*Anna came to Singapore five years ago for work and met her husband here three years after that. She was working at a FinTech startup and was happy there until she announced she was pregnant, after which she was eventually dismissed, which she believes was a result of her pregnancy. According to AWARE’s Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory, there were 71 pregnancy discrimination cases in 2021, which made up 81% of total discrimination cases seen in that year. They have been helping Anna through her experience, which she shares with us here.
“I joined a company that had been my clients previously, so I knew some of the people there already. The whole culture seemed quite friendly and I had good relationships with my colleagues and the top management. That only changed when they hired my new boss, who was also a not Singaporean.
He made a few comments about my personal life which made me feel awkward, and it got to a point where it started to feel very uncomfortable. When I made the formal announcement about my pregnancy, his reaction was very cold. Even while congratulating me, he said I should resign.
When I sent through a confirmation of my pregnancy to management to find out the benefits that I would be entitled to, I was ignored and never received a response. A few days later, I got a formal email about my dismissal. They stopped paying my salary the day my boss asked me to resign.
I really couldn’t believe that this was happening – I was a highly-skilled senior executive with more than a decade of experience in the FinTech industry. Throughout my career, I’ve always received excellent feedback from employers and clients, so I didn’t expect this at all.
I was also scared since I was three months pregnant and the loss of income and health insurance from the company would have a big impact on the baby’s birth. I also don’t have any family here, and my savings wouldn’t be able to cover the pregnancy and beyond.
I ended up having a panic attack, and had to consult my obstetrician. I was put on medical leave, which I told the company about and was ignored. It was a difficult financial situation and I found it very stressful.
I managed to find another job in two months but it was only a contract position, which did not include maternity leave. My new employer explained to me that they had not been planning to hire anyone and created a position specifically for me. I will move to a full-time contract with them, which includes all the benefits (including maternity) next year. I’m grateful in the mean time that they created a comfortable environment for me to work in while I was pregnant, which included remote work, reasonable hours etc.
I’m still in shock as to how things changed so quickly at my old company and how they could simply refuse to pay me. So I filed an employment claim. My former boss says that I was a horrible employee who made a lot of mistakes and that the whole company suffered throughout my employment. But I’m still hopeful that the judge will see the truth and punish the company for its behaviour.
Right now, I’m concentrating on my baby. The level of stress I had to go through during the pregnancy caused some complications and I had to undergo a C-section. I plan to go back to work eight weeks post-delivery in order to start making money again. Because of the stress of all this I’ve also decided not to breastfeed as I will be away from my baby a lot. This also makes me feel guilty as a mum.
I’ve have to say this experience has made me feel quite bitter. My advice to mums or women wanting to become mums would be to work for a well-established company, not a start-up with no track record of having pregnant employees. Don’t disclose your pregnancy to colleagues until you’ve sent in your formal notice of it to your employer. File an employment claim as soon as possible if you feel you’ve been discriminated against. Though having said that, dealing with a legal case while your baby is a few weeks old is also very difficult and stressful.”
Post-pandemic, workplace harassment of any kind has taken centerstage as employees have become more aware of their abilities and boundaries after two years (or more) of working from home. In their survey from September this year, AWARE found that around 1 in 2 workers in Singapore experienced workplace discrimination in the past five years, with 6% of those polled listing pregnancy as a reason. However, with a new anti-discrimination law likely to come into affect being introduced in Parliament in the new year that covers employees on the grounds of nationality, race, sex, age, race, gender, religion and disabilities, it is hoped that cases such as Anna’s will be fewer and further between.
* name changed for privacy