Thirty-five years after Congress passed a federal law to protect pregnant women from discrimination on the job, these workers are instead denied reasonable accommodations that other workers receive and often wind up losing income, benefits or their jobs or suffering pregnancy complications, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report, “It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers,” by the National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance, finds that while workers with back trouble or other ailments often receive accommodations on the job, pregnant workers are routinely denied bathroom breaks and requests to avoid heavy lifting or to sit down for a while on long shifts.
“This is really shameful,” said Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for better policies for working families. “We run a legal clinic, and we hear stories like these all the time. It’s a significant and widespread problem.”
The majority of the pregnant workers calling with discrimination complaints work in inflexible, low-wage jobs, Bakst said, including those in the home health, retail and restaurant industries and areas traditionally dominated by men, such as trucking, policing and firefighting.
Pregnancy discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have been steadily increasing over the past 15 years. In fiscal 2011, 5,797 pregnancy discrimination claims were filed with the EEOC, and $17.2 million was paid out by employers to settle those claims. The figures don’t include settlements or judgments that were the result of litigation.
Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women’s Law Center, said federal laws are confusing. Pregnancy is not a disability, and it is not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But changes to that law in 2008 require employers to accommodate workers’ temporary disabilities.