The term ‘Presentees’ describes employees who attend work when they are ill. I have coined-the phrase ‘pregnant presenteeism’ specifically to describe pregnant workers who resist taking sick leave when they are unwell. Pregnant presenteeism occurs among women who are worried about organisational tendencies to assume that women’s health is poor, especially in comparison with men’s health. Although in practice, gender may not be a predictor of sickness absence, workplaces can nevertheless presume that women are more likely to be ill than men. In particular, it is commonly believed by employers that pregnant women will be unwell during their pregnancies. For this reason, although research does not substantiate links between pregnancy and sickness absence, employers tend to fear that employed pregnant women are likely to be ill, away from work and unreliable.
In order to counter such assumptions and maintain their career progress, some pregnant employees are determined to appear healthy and dependable at work, regardless of whether they feel ill. As a result, some pregnant women ignore illness and pretend to line managers and colleagues that they are ‘functioning normally’ even when seriously unwell. In such cases (whether poor health is due to pregnancy or for other reasons) sick pregnant women remain present at work; hence the description ‘pregnant presentees’.
Debates about pregnancy and work are considered from the perspective of employers and pregnant women themselves in an FT on-line article by Natasha Stidder, Bridging the Gaps created by maternity leave, 19 April 2012.