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 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT