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. Read more »
Every time I think about why we need laws like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, I feel sad and angry. To me, the law is just common sense: providing adjustments for pregnant workers on the job – adjustments that can be as small as a stool to sit on behind a counter, or permission to carry a water bottle on a sales floor – is usually free or cheap, helps pregnant workers continue to work and to provide for their growing families, and are good for business. The stories we hear from these pregnant workers make my heart sick from the injustice, and my brain dizzy from trying to comprehend the logic behind not providing these accommodations. After all, we offer seats on crowded trains to people who are pregnant all the time. It isn’t a heavy lift – and nor should it be for pregnant workers to get these workplace accommodations.
Yet, we hear time and again from employees who have been pushed onto unpaid leave, or terminated, just for asking for a small accommodation. Others have suffered complications in their pregnancies due to their employer’s refusal to accommodate them. For example, Hilda Guzzman’s employer refused to let her sit on a stool, which caused her to bleed and have premature labor pains. Read more »
Peggy Young, a pregnant UPS driver in Maryland, brought a doctor’s note to her employer stating that she could not lift more than 20 lbs. Her employer refused to honor the restriction—saying that light duty was only available to other classes of workers such as those injured on the job, those with disabilities recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and those who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses. Peggy Young sued for pregnancy discrimination and lost; the courts held that she wasn’t comparable to those workers who UPS accommodated.
If Ms. Young were seeking her accommodation today, the story might be much different. That’s because earlier today the Maryland governor just signed into law the Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers Act. Maryland’s law addresses a misreading of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Unfortunately, many courts around the country have held, like in Ms. Young’s case, that, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers are not similar to workers in these other categories. As a result, many pregnant women in Maryland and around the country have been denied minor and inexpensive accommodations, forced onto unpaid leave, been fired, or had to continue to do tasks that posed risk to their pregnancies, even while workers with comparable limitations have been accommodated.
Similar to the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, a bill proposed on the federal level the Center has written about many times before, Maryland’s new law takes the comparator issue off the table and simply requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant-related disabilities as long as such accommodations do not present an undue hardship to the employer. Read more »
Amanda Roller was a call center employee in Kansas. After Amanda became pregnant she started experiencing morning sickness. Amanda’s supervisor repeatedly refused her requests to go the bathroom and instead told her that she would get Amanda a larger trash can so that she could vomit at her desk. Amanda asked again, and her supervisor again denied her request, saying, “We don’t pay you to pee.” Amanda was then demoted and eventually fired.
Unfortunately, Amanda is not alone. Across the country, pregnant women face discrimination in the workplace when their employers refuse to make adjustments to their job duties such as honoring lifting restrictions, allowing them to stay off high ladders, or even just letting them go to the bathroom to vomit.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) outlawed this type of discrimination in 1978 with its requirement that employers treat pregnant workers the same as those who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” But too many lower courts have misinterpreted the PDA, holding incorrectly that it permits employers to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities or on-the-job injuries but deny those accommodations to pregnant workers. Read more »
The law is very clear: you can’t fire a woman simply because she’s pregnant. You can’t force her onto unpaid “medical” leave when she’s capable of doing her job. You can’t discriminate against her, period, even if your customers would prefer not seeing pregnant women in the workplace. You have to treat her as well as you treat other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
Yet despite these basic black-letter rules—enshrined thirty-five years ago in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)—employers often violate them, especially when it comes to pregnant women in low-wage jobs—women who have the fewest resources to fall back on if they lose their paychecks and the most difficulty finding help to enforce the laws that protect them. Read more »
Peggy Young was a UPS truck driver. When employees at her jobsite needed changes to their job duties because they had a disability, or an on-the-job injury, or even a D.U.I. conviction that prevented them from driving legally, UPS provided it. However, when she asked for light duty in order to avoid heavy lifting for a few months because she was pregnant, her employer refused and forced her onto unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, last week the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Young, that in doing so, UPS did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), despite the PDA’s requirement that employers treat pregnant employees the same as other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” The court held that taking this language literally would “transform an antidiscrimination statute into a requirement to provide accommodation to pregnant employees” and concluded that Congress did not intend this result. It came to this conclusion even though in passing the PDA, Congress stated, “[W]hen pregnant women are not able to work for medical reasons, they must be accorded the same rights, leave privileges and other benefits, as other workers who are disabled from working.”
The Fourth Circuit’s decision is extremely troubling, but to quote an aptly-titled article on the decision, Pregnancy Bias Fight Not Over, Despite 4th Circ. Ruling. The article notes that because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was expanded in 2008 to require employers to provide accommodations to workers with temporary disabilities, employers may be “guilty of discrimination for not providing pregnant workers the same accommodations” when they have similar temporary restrictions on their ability to work. Read more »
When I saw the headlines recently about Kate Middleton being rushed to the hospital for treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe pregnancy-related complication, I immediately thought of my mother.
When I was three and my mom was pregnant with my brother, she was very sick. I was too young to really understand it, but I did know that she was throwing up nonstop and that every day a woman came to give her an I.V. What she was suffering from was more than morning sickness: it was hyperemesis. The I.V. my mother got prevented her from becoming too dehydrated or malnourished while her body literally could not keep down any food, and she was on bedrest for months.
Although we didn’t have the same resources available to Kate Middleton, whose hyperemesis is currently making international news, my mother was still luckier than many women who are diagnosed with this condition. She worked at a medical school library, and her supervisors accommodated her need for leave and gave her a reduced schedule once she was able to return to work. Women like Saonarah Jeudy have not been so lucky.
Jeudy was working as a prison guard when she became pregnant. Not only did she suffer from hyperemesis, she also had painful fibroid tumors. Read more »
Arjun Sethi and NWLC’s recent article on CNN.com describes pregnant workers’ struggles to hold onto their jobs and have healthy pregnancies, after their requests for minor adjustments to their job duties – adjustments they needed to continue safely working during pregnancy – were denied by their employers. These workers had the audacity to ask for permission to: carry a water bottle, have a stool to sit down, avoid lifting heavy objects, and take bathroom breaks.
For those of us who are lucky enough to work in places that routinely accommodate such requests, or where we don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, it can be hard to imagine what it’s like to be pregnant and get fired for following doctor’s orders to stay hydrated, off our feet or follow a lifting restriction.
But that’s exactly what’s happening to some pregnant workers in physically demanding and nontraditional jobs. All too often, employers are quite willing to provide an accommodation to a worker who is injured on the job or has a disability, but insist on denying an accommodation to a pregnant worker. Read more »
Too many employers still seem to be relying on an outdated personnel manual. In fact, the past 10 years have seen a significant uptick in claims of pregnancy discrimination. Some employers continue to blatantly discriminate by firing pregnant workers, especially those in physically demanding jobs. Others are a bit more subtle in forcing pregnant women out of the workplace: they refuse to make minor adjustments to job duties for those workers who need such accommodations to continue safely working.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, recently introduced in Congress, would make a big difference. The bill would strengthen the protections in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by requiring employers to make the same sort of reasonable accommodations for pregnancy that they are already required to make for disabilities. Read more »
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in the Senate last week. To help you learn more about the legislation and why it’s critically important to pregnant workers, here are five fast facts about pregnancy and the workplace.
1) Neither the Pregnancy Discrimination Act nor the Americans with Disabilities Act explicitly require employers to provide minor workplace accommodations if pregnant employees need them.
While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act extends Title VII employment discrimination protections to pregnant employees, all too often courts have held that it does not protect women who need minor adjustments on the job during pregnancy, such as being permitted to carry a water bottle, take more frequent bathroom breaks, or get a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting — unless the pregnant woman can point to someone else doing exactly the same work who needed and received exactly the same job adjustments but who wasn't pregnant. It will often be impossible to find this nonpregnant identical twin. The Americans with Disabilities Act also doesn't apply, because pregnancy itself is not a disability (although pregnancy complications, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, can be).
2) The United States does not have a federal law requiring paid medical or parental leave.
Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides twelve weeks of unpaid leave during which your employer, if large enough to be covered by the law, will save your job, most employers don't provide paid medical or family leave, and very few workers in low-wage jobs have access to more than a few days of paid leave for medical needs. Read more »