave the way for anyone else here who tries to get approved for FMLA for fertility treatments.