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Why The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is Important

Katlyn Joy | 8, July 2013


Every pregnant woman who works experiences some stress over how it will affect her job. You struggle with the questions of when to tell, what to tell and who at work to tell first. Will they think I'm not going to be a good worker? Will I get pushed into a bad situation at work or worse yet, lose my job altogether?

Protection of pregnant workers is a national crisis as two-thirds of American women worked while carrying their first child, according to 2006 to 2008 data. Women also routinely work late into their pregnancies. Approximately 88 percent will work into their last two months of pregnancy while 82 percent will work into their final month of pregnancy. Furthermore, in 41 percent of American households, women are the primary breadwinner while in another 23 percent they are co-breadwinners.

Many women believe that current legislation such as Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA, or the American Disabilities Act or ADA or even the Pregnancy Discrimination Act should be sufficient to protect them. However, these federal laws have fallen short in this arena time and time again, over interpretation of the law or misunderstandings of the laws.

Here are some stories of how women are vulnerable, particularly women who work low-wage jobs or non-traditional jobs for women.

Diane, a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service for nine years requested indoor work on days of high heat, as her doctor had placed her on heat restriction. While other workers with injuries or disabilities were allowed indoor work, Diane was denied this temporary accommodation. On days of high heat, she was forced to take one of her paid sick days or personal days, which were what Diane was counting on using after her baby's birth. Because of an unusual number of hot summer days, Diane was left with no paid time off for her maternity leave, creating great financial strain on her family.

Shelly was working two different jobs when she found out she was pregnant. Her day job was at a medical supply company where she packed items to be shipped. Her night job was night shelf stocker at a major national retail chain. When she relayed her doctor's instructions not to lift more than twenty pounds, her job at the medical supply company accommodated her request promptly. However the major chain refused to modify her duties and continued to require Shelly to lift heavy items. She experienced serious pain and later suffered a miscarriage. When she became pregnant again, the major retailer again would not accommodate her. She was told to go on an unpaid FMLA leave, but her doctor refused to say it was necessary as she was a healthy women who only needed her duties adjusted accordingly. She was fired.

Hilda, a cashier at Dollar Tree, asked to use a stool since she'd otherwise be forced to stand for her 8 to 10 hour shifts. Her supervisor said no, "You can't get special treatment since a man can't get pregnant." She suffered from bleeding and premature labor pains which resulted in her being put on bed rest. She had to take an unpaid leave which was a financial hardship. Hilda is no longer employed at Dollar Tree and is out of work.

Many pregnant women's requests are simple and cost nothing for their employers, such as allowing bathroom breaks as needed, allowing a woman to drink water during the shift, or allowing for sitting or having other employees assist with occasional heavy lifting. Many of these accommodations are routinely given to other employees who were injured on the job site or have a disability.

Here is what the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will do:

- Job modifications would be allowed such as allowing food or water during work hours, providing a stool, giving a lighter duty job in workplaces where a variety of positions exist and such accommodations that would not place an undue hardship on the employer.

- Protect a pregnant worker from discriminating against a worker who needs temporary adjustments to their jobs during some or all their pregnancies. This in essence will keep employers from firing pregnant workers simply instead of adjusting job duties.

- Workers could not be forced into different job duties against their will.

- Pregnant workers would not be forced into taking unpaid or paid leave.

Status of the Act as of July 5, 2013

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in Congress in 2012, and reintroduced in May of this year. It was assigned to a committee. According to the website, the bill has only an 8 percent chance of getting out of committee and a 1 percent chance of being enacted.

Sources: CBS News, National Women's Law Center

Katlyn Joy is a mother to 7 children, and a freelance writer. She earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and was previously an adviser to new mothers on breastfeeding through a maternity home program. She currently resides in Colorado with her family.

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