Pregnant @ Work
Now that roughly half the paid workforce is female, pregnancy issues surface regularly at work. You may have thought that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), passed in 1978, would have settled all this already. You’d be wrong.
First of all, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 62 percent of women who give birth within a 12-month period are also employed. No doubt the recession contributes to that figure, and the income generated by these mothers-to-be is absolutely essential to their families. Losing a job due to pregnancy, then, can have devastating consequences for the entire household, especially at a time when jobs are hard to come by.
At the same time, pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office have been increasing. The quantity of these claims has gone up 35 percent in the past 10 years alone. In spite of federal prohibitions against firing a worker because she is pregnant, it continues to happen. At the same time, pregnant women who could keep their jobs with minor modifications – such as carrying a water bottle, sitting on a stool, or not lifting objects over a certain weight – are being fired. Current laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, would require an employer to provide those accommodations to a worker with a work limitation arising from a disability – male or female. But a pregnant woman does not have that protection, because in that context, pregnancy is not a disability. Thus the need for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
The bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last spring by Democratic legislators from New York and California. It now has 109 sponsors, all Democrats, out of the 435 members of the House. Typically, Republicans lack enthusiasm for legislation restricting employers’ exercise over the workplace. Just last week, members of the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania introduced a similar bill. So far, no Republicans have co-sponsored the bill.
In a dead-locked Congress, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will likely die, especially because opponents will say that a recession is the worst time to further regulate job creators and burden struggling businesses. So, for the foreseeable future, if you’re pregnant and making the only income your family has, be careful about asking to sit down, take a water break, or follow doctor’s orders due to a complicated pregnancy. The land of “family values,” mom-and-apple pie, and Mother’s Day does most emphatically NOT have your back.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
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