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.

9 thoughts on “Pregnancy and vulnerable academics

  1. Women are so dreadfully inconvenient, ensuring the future of the species and all that. Can’t they just do that in their own time?! Srsly.

  2. I’m wondering what the clause actually said. It’s pretty awful to exclude pregnancy.

    For some time at my university, pregnancies were understood to be covered under “catastrophic illness.” It must have taken 4 years of arguing to get it changed. Not a great recruiting tool, we’d say, to point out that our women friendly policies include regarding pregnancy as a catastrophe.

  3. That’s really horrible– and it’s really important to bring this sort of thing to people’s attention. There are so many problems with the way that temporary people are treated, but I hadn’t known about this one.

  4. Once upon a time, this kind of thing was justified by the fact that they don’t pay men for emergency conditions resulting from pregnancy. Fortunately, we have come to see that equal does not mean same. I wonder if there are conditions that only men get, prostate surgery, e.g., that are also not covered?

  5. Prostate surgery may go the way viagra does: unquestionably beneficial to us all. Snark.

    It seems awful that they can exclude pregnancy from paid medical leave, but I don’t know that it’s uncommon, even for tt faculty.

    Of course, even if it is available, there can be considerable downsides. I know of deans who have regarded it as some sort of trick women pull, and one may face unofficial expectations of some sort of extra work.

  6. I’m not at all surprised. As a woman and a part-timer you might as well be the tooth fairy as far as some people are concerned. Ten years ago I was pregnant and doing odd teaching jobs for hourly pay. My baby was born in June so I didn’t have to take time off work – I wasn’t getting paid over the summer anyway. But when I came back in September my main earner had been taken from me and I was told that now I had a baby to look after it would be just too much for me to do that work. I wasn’t best pleased. Of course I could still do the job, and needed the money more than ever. But with a newborn on my hands, what I couldn’t do was find the energy to fight back.

  7. Even if this woman’s situation had worked out as planned (going back to work full-time after a vaginal birth), it would be a disaster. Years and years ago, at an institution with no maternity leave policy, I had to go back to work half-time, exactly fourteen days after the birth of my first child. It was horrible. My body was not recovered; my spirit was still adjusting to motherhood; my baby was not ready to be without me. No one should have to go through this kind of thing. No wonder birth rates are dropping precipitously in many western countries.

  8. The mere possibility of having such a clause in the contract is just terrible. I can’t believe it.

    Well, actually I can, but it does not make things any easier.

Comments are closed.