One of the most important categories to claim autonomy and agency is in your pregnancy and/or postpartum game plan for engaging in the employment process. Here as with anywhere else, you decide the terms to work. In order to do that, however, staying informed of the medical, physical, and practical logistics can help planning and preparation for the nuances of theatre work as best as possible. Like live theatre, in postpartum reality, anything can happen - but the best crew supports the upcoming production through preparation with (I) education.
Varying pressures that arise when considering “what to do with my career/art after baby” or "while pregnant" source from both internal and external-societal expectations. The first principle to remember is 1) You decide. The second recommendation is to find support beforehand, 2) Inform your trusted community of each step taken to keep your employers accountable (emails to trusted colleagues or friends, especially in real time, can be used even in court to provide testimony of your experience). And,as with all significant, live events, 3) Don’t be afraid to change your mind for the well-being of those most intimately affected - that includes and prioritizes, specifically, you.
PART I: EDUCATION - Know Your Rights, Know Your Body, Know Your Wants ___________________________________________________________________
Know Your Rights:
Illegal Questions in Interviews and How to Respond
Workplace and Hiring/Firing Protections
Helpful Adjustments to Ask For
Illegal Questions in Interviews and How to Respond:
It is illegal for any casting or job interviewer to ask you family planning expectations before hiring. If you arrive for the job, they are obligated to assume you are accepting the start date unless otherwise specified or negotiated.
“Federal laws that relate specifically to women include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) -- prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) -- prohibiting discrimination against pregnant women and parents who take leave from their employment responsibilities to care for a newborn baby, sick child, or aging parent. Employers who violate these laws are typically engaging in a form a Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), also known as "caregiver discrimination," discrimination against applicants and employees who have family caregiving responsibilities outside of their employment.” - FindLaw.com on “Illegal Interview Questions and Female Applicants”
Both biological birth and adoption are covered under the protections of FMLA.
For freelance work, the FMLA has limitations that may prevent short-term contracts for Actors and Stage Managers from coverage, but long-term contracts may fall within the guidelines:
“The FMLA only covers employers with 50 or more workers, who have employed 50 or more workers for at least the past 20 weeks. It also applies to public agencies, regardless of the number of employees, and to elementary and secondary schools, both public and private. The FMLA only applies to employees who have worked for a covered employer for a minimum of 12 months, although these 12 months do not need to be consecutive. Additionally, the employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer during the previous 12 months, at a site where the employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius...Upon return to work, the employee must be reinstated to the same or a genuinely equivalent position. If the employee is not eligible for such a position because he or she needs to renew a license, pass a continuing education class, or the like, the employer must give the employee a reasonable opportunity to fulfill this requirement.” - FindLaw.com “Rights and Responsibilities Under FMLA”
How to Respond if You Are Asked Illegally in an Interview or Casting about Your Parent Status/Family Planning:
As much as “NONEYA” is the first gut reaction, the best way to prevent being put on the spot or freezing up if interviewers or casting individuals question you out of line starts with learning and reading practiced responses that redirect. Go in with an open heart, presenting your best self for ease of conversation - but also help yourself out by having language to help steer the conversation on track when necessary:
Illegal Question: Are you pregnant/planning on starting a family? Helpful response: “[I’m most] interested in [discussing] the possibility for growth and career development with the company. Can you tell me about it?” - Flexjobs.com “5 Illegal Questions and How to Answer Them” Actor Version: I know I’m ready to engage with this show and its timing, so I’d love to hear more about your/the director’s thoughts on the vision of the piece. Stage Manager Version: I know that my experience and education make me a great fit for this project, and you can trust me to care for it. What are you most excited about this show’s contribution to your season? Note: If in casting or in the interview you feel familiar or comfortable enough to celebrate/embrace any congratulatory language to your pregnancy, feel free! This moment is about your agency in the conversation concerning your right to employment.
Illegal Question: Do you have a child/children? Helpful response: I have a supportive community, both personally and professionally, that reinforces my qualifications as a great candidate for this job. Actor version: I’m most focused on the character I’m shaping right now in this room. What are your thoughts on the event immediately before this scene? Stage Manager version: I have a supportive community, personally and professionally, great track record, and high standards for work. That’s what I’m most excited to bring to this job. How does this company foster professional bonds and connections between artistic and administrative staff?
Passive Question: Are you opposed to travel?* Helpful response if unwilling to travel: Artistically and professionally I feel a responsibility to engage with the needs and messages of our local community and translate them to the work I do internally with this company. It is a real asset for this position and my approach to it. Helpful response if willing to travel: Travel excites me, and I look forward to opportunities to accomplish these various tasks in different locations. Actor Version if unwilling to travel: I’m most passionate about growing a professional foundation here locally first so that my career can continue to move upward with a solid base. Actor Version if willing to travel: I seek it out, actually. Changing location motivates and inspires the character depth I explore on stage. Where are some places this production hopes to go? Stage Manager version if unwilling to travel: My passion for this job is directly tied to my passion to serve the local community. I look forward to building a legacy of excellence here first. Stage Manager version if willing to travel: The dynamics of new locations excite me. Travel is something I welcome in terms of challenges I’m qualified to master in this position. Note: *While this question is perfectly legal and can be asked in total innocence, some discriminatory employers attempt to use it as a means to gauge family planning and childcare conflict. There are numerous reasons to oppose or welcome travel, both for parents and non-parents. Your potential employer is not allowed to use family responsibilities or parent logistics to discriminate against you or judge your qualifications for the job. Therefore, what’s most important in this situation is determining your personal preference for travel or no travel first and take full liberty in choosing and only sharing a professional reason to support your decision.
Resources for Hiring/Firing Protection from Pregnancy Discrimination at Work:
What are “Reasonable Accommodations” for pregnant employees? “Twenty-two states, the District of Columbia and four cities have passed laws requiring some employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.” - NationalPartnership.org “Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers: State and Local Laws” Again, some of these laws have a minimum employee requirement for the employer and/or minimum hours worked by the employee in order to qualify for legal assistance Those states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachussettes, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. Additional local laws can be found in: Central Falls, RI; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA, and Providence, RI. To read the reasonable accomodation summary by state or local precedent, CLICK HERE.
Helpful Asks and Accomodations on the Job for Actors and Stage Managers:
Read More on the Specifics on Legal Protection According to Your State: In addition to federal protections against pregnancy, breastfeeding, and family leave discrimination, each state has specific protections and statutes that may be helpful for you. CLICK HERE to view the legal protections by state.
It is illegal for you to be fired due to pregnancy: “Under the PDA, an employer with 15 or more employees cannot fire you because you are pregnant, and your employer must permit you to continue working as long as you are able. Some states have laws that cover employers with fewer than 15 employees. If you work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees, check with your regional U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau office to see if your state has an agency that can assist you.” - AAUW.org
Steps to Take if You Have Been Fired for Pregnancy:
“Don’t wait if you want to file a charge: in most cases, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory action in order to preserve your legal rights. You can file a charge even if you do not work for your employer anymore, and you do not need to hire a lawyer in order to file a charge. Go to the EEOC’s website for instructions on filing a charge of discrimination. Even if you aren’t ready to file a charge, you can contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor about your legal rights. The EEOC may investigate and/or offer mediation services to help resolve the complaint. Additionally, most states and local governments have a human rights or civil rights office that can help.
Whether or not you have decided to file a charge with the EEOC, consider taking these steps as well:
Write down what happened. Write down the date, time, and place of the incident as soon as possible. Include what was said and who was there. Keep a copy of these notes at home. They will be useful if you decide to file a complaint with your company or to take legal action.
Talk to your union representative. Union rules often allow you to file a grievance. If you don’t have a union, call a women’s or civil rights group for help.
Talk to your employer. Your company may have an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer or a way for you to file a complaint. For instance, some companies have new ways to resolve problems, like mediation. Check your employee handbook for procedures.
Keep doing a good job and keep a record of your work. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you do a good job at work. Your boss may criticize your job performance later on in order to defend his or her discrimination.
Seek support from friends and family. Discrimination at work is a difficult thing to face alone, and the process of fighting discrimination can be very stressful.”
Free Legal Counsel Contact Information: “Union Plus Program. This AFL-CIO program offers all affiliated union members throughout the country benefit programs such as those listed below. A full list of products and services can be found at www.unionplus.org and includes: Legal Assistance: free preliminary legal consultation and review of documents on issues that are not related to Equity agreements.” - Actors’ Equity Association Membership Summary CLICK HERE to access FREE LEGAL ADVICE from Union Plus for all dues-paying union members.
Want to learn more?
Explore this list of eight types of illegal questions asked in an interview by clicking here.
Visit the prologue to this handbook to review 15 Stories of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Theatre.