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Overcoming single mom discrimination at work

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “I am a single mother raising two toddlers by myself. This is held against me at work, because no one else has this problem. My co-workers are all happily married or have grown children.  With no family available to help, I often have to take time off for medical appointments, illnesses and other child care issues. My boss says if this continues, he may have to find someone else for my position. I feel desperate because I love my job. How can I make these people understand?” —  Worried Mother

Marie’s Answer: Juggling child care and work is tough, but being an unemployed single mom would be even tougher. If your boss has started fantasizing about your replacement, you must quickly take steps to save your job.  

•    Start by recognizing that the problem is not a lack of sympathy. Your manager simply hates the inconvenience created by your frequent absences. He may also receive complaints from co-workers who have to cover for you.

•    Explain to your boss that you love your job and will do everything possible to minimize absences. When you must be out, offer to work from home or make up time later. Make sure you do such an outstanding job that you will be hard to replace. 

•    Instead of using vacation days for fun, stockpile them for family emergencies. When you have medical appointments, return to work immediately. Don’t extend the time with errands or lunch.

•    Reduce co-worker resentment by making every effort to do your fair share, even if that means working through lunch or taking assignments home.  Drop all talk of child care problems from your conversations. 

Finally, acquaint yourself with the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If health issues ever jeopardize your job, you may need legal protection. 

For tips on enhancing job security, see How to Avoid Losing Your Job.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandi July 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Wow. Some of you people are heartless. You make it sound like she takes a day off every other day and just sits at home laughing at how you’re all doing her work. Shame on you. What ever happened to empathy? Maybe she should leave her kids at home alone. Is that your answer?

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Sandra April 14, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Are you people living on the moon, or in a world of your own? each and every person siduation is different, and should not have to be justified to you, or any other employee for that matter. Shame on you for even conceiving that some single Mother, of one, two ,or even three children would take advantage of their employment just to spend the day at the beach!; persay. Do you have any idea how hard it is to raise a child alone? do you know what it’s like to have to tell your Money hungry Employer, you can’t come to work today, because your child has caught some freaking fuguside from another child at day- care and he needs medical attention? each and every person house hold siduation is different, and unique, so don’t be the first to cast a stone untill you are willing to extrend a helping hand!

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Kyle August 29, 2010 at 4:46 pm

It is refreshing to see some good advice to address from the other side of the perspective. Single parents too often don’t try to view their perspective from the eyes of others and see the impact of their absenteeism on other workers. The expectations that workers will come to work on time, come to work every day they are scheduled to be there, and do the job that they are paid to do is expected of all workers. When you have employees who consistently don’t live up to their, expectations, even if the reasons are valid, resentment arrises from the other workers, especially if they have to pick up the workload of the absent employee. It is easier to feel picked on or discriminated against than to accept the responsibility of how their actions reflect on the other workers.

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Brad McMahon May 31, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Congratulations on providing highlights of the problem at hand.

As a never-married single with no kids, I could practically write an encyclopedia volume on the ploys and thinly-veiled stage-drama that many “parents” use to avoid anything more than 30 hours of work each and EVERY week.

In many instances it is DEAD obvious that the so-called ‘employee’ had their heart set on Gaming The System from the first day they arrived.

I’m sick of doing their work while they collect the salary.

Why aren’t these deadbeats fired..?

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Elizabeth April 27, 2010 at 1:58 pm

In addition, if you do get caught abusing the policy, you will lose your job.
FMLA is not for taking a day off here or there because your child is sick, and using your personal FMLA for migraines in order to stay home with your child is abusing FMLA (not using the time for the qualifying condition).

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Des March 25, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I thought the same, Melanie. That FMLA was for serious health issues for yourself or family. How do you just sign up for it, just in case you need it? Sounds like a misuse of that policy.

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Melanie February 3, 2010 at 2:59 pm

The Family Medical Leave Act only pertain’s an employee’s absence for a serious or potentially serious illness for herself or her child. It is not a get out of jail free card for employees with chronic attendance problems.
One does not just sign up for FMLA. A doctor must certify that the employee or a family member has an illness that qualifies inder the Act.

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Mohan M Prasad January 26, 2010 at 7:35 am

Feeling of discrimination is the first sign of self defeat.

I am able to relate to your situation which is challenging both at the career and personal priorities at hand.

Typically in these situations it’s the empathy of your team lead by your Boss which will provide not just the solace but also solutions of adjustment and accommodation.

There is no substitute to demonstrated conduct of showing your Commitment to the task assigned and your willingness to walk the extra miles when things are stable and normal at home.

This willingness to compensate will bring in the compassion to consider your request for concessions.

It’s also equally important for you to keep your Boss informed of the home situation so that he does not get an impression that you are seeking time at the drop of a hat. Inviting the team including the boss with family for an occasion like birthday may be a good idea which will help to foster the feeling of fraternity amongst the team. This may also lead them to the understanding of the challenges confronted by you.

Socially too you need to check in case there is someone who can come to rescue in these situation should you have difficulties in getting office time help.

It’s the simultaneity of approach that will help you to address this challenge in a systemic way.

All the best

Mohan M Prasad

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Reace January 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Very good advice to address an all too common perspective that is singular in scope (i.e. “my coworkers/manager/company is picking on me because I am _____________”). The individuals with this perspective frequently are not able to extrapolate beyond themselves the impact of their absenteeism on others. The expectations that individuals will come to work on time; come to work everyday scheduled to be there; and, do the job that the individuals are paid (and agreed) to do is often negated by whatever personal external factors that individuals find as a “good” reason to not meet the expectations – this is with the understanding that reasons that meet company policy, local, state or federal criteria or automatically “good” reasons.
It is nice to read guidance that attempts to realign this type of self-centered/self-serving assessment of what seems to be discriminatory acts.

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hwk January 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I think the best advice is to use vacation days. Nothing makes co-workers as angry as seeing a coworker who is never at work due to illness or family obligations then turn around and take a vacation. It is just as discriminatory to expect childless workers to always stay late or pick up the slack because they have chosen to remain childless or because their marriage is intact. I have a 5 year old and have to take time off when he gets sick, has an appt, or his preschool is closed. So I arrange with as much advance notice as possible for these events and forgo the summer road trip to use my vacation time to attend to them.

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Terri January 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I am a single mom in my dept as well and to top it off no other coworker have children, only spouses or significant others. They don’t have to use their vacation time/personal time to cover for anyone but themselves. I on the other hand, have to use personal and/or vacation when my son is sick. I felt tension in the office and at one of my reviews my Director informed me I take off too many times and it is inconveient for the rest of the staff to cover for me (which no one does anyone), but I believe he had to tell me because there might have been complaints. So I did the smart thing, I signed up for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) to cover my butt when it comes to my child and illnesses. On top of that I am a chronic migraine sufferer and sometimes I require 3 days off after a narcotic shot, so I am covered under the FMLA as well. My reviews have been exceptional when it comes to my job and my performance only the absences from work have been noted. So, in all honesty, sign up for FMLA and keep yourself covered. I agree that doing a good job while you are at work is good. I also keep track of projects I have managed, completed and how long for my review time. As for working through lunch or taking things home, you should follow the company policy. My company policy is no working through lunch or taking things home, however at the Director’s discretion you may be able to stay late, cut your lunch short or anything he/she feels is ok.

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Kathy January 20, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Caution – if you’re paid hourly, working through lunch or taking assignments home may be in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, unless you’re paid overtime. Don’t put your employer in the situation of unknowingly violating the FLSA.

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Teresa January 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I would suggest trying to make Dr. appointments during your lunch hour. This may mean you may have to take a late lunch, but would help not missing work and co-workers will see that you are trying to juggle your time .

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