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 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
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
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT