In New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia, legislation protecting pregnant workers has now now been enacted. Across the nation, however, pregnant workers remain vulnerable to discrimination.
An amendment including pregnant workers in the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, the New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination all protect pregnant workers from discrimination and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. These accommodations include allowing employees to sit on a stool rather than stand during work hours, giving them permission to carry water bottles and food on the job, re-assigning pregnant employees temporarily to light-duty work, and refraining from allowing pregnant workers to do heavy lifting.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, currently stalled in both chambers of Congress, would require every employer in the nation to provide these accommodations to their employees.
Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978’s bar on discrimination toward pregnant employees, many American women are forced out of their jobs or denied accommodations that would allow them to continue working once they become pregnant. The New York Times highlighted the story of Floralba Fernandez Espinal this weekend, an immigrant woman from the Bronx who lost her job at Unique Thrift when she gave her employer a letter from her obstetrician that barred her from lifting, pushing, or carrying heavy loads or objects. Fernandez, who worked regularly carrying materials to to the showroom from the storeroom, had seen other workers transferred to different positions in times of need – but she had no such luck. Her manager placed her on unpaid leave and replaced her with a new employee once she left.
Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy, reports ThinkProgress. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by discrimination against pregnant workers, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility. When pregnant workers are forced out of their jobs, they are placed in positions of emotional and financial hardship, and discrimination against women with children often makes their re-entry into the workforce more difficult.
“The tremendous bi-partisan support for [the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination] bill in the New Jersey legislature shows that this is an issue on which people of all political persuasions can agree,” said NWLC Vice-President and General Counsel Emily Martin. “We now urge Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would create a level playing field for pregnant workers across the nation.”
Media Resources: NWLC Press Center 1/22/2014; ThinkProgress 5/14/2013;Women’s Law Project 2/1/2014; The New York Times 2/2/2014; Feminist Newswire 10/2/2013