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Kristi Rifkin's picture

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Moms shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and the health of their families. But too often, companies that are fixated on their bottom lines force women to make this choice. I know. It happened to me.

I became pregnant with my second child while I was working at a T-Mobile call center in Nashville, Tenn. It was a very, very rough pregnancy. I was taking medication to keep me from going into labor. I was going to the doctor twice a week, seeing both a regular obstetrician and a high-risk obstetrician. I had to drink a lot of water and go to the bathroom pretty frequently, which is what normal pregnant women do.

But my company warned me getting up to use the toilet would cut into what people in the call center industry call “adherence” – a metric that measures the degree to which employees stick to their schedules. Being on the phone was my job, so if I wasn’t, I risked being written up and possibly fired. Essentially the message was, “You can go, but understand that if you don’t meet that metric at the end of the day, week and month, we have the opportunity to fill your seat.” They didn’t tell me that I couldn’t use the toilet. But the reality was that this is a metric on how your job is measured and if you don’t meet it, then you do not have your job.

So I held off eating and drinking. I just couldn’t afford to lose my job or my health insurance during such a high-risk pregnancy.

It was insane.

My supervisor said if I had a medical necessity to use the toilet, I should go get a note from my doctor. And my doctor thought I was crazy. She told me, “I’m sure one person going to the toilet wouldn’t mean the collapse of an entire T-Mobile customer service center!” Yet, management reasoned that if I had to log off the phone, it meant one more T-Mobile customer would be stuck in the cue. That meant longer and longer waits for customers to get their issues handled. Or if I was off the phone, I wouldn’t be making sales. And that all was inexcusable.

After a long consultation with H.R. to make sure it would be air tight, I got the doctor’s note, so I was free to go to the bathroom whenever I needed. But T-Mobile was absolutely not going to pay me for going to the toilet. So every time I needed to go, I had to clock out and lot out of the system. Then I had to write it down and turn it into resource planning – just to make sure it I wasn’t gone an unreasonable amount of time! I felt very micromanaged.

At the same time, I was under so much pressure to keep my sales up. I would sprint – as much as a heavily pregnant woman can -- between my desk and the bathroom to make sure I squeezed every second I could out of my work day. Everything I did was scrutinized. I felt picked on. Someone was always watching over my shoulder, monitoring my performance.

I was constantly checking to make sure my coaches and resource planning were making changes to my adherence based on the breaks I was reporting, so my adherence wouldn’t fall and I wouldn’t be in trouble. But sometimes they forgot to make the changes and my metrics suffered. I had to be constantly vigilant.

Everything about it was irritating. I was chasing my tail just to go the bathroom!

I was using intermittent FMLA and my vacation time to use the bathroom and go to doctors’ appointments.

Finally one of my doctors told me that she was putting me on full FMLA. It was all too much. I still wasn’t eating, drinking and using the toilet like I was supposed it. I was getting sick. My blood pressure was sky high. I was stressed about the possibility of losing my job and my health insurance. I was stressed about not being able to take care of myself and my baby. And being stressed out was only going to make my pregnancy harder.

I finally went on FMLA seven weeks before I had my son. It felt like it was my only option. It was my job or my family. When I stopped working, we worried about our strained finances and how we were going to pay our family’s bills. But I had to do what was best for me and my baby.

I now have a very healthy son. But I wanted to tell my story because this is why paid medical and sick leave is so important. No one should have to go through what I did.

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