Workplace Discrimination Much? Banks Are Terming Pregnant Candidates As ‘Medically Unfit’

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Recently, an Indian bank framed new guidelines for the recruitment of staff  which is being called discriminatory towards pregnant women. According to the alleged hiring guidelines, a woman candidate who is found to be pregnant of 12 weeks’ standing or above that, will be declared temporarily unfit, thus denying her immediate joining.

The guidelines allegedly further add that pregnant women employees will be re-examined for a fitness certificate six weeks after the date of labour and must produce a medical certificate of fitness from a registered medical practitioner. The guidelines have caused widespread outrage on social media and Delhi Commission for Women too slammed the bank, calling its hiring policy illegal.

The women’s commission also said, “This alleged action of the bank appears to be discriminatory and illegal as it is contrary to the Maternity Benefits under the Code of Social Security 2020.” According to DCW chief Swati Maliwal, “This reflects the patriarchal mindset and misogyny which is still prevalent in our society. The rules are discriminatory and illegal and should be immediately withdrawn.”

Another bank in Tamil Nadu has also issued similar guidelines prohibiting women who are over six months pregnant from joining the service and said they would be allowed to join only after three months of delivery, that too after medical examination.

Pregnant women denied jobs: Misogynistic hiring policies

Discrimination against pregnant women is rampantly practised in India and goes against the principle of workplace equity. When it comes to working women this is one of the most evident forms of gender bias that thrives in the workplace. Marriage, pregnancy and childbirth are a common part of a man and woman’s life in our country. But since it is women who bear children and must care for them at least during the initial phase of a child’s life, workplaces see new motherhood as a disadvantage.

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While some workplaces legitimise these biases in their policies and guidelines others continue to exercise them unofficially in the form of downsizing, cutting down salaries, insurance benefits, denial of promotions, etc. A lot of workplaces ask for a fitness certificate validated by a medical practitioner for women’s re-entry into jobs. Women end up losing out on opportunities as their entry into the jobs is delayed. This further leads to women systemically losing out on senior positions and better pay.

Hiring Bias

Another bias that pregnant women face is the ‘hiring bias’. While hiring employees for a job, employers prefer hiring women without children over working mothers. Pregnant women are asked to apply again after the delivery. Thoughts that cloud the mind of such an employer include ‘she will be out of work for some time’, ‘she will not be productive’, ‘she will apparently leave to take care of the children, etc. The maternity benefits that were put into place to ensure that working women didn’t have to choose between work and motherhood are seen as an unnecessary expense. According to an Indian study in 2018, companies are increasingly hiring fewer women to avoid offering them maternity leave liability.

This discriminatory and misogynistic practice is not just witnessed in banks but in all spheres including sports, corporate companies, airlines, etc. It’s high time we talk about this rampant discrimination going on and strive toward workplace equity! Pregnant women are entitled to fundamental rights and they shouldn’t be discriminated against in any way.

Providing maternity benefits to women isn’t an added expense, it is a retainer that helps employers preserve their talent pool. With a growing cry for paternity leave and rising awareness on sharing the load of parenting among couples, what kind of precedent do such discriminatory policies set? What’s next? Will employers only hire single men and deem men on way of becoming fathers as “temporarily unfit”?

The problem here is focus on profit and cutting back costs rather than employee wellness and building a society where men and women- married or unmarried, parents or empty-nesters, are all treated equally. Unless the set of priorities that employers have change, the fight for equality will know no end.

Views expressed are the author’s own