Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Being a good mom can get you fired

By Ellen Bravo
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
Adeyinka Ogunlegan, 32, of Laurel, Maryland, says that being a working mother is her biggest challenge in life.
Adeyinka Ogunlegan, 32, of Laurel, Maryland, says that being a working mother is her biggest challenge in life.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ellen Bravo: In 2014, you can get fired for having to leave work to take care of your child
  • Bravo: You can lose your job if you're pregnant and need extra bathroom breaks
  • She says smaller companies don't have to hold your job when you take parental leave
  • Bravo: We need paid sick days, fairness for pregnant workers, expanded family leave

Editor's note: Ellen Bravo is executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium, a nonpartisan, nonprofit network of 21 state and local coalitions working toward policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance.

(CNN) -- I say, "good mother."

You say, "warm, loving, patient, generous, protecting, wise, how on Earth does she do it" and a whole lot more.

The one word that might not pop up in this free association? "Fired."

Ellen Bravo
Ellen Bravo

And yet in the United States of America in 2014, being a good mother can cost you your job.

Ask Rhiannon Broschard of Chicago, who was "separated" from her employer after public schools closed because it was so cold, it was dangerous for kids to be outside. Broschard knew that she couldn't leave her special-needs son home alone and called in to say she couldn't come into work. Her manager was sympathetic. But the next day, a company representative phoned to let her know she'd been fired for "abusing" their attendance policy. Others had come in; why hadn't she?

It's hard to see how being a good mother and safeguarding your child's well-being gets characterized as abuse.

Or consider Brenda in Milwaukee, who lost her job after giving birth. Her employer has fewer than 50 employees and wasn't covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which would have guaranteed Brenda unpaid, job protected leave for up to 12 weeks to care for her newborn. Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act says employers can't fire someone for being pregnant, it doesn't require them to hold a job while a mother recovers from the delivery unless they do so for other disability-related absences. Treating everyone badly -- as they did at Brenda's workplace -- is often perfectly legal.

It's hard to see how being a good mother and safeguarding your child's well-being gets characterized as abuse.
Ellen Bravo

In fact, nearly one in four workers (PDF) told researchers they'd been fired or threatened with firing after taking time to care for themselves or a loved one.

As Amy Crosby will remind you, many pregnant women wind up jobless because their employer refuses to make a simple accommodation when they're pregnant. In Crosby's case, that meant less heavy lifting in her job as a cleaner at a hospital in Tallahassee, Florida. For others, it has meant a stool to sit on or a few extra bathroom breaks.

"Homeless" or "broke" also don't come to the top of the list when we're thinking about characteristics of a good mother. But many moms like Shelby Ramirez of Denver find themselves unable to pay the bills after even a few weeks without income because they're caring for a child or parent, or both.

A lot of words rush to my mind when I hear about situations like these: "outrageous, antifamily, bad for the economy, how have they gotten away with it or so long," to name a few.

The mothers who've lost a job have their own powerful descriptions of that experience. Broschard said it "made me feel disposable, that they didn't value any of the time I put into the company." Crosby said the lack of consideration made her feel "hopeless."

Their experiences have propelled many mothers like Broschard, Crosby and Ramirez to get involved with a movement to win new workplace rules. They have seen or heard about good employers that have these policies, not just because it's the right thing to do but because it's good for the bottom line. They lead to better individual and public health and greater financial security for families, businesses and the nation.

But these women also understand that not all companies have good policies, so there must be laws that create minimum protections for everyone. Now they're fighting for state or national legislation requiring paid sick days, fairness for pregnant workers, expanded access to family and medical leave, and a shared fund to make it affordable.

Their activism has brought these women a new vocabulary they want to pass on to other mothers.

"They probably think just like how I did: We're (in) a low-paid job, and who's going to listen?" Crosby said. "I want them to know that they have to stand up and make a change."

Broschard told me she's sharing her story "so all the other moms going through similar situations, struggling, going to school, single, not having enough money, (know) you're not alone. We all struggle, but we're struggling to make a better life for our children."

"I want (my son) to know that I didn't do anything wrong in this situation. I want him to know there are lots of people like Mommy. I want him to know I'm strong and he can follow in my footsteps."

That's what being a good mother is.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT