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Dina Bakst's picture

rue or False:

1) A pregnant woman can be fired for carrying a water bottle on the job to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections.

2) A pregnant activity director at a nursing home can be terminated because she requires help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage.

3) A pregnant delivery truck driver can be forced out on unpaid leave because she has a lifting restriction and needs light duty.

The answer to all of these questions is true. These scenarios are based on actual cases, in which courts interpreted existing law to deny these pregnant women protection.

Unfortunately, this happens all too frequently in America. Across the country, pregnant women who request minor adjustments are forced out of their jobs unnecessarily and denied the minor modifications to workplace duties, rules, or policies that would enable them to continue working and supporting their families.

Over thirty years ago, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in order to eradicate discrimination against pregnant workers. The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions and directs employers to treat pregnant women as well as any other temporarily disabled worker, as long as they are similar in their ability or inability to work. Despite these protections, pregnant women are still routinely treated worse than workers who are temporarily disabled and/or covered by the American with Disabilities Act.

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, I wrote about the economic and public health consequences of this form of discrimination against pregnant workers and the need for legislation to close legal loopholes. Today, women make up nearly half of all workers on U.S. payrolls, and working women's salaries are critical to their families' economic security. They need income but sometimes cannot perform some aspects of their usual duties without risking their well-being or the health of their pregnancies. If they lose their jobs, their families suffer. This is simply unacceptable.

Fortunately, in the midst of the now familiar War on Women, some Congressional leaders are really listening to women's needs and developing solutions. Today, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will introduce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) to address this problem. This critical legislation would ensure protections for pregnant workers who face being pushed out on leave or terminated when they ask their employers for even the most minor workplace accommodations. It would also require an employer to make a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, unless this creates an undue hardship on the employer. The PWFA is common-sense legislation that would help millions of women, especially those who are economically vulnerable, to keep working and supporting their families.

Let's be clear -- plenty of women can and do work throughout their pregnancies without issue. However, pregnant women who cannot -- predominately low-wage and blue-collar women in physically demanding jobs -- should be able to request and receive reasonable adjustments to work duties and should not be forced out on leave unnecessarily or fired. These women desperately need a clear right to ask for what they need to stay healthy and on the job.

The PWFA has already garnered broad support from prominent women's groups, unions and dozens of other organizations across the country. Similar protections for pregnant workers are on the books in several states, and a comparable bill pending in New York State is gaining momentum. Such laws help countless women maintain income and work-related benefits without unduly burdening businesses. They also save taxpayers money, because pregnant women who stay on the job need not turn to public assistance to stay afloat.

This Mother's Day, stand up for expecting mothers and their families and tell your Senators and Representatives to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. No pregnant worker should be forced to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy. Ensuring the well-being of pregnant women and their babies should be a nonpartisan issue.

This blogpost was originally published on the Peaceful Revolution column at The Huffington Post by and The Peaceful Revolution presents innovative ideas to strengthen 21st Century American families through public policy, business practice, and cultural change.

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