Three fourths of women now entering the workforce will become pregnant on the job. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was designed to prevent employment discrimination when it comes to any aspect of pregnancy, including hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, fringe benefits or any other terms of employment. However, due to a gap between anti-discrimination and disability law, many women still face termination due to their pregnancies.
Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are temporarily disabled, including those who are disabled as a result of complications related to pregnancy. These complications can include gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, a condition characterized by pregnancy-related hypertension. Under the PDA, an employer who allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay must also allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to do the same.
However, pregnancy in-and-of itself is not considered a disability, a fact that begets situations such as a woman who, seven months into her pregnancy, was fired from her job as a cashier because she needed a few extra bathroom breaks. A retail employee was also recently fired for providing a doctor’s note asking that she not be required to climb any ladders or do heavy lifting a month-and-a-half prior to going on maternity leave. A federal judge sided with her employers, stating they were not legally obligated to accommodate her needs.
According to Dina Bakst of the Work and Family Legal Center, “Thousands of pregnant women are pushed out of jobs that they are perfectly capable of performing – put on unpaid leave or simply fired – when they request an accommodation to help maintain a healthy pregnancy.”
Many of the women who are pushed out of their jobs are single mothers or a family’s primary earner. Some states are reacting with legislation to help protect pregnant women from employment discrimination. These laws require employers to provide seats for employees who must spend long periods of time standing, allow more frequent restroom breaks and limit strenuous activities such as heavy lifting.
Bakst and others see such laws as a public health necessity in order to protect the safety of pregnant women and their unborn children. In today’s economy, losing one’s job can be devastating.
Dina Bakst also noted, “Women who can work longer into their pregnancies often qualify for longer periods of leave following childbirth, which facilitates breastfeeding, bonding with and caring for a new child and a smoother and healthier recovery from childbirth.”
Bakst and many others are trying their best to minimize employment discrimination in the workplace for pregnant women. Pregnant women who have faced discrimination are encouraged bring their cases to trial. Expert witnesses can add litigation support to cases involving pregnant women who have been wrongfully discriminated against in the workplace.