In the US, potential employers cannot ask questions about pregnancy, marital status or future family plans during job interviews. It is against federal and state laws that prevent discrimination.
Over in China, questions about pregnancy and family planning do get asked in many workplaces. And last week a credit cooperative in Henan province went so far as to demand its employees seek approval before getting pregnant. Those who conceive a child without permission will be fined.
According to the new policy, only married female staff who have been with the company for more than one year can apply for a place on the birth planning schedule. The employee must strictly stick to the birth plan once it is approved. Those who get pregnant in violation of the plan – such that their work is affected – “will be fined Rmb1,000 ($161)”. The notice also added that women giving birth outside of the schedule may have their year-end bonuses withheld.
After the internal document was leaked online, the company faced a landslide of criticism, with many netizens complaining that it was being unreasonable.
“Which idiot came up with such a policy?” one netizen wrote. “This is simply inhumane.”
“So is it implying that if you get pregnant accidentally you should choose to abort it? That’s wrong,” another wrote. “This makes it sound as if a woman can control exactly when she wants to get pregnant and when she doesn’t,” was a further criticism.
China Youth Daily also took aim at the Henan cooperative saying that it “does not regard its employees as living human beings, instead it treats them as working tools on the production line”.
In response, it says the new policy is not set in stone. In fact, it was merely a draft seeking employees’ comment. It also added that a large number of female graduates had recently begun working at the firm, and that the policy was drafted in order to avoid all of the women taking maternity leave at once.
As it turns out, the credit cooperative is not alone in seeking greater control of its female staff.
A worker at a different bank in Henan told the Global Times that their company questioned employees about their pregnancy plans at the beginning of every year. Other netizens say their managers also demand to know when they are planning to have children.
“Actually this is very common – having to ask for permission before getting pregnant. A lot of banks and hospitals make you do that. Otherwise, who is going to do your job when you are on maternity leave?” one netizen reckons.
Judging from some of the other comments it also appears that Chinese firms are warier of female hires. “Some women are pregnant as soon as they start a job. It’s those people who don’t work hard and use the excuse of taking care of their baby that have caused some organisations to be afraid to recruit women,” another wrote.
“A lot of companies don’t like to hire married women who haven’t had babies,” one netizen bluntly asserts.
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