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Joan C. Williams's picture

Co-written with Katherine Ullman.

So you or your partner is pregnant. There are plenty of important decisions to consider: what will be the little one’s name? Will you share the name with friends and family or keep it a secret? What about gender? Do you want to know? Do you want others to know? Will the baby take your last name, your partner’s or something in between?

As exciting as these considerations may be, they often distract from the more daunting task of navigating the workplace while expecting: sad to say, this is the dark underbelly of pregnancy in the United States.

What you may not be expecting is that one of the richest countries in the world (us) has one of the worst sets of family-friendly policies. While some lucky folks sail through without difficulties, many are blindsided when they are denied accommodation while pregnant, forced into leave, harassed, passed over a job, or fired.

An example: “A woman who worked as a paralegal at a law firm for over fifteen years, who received glowing reviews all along, was terminated eleven days after she returned from maternity leave. One of the firm partners noted that she ‘had been out quite a bit the last nine months.’”

Accessing easy-to-understand information about legal protections for expectant parents is half the battle, and Dina Bakst, Pheobe Taubman, and Elizabeth Gedmark of the non-profit A Better Balance understand this all too well. In their new book, Babygate: What You Really Need to Know about Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace, the authors leave no stone unturned as they clarify laws protecting parents (on a federal, state, and, sometimes, local level), share real-life stories (including the one above), and offer advice for a whole range of sticky, and sometimes illegal, situations (full disclosure: Joan wrote the forward and sits on ABB’s board of advisors).

The authors understand how overwhelming the grab-bag of protections for parents can be, and walk the reader through the relevant law like a compassionate tour guide, without glossing over legal questions that aren’t easy to answer—or fair. Some of their most helpful contributions include a state-by-state guide of parents’ rights, and a list of online resources for everything from nursing to flexible work arrangements to child care.

The authors can’t help but let their passion for expanding American parental protections emerge through this book— that is their final gift. Among the many concrete guidelines they set for parents, the authors also take “time-out for outrage” to compare parental leave protections across the world and to illustrate how many American families are left behind by current law. This is a necessary resource for expectant parents—but it’s also a must-read for policymakers, and those Americans simply interested in learning whether their country walks the “family values” talk. The unfortunate answer is: often no.

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