Skip to contentNational Women's Law Center

Why is Pregnancy Still a Job-Buster in the 21st Century Workplace?

Thirty-five years ago the Pregnancy Discrimination Act outlawed discrimination against pregnant workers. But still today, pregnant women across the country are being fired from their jobs, forced onto unpaid leave, or made to quit when they need temporary accommodations like staying off high ladders or refraining from heavy lifting. Many women can work throughout their pregnancies without any changes to their jobs. But for some pregnant workers – particularly those in low-wage and physically demanding jobs – slight job modifications can be crucial to their ability to continue safely working during pregnancy. Despite the fact that comparable accommodations are routinely offered when employees need them because of disabilities, employers often refuse to make even simple accommodations for pregnant women. As a result, many pregnant women are prevented from continuing to work even when they are willing and able to do so. Other women stay on the job despite a lack of accommodation because they can’t afford not to, potentially jeopardizing their health and the health of their pregnancies.

Today, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), in tandem with A Better Balance (ABB), is releasing It Shouldn't Be A Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers, which tells the stories of eight women who were refused the same sorts of accommodations during their pregnancy that their employers provided to other workers. As the report describes, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in their ability or inability to work.” So if employers make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, as they must under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the PDA requires employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers with similar limitations, too. But all too often, employers and the courts misunderstand and misinterpret these requirements.

Take the case of Peggy Young, whom the Center has written about before. Young worked as an air driver for UPS. When she became pregnant, UPS told her she had to bring a doctor’s note with her restrictions. Her doctor recommended she lift no more than 20 pounds. UPS told Young that UPS has a policy of no light duty for pregnancy – even though the company provided it to employees injured on the job, those protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to others with conditions ranging from high blood pressure to sleep apnea that prevented coworkers from maintaining a commercial driver’s license. As a result, UPS forced Young to go without pay and benefits, including health insurance. She sued and lost in both the district court and Court of Appeals. Both courts held she was not “similarly situated” to the other workers who were accommodated, despite the fact that her lifting restriction was similar to the limitations of some accommodated workers.

Or take the story of Svetlana Arizanovska. She worked two jobs to support her family: one as a packer at a medical supply company and another as a stocker on the overnight shift at Wal-Mart. She had had a previous miscarriage (after being forced to lift heavy merchandize at Wal-Mart) so her doctor characterized her pregnancy as “high risk” and gave her a lifting restriction. The medical supply company had no problem honoring her doctor’s note and this time Wal-Mart even put her in the toothbrush aisle for a couple of days. But soon after, her employer announced that there was no light duty available to pregnant workers. Wal-Mart then asked Arizanovska to “fill out some forms,” which turned out to be papers stating that Arianovska had a serious health condition and needed unpaid leave. Her doctor refused, saying she was healthy and could work, as long as she wasn’t required to do heavy lifting. Since she couldn’t fill out the FMLA forms, Arizanovska was terminated. Shortly thereafter, she miscarried again, which her doctor said could have been the result of work-related stress and depression. Arizanovska filed suit, and also lost because she couldn’t identify a nonpregnant co-worker who received light duty, despite Wal-Mart’s stated policy of accommodating workers with disabilities, including through job reassignment. The ordeal tore her family apart and contributed to her divorce and severe financial difficulties.

Young and Arizanovska are not alone. Too many pregnant women are being forced to make an impossible choice between their jobs and their health.  The report tells the stories of cleaners, fast food workers, postal workers, and others who were fired or forced to take unpaid leave when their employers refused to make any adjustments to their job duties.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way, as the report explains by setting out a straightforward agenda for change. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should issue guidance to employers, employees, practitioners, and the courts that employers must make accommodations to pregnant workers just as they provide accommodations to workers with disabilities. Congress should pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would unambiguously require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers who need them unless doing so would present an undue hardship. All states should take action to ensure accommodations for pregnant workers. For example, advocates in New York are pushing for passage of the Women's Equality Agenda, a 10-point plan to promote fairness and equality for women, which includes a provision that would guarantee reasonable accommodations for medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. Finally, employers need to adopt policies for accommodating pregnant workers just as they have policies for accommodating workers with on-the-job injuries. It’s long past time to make room for pregnancy on the job and give pregnant women the equal opportunity they deserve.

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Earlier this year I was working full time at a place of employment, never missed a day or an hour! Then the regional manager looked horrified and pissed even, when we were having a conversation and I mentioned I was pregnant. As if he didn't know and the hiring manager who hired me didn't tell him.
From that point on, he was very mean to me, even in front of customers. Humiliated me by certain comments and laughed at me. >so I started looking up discrimination acts.
I started having issues with my pregnancy and my Dr. ordered special accommodations, ones as simple as allowing me to have at least a 15 min break on a full shift, or allowing me to have a chair in the booth to use as needed. Well, those accommodations were not met. I felt like he was doing all this to make me wanna quit! > He called me one day while i was at work by myself, and must have been watching the cameras. Because I had 2 print outs i was reading while business was slow, and they happened to be about the EEOC. He didnt say anything about that though, only to tell me to just worry about making sales. I asked about taking a break or a chair per Dr.'s request, and all he did was repeat himself in a tone like I was stupid, and hung up. Well, I ended up having a miscarriage there that day, and he said the same thing once again when i called him (which he ignored), instead he IM'd me on messenger. He actually didn't want me to go to the doctors!!! So I took it upon myself to finally take a 30 minute unpaid break that was never given to me before and long over due! So I ran to the hospital and they drew my blood (too early for ultrasound)... and even through the heavy pains, I went right back to work (40 min later) and worked until close by myself as promised.
Next day I had off, which was good so I could rest my body. But sure enough another employee hurt her ankle, so I was ordered to go into work to cover for her. And if I didn't, my job would be at risk. So I did what I was told, so I wouldn't lose the job. I worked 10 hrs by myself with no actual break once again.
Two days later,... I went into work and all of a sudden my schedule was different. I got bumped from 39 hrs a week, to 9 hrs with no explanation. So I worked them 3 hrs (cut from 8)... and the next day I went in at 6 pm as scheduled, and the new manager was there already training some new girl. She then told me to sign a piece of paper she put out in front of me, and told me I was terminated. Supposedly because I was an hour late. Which was bull crap, because I even whipped out my phone AND the print out with my schedule as it was he day before when it was made.
......Now, I'm in the middle of filing a motion. And I just cant believe how many damn people out there that can actually sleep at night, knowing their so heartless and cold. Why be so mean to a woman who is carrying a baby? A new life?! And then being so heartless knowing damn right a woman could very well or even has had a miscarriage. I don't get it.....
And there is so much more to this story, ALOT actually, but no one has time for that,...... lol

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