Pregnant then Ignored

In 2013, whilst working for an organisation that prides itself on supporting women, families and international workers, I found out I was pregnant.  I’d been there for 14 months by the time I went on mat leave, with 10 months left of my contract to go.

My boss, the Director of our section of the hospital, who had two children herself – though legend had it she only took two days off when she had them – gave me absolutely no support throughout my pregnancy, asking me just the once how I was, and saying merely “oh good, you’re back” after I’d been signed off for a week for bleeding.

I’m still angry about what happened when I went on mat leave and could bang on about it for hours, but I’ll try to keep it simple, and I’ll stick to the facts:

– My boss and I had always verbally agreed that I would return to work after 1 year’s maternity leave.  I was on a 2 year contract, so assumed this meant my contract would run on afterwards, with my mat leave sandwiched in between.  In all our discussions, neither my boss nor HR ever mentioned anything otherwise

– I wrote an email to HR telling them I was planning to take a year’s leave and copied in my boss but never received confirmation of the message from either

– When my son was three months old, my boss’s right hand woman called to confirm my return date – in 9 months time.  We confirmed it

– 2 weeks later I received a letter in the post saying that as my contract was ending, I would have to please return various items

– I tried contacting my boss and her right hand woman by phone and email to clarify what was happening.  I didn’t hear back from either of them and later heard from a colleague that my boss had forbid the right hand woman from contacting me.  I’ll say that again: she had FORBID her from contacting me

– After a great deal of emailing and leaving messages, which I found really embarrassing, not to mention difficult both time-wise and emotionally with a three month old baby, I eventually received an email from my boss explaining that my contact had ended, was not being renewed and that we had never agreed that it would be extended in the first place.  In fact, she outright lied about several things in her email and despite my repeated asking, never gave me a reason as to why my contract had ended.

I went to the special personnel advice department (HR were no help – they repeated the facts that my boss had given me) and was told that unfortunately, my contract was a new sort with a special new clause that meant that it was a 2 year fixed contract that could just run out during my maternity leave.  My boss was totally within her rights to decide not to renew it.  Unfortunately she had hired my cover with a brand new contract in its own right, not as maternity cover, so there was no proof at all that they were planning to have me back.

The thing is, I’m a rational human being.  If those are the rules, all I can do is accept the situation.  What I cannot – and still will not – accept is that instead of giving me a ring or asking me to come in to explain what was happening, and why, my boss decided to go about it in the most unprofessional, childish way possible.  Given her previous behaviour – I’d seen an awful lot of unbelievable things happen in my 14 months working for her – I shouldn’t have been surprised, but you never think it’s going to happen to you, do you.

The special personnel advice people told me that 4 weeks after my boss arrived, they’d received the first complaint about her and she accounts for a third of their workload.  A third!  But she brings in so much money to the University (through research funding) that she’s basically untouchable.  I’ve also been told various extremely discriminatory things that her right hand woman has said about working mothers in the department and given them as reasons why they wouldn’t want to keep pregnant people on.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned my boss has done the same thing again, but to a young researcher, the main breadwinner in her family who is expecting twins and is having a very difficult pregnancy – she’s just been admitted to the hospital for the remainder of her pregnancy.  Although I – and all my friends and colleagues – was confident I was being discriminated against before, now I can see that it’s systematic.  This researcher was asked to give over all her research results and finish her papers, and was then told she wasn’t having her contract renewed.  To say I’m livid doesn’t even begin to cover it.  But again, there’s no proof, and this poor pregnant lady, with no job to go back to after her mat leave, doesn’t want to burn her bridges – and is of course exhausted – so it’s unlikely she’ll report our (ex) boss to the special personnel people, or anyone at all.

3 comments: On Pregnant then Ignored

  • Sorry to hear this story…..it brings back memories of when I worked for a University in London. I didn’t qualify for maternity pay as I hadn’t fulfilled their 1 year qualifying period but the charity who funded my position in full offered to pay my paternity pay. The University blocked this and I ended up returning to work when my son was just 5 months old and found myself expressing milk in the toilet. I battled and battled, saying that it is so unfair for Universities to have 1 year qualifying periods when the bulk of the contracts they offer are temporary….it just doesn’t make sense. In the end I didn’t get a penny, even after several meetings with female support representatives and other senior staff. My boss was supportive the whole way through, writing letters to the head of HR and the University but we didn’t get anywhere. The annoying thing was I desperately wanted 1 year off with my son but as we lived in London, I had to return to work as we couldn’t afford having me at home. I was also told that other women (more senior than myself) HAD been paid maternity pay by their funders when they didn’t qualify for University maternity pay…..

    I have heard similar things happening to female researchers on contracts, they go on maternity leave then their contracts are not renewed and the have no job to go back to….how can you morally do this to a new mum? I just don’t understand it.

    Does your previous place of work have Athena SWAN certification? I was told that could be a place to vent frustration but I was too worn out to even bother…..

    What is the law regarding maternity leave and fixed contracts? Can they legally allow the contract to run out and leave the mum with no job to return to?

    Good luck with everything and sorry again that this happened to you.

    • The person who wrote the post :)

      I don’t know what the Athena SWAN certification is but I’m actually overseas so I suppose not…

      In terms of the contract though it’s apparently completely legal (where I am at least) for it to work this way with the specific contract type I had. If I had got everything in writing before I left then I suppose it would have been different, but I guess my boss knew what she was doing!

      I forgot to say though that they did actually tell me that because I decided not to come back before the end of my contract, they weren’t renewing it. Why this doesn’t get them legally I don’t know because to me it’s a basic admission of guilt but there we are. Like you, by the end of it I was too worn out to want to deal with it.

      I’m really sorry you had to go through what you went through, too. How hideous. Nobody should be expressing milk in the ******* toilet!!

  • Hi Christine, Thank you for your comment. As far as I understand it, if you are on a fixed contract you are only entitled to statutory maternity leave. If it is a fixed contract they can also allow the contract to run out and leave the mum with no job to return to. This unfortunately leaves women in a very vulnerable position. Please do post your story direct to the site so it is its own post! That way more people will see it.

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