General Question

submariner's avatar

Have employers ever been able to require childlessness as a condition of employment?

Asked by submariner (4145 points ) January 26th, 2013

I read a personal history several years ago in which a woman was interviewed for a professional position in the early 70s and was told in the interview that she would have to commit to remaining childless for a certain time as a condition of employment. At least I think that’s how I remember it. Was this ever legal in the US (or your country)?

I think this might currently be allowed for certain jobs that involve exposure to toxic chemicals or radiation, but this wasn’t that kind of job—the employer just wanted a guarantee that the woman wouldn’t leave the job to have a child after the employer had invested time and money in training her. I’m fuzzy on the details of the guarantee, but I think it might have gone as far as asking the woman to state that she would use birth control and get an abortion if necessary.

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17 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Yes, it was legal. It was a legal interview question, and if you got pregnant, you got fired.

I took over a different department in 1989, and one of the women on my staff had first come to work for the company in 1970, fresh out of high school and newly married. As I was looking at her folder, her application was in there. She was asked her marital status, if she had kids, and intentions on getting pregnant. Also her height and weight. And, she was asked if her husband was okay with her working there!

Things really are better in some areas of life these days.

JLeslie's avatar

Hopefully some jellies will know when certain laws were enacted, but pretty much we had to write laws to protect women from being asked whether they were married, because the assumption was married women would have children. It’s part of why we moved from Miss and Mrs. to Ms. Now it is against the law to asl about marital status, or anythinf relating to family or personal life basically, especially there are laws during the interviewing process.

Still today some employers worry or prefer not to hire women because laws will require them to give them maternity leave, and they have concern mothers are more likely to not be flexible in their hours, and have to leave work every time the child is sick.

rooeytoo's avatar

@JLeslie and that is why I don’t think there will ever be true equality as long as women expect “special” treatment. I know, I am old fashioned, but I think having children is a career choice and it is difficult to have 2 careers at the same time.

Jeruba's avatar

For some time, female flight attendants (stewardesses) were required to be single, at least by some airlines. Childlessness would have been one implicit expectation that followed from that.

JLeslie's avatar

@rooeytoo I am very wishy washy on the topic. I don’t believe in letting parents get away with doing less work or having different liberties at work because they have a child. If the coworkers have extra burdens or unequal privilages it is simply unfair and unacceptable. However, a trend that is happening in America, I hope it continues, is workpaces are becoming more flexible with their work schedules. Employees able to adjust their hours and even at times work from home. It’s not possible in all jobs of course.

As far as maternity leave, I am not sure where I stand with what should be a legal requirement. I don’t want women to lose their jobs because they choose to have a family. If we give women too much, then employers might more often not hire women.

In countries where maternity leave is very liberal and generous, typically the governments in those cou tries are trying to encourage births.

bea2345's avatar

At one time, married women could not get employment in the civil service. My mother was somewhat sore about this: she entered the teaching service, and when she got married was promptly terminated. This sort of thing came to an end in Trinidad and Tobago (and most of the former British colonies in the West Indies) when laws were passed to give civil servants pregnancy leave. In the sixties, the rule was paid pregnancy leave up to the fourth child; after that you were on your own. The point was, concern for maternal mortality and child health; that was the selling point. Women’s rights came a long way after. Now that we have a national insurance scheme, paid leave for maternity, sickness, etc. is mandatory in all employment. Of interest is the person, a parliamentarian or some such, who said that men could have maternity leave when they could become pregnant.

I do not think that an agreement to remain childless would be enforceable here. We have maternity uniforms for women police and even women soldiers.

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submariner's avatar

Thanks, all. I can’t remember if the woman in the story was married. I knew that there was a time when women could be let go when they got married, but what struck me about this story was the part about requiring the woman to commit to using birth control or abortion. That seems incredibly intrusive. I guess this must have occurred shortly after Roe v. Wade but before the pro-life movement got into gear.

I’m asking this question because it seems to me that if abortion were not considered morally problematic, women might actually be worse off, and this story seems to support that suggestion. If getting an abortion is morally in the same category as getting a tumor or tapeworm extracted, then why shouldn’t an employer be able to make such a demand? (Maybe that deserves a separate thread.) But I am not sure I’m remembering the details of the story correctly, so I wanted to see if anyone else had heard of something similar.

Personally, I’m childless and unmarried, but I think the family is more fundamental to society than the market. The workplace should be structured around the needs of families, not vice versa, regardless of the abortion issue.

Unbroken's avatar

This is a question but related to the OP’s.

Aren’t deployed women required to use birth control, or terminate pregnancy in the event it should occur?

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’ve never heard of women having to remain childless for a particular job, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that existed at some point in time. As someone that works mostly with women, I can understand the concern about pregnancy and maternity leave for employers. It can be difficult to find coverage for the employees maternity leave, especially when you have multiple women out on maternity leave at the same time.

@rosehips No, deployed females are not required to use birth control or to terminate a pregnancy. Once found out to be pregnant, they would be sent home from the battle field. What happened at that point would depend on the individual situation.

Unbroken's avatar

@Seaofclouds thanks for the clarification. Must be a movie myth that I never researched.

mattbrowne's avatar

Not in Europe. Women can even legally lie about being pregnant.

Gabby101's avatar

@JLeslie – I’m like you, sometimes unsure where I stand on maternity leave. I worked at a nationally recognized mom-friendly company and there were lots of women working there and lots of maternity leave. For the last five years, I was always taking on extra work due to my coworkers or boss being out on maternity leave and was never compensated or acknowledged in any way. I understand the need, but it can be a challenge for others.

bea2345's avatar

@Gabby101 – “and was never compensated or acknowledged in any way” – that does not sound right. Paid maternity leave is really a cost of having babies, and the cost should be shared between the worker and the employer. In Trinidad and Tobago, before the National Insurance Act, government was the only employer to give paid maternity leave – I think it was one month on full pay, two on half pay. Government would then pay somebody to do the work. Now the National Insurance pays the insured worker the missing wages. Do you have a union? I know that National Insurance does not exist in the USA, but surely a case can be made for a general, low cost insurance scheme. But to be solvent, the scheme would have to be compulsory and no red-blooded American woman or man would stand for that.

JLeslie's avatar

@bea2345 She means why others were out on maternity the workers who had to pick up the slack never get paid more or any acknowledgement for doing extra work above and beyond their own duties.

bea2345's avatar

@JLeslie – I get it, but it sounds so unfair.

JLeslie's avatar

@bea2345 It happens all the time.

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