Pregnancy and vulnerable academics

A friend made me aware of this situation a while back, but I’d been waiting for permission from the person concerned before posting about it. A junior academic – let us call her A – has been teaching in the same department for the past six years. She has been employed on a succession of temporary contracts to cover teaching when permanent members of staff go on research leave. Her contracts are always for ten months – so she isn’t paid over the summer – and she has no research time built into them. They are solely teaching plus some administration. A became pregnant last year, and despite having been employed by the same department, doing the same job for the past six years, she wasn’t entitled to any paid maternity leave, because her contracts always have a two month break between them. She planned to take two weeks off after the birth of her baby, and then return to work straight away because she couldn’t afford to take further unpaid leave. She was also concerned about jeopardising her chances of obtaining further employment with the department, by taking too much time off for her pregnancy. When birth time came around, A had to have a caesarean. Since it’s major surgery, the doctor signed her off work for six weeks. In theory, that meant that she should have received a month’s sick pay from the university. However, when she contacted them, the HR department pointed to a clause in her contract which states that the university will not make any sick payments for pregnancy-related illness in a case such as hers. A few weeks later, A was then contacted by someone from HR, who said if she wanted to be paid for the four weeks she was signed off work, she would have to produce a medical certificate, which A has done. Nothing was said about the reason for this change of heart. She is still waiting for the sick pay, after being told they would pay her in arrears. This means that she has not received any money for over a month. The situation seems pretty despicable.