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Women's Advocates Call for Fair Treatment of Pregnant Workers

9:58 AM, Jun 19, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Pregnant women are falling between the legal cracks, losing income and their jobs, or risking their health and that of their unborn children. So says the National Women's Law Center and the non-profit advocacy group A Better Balance.  They co-authored a new report today called "It Shouldn't Be A Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers." The report highlights examples of discriminator practices against pregnant women, especially in low-wage, manual labor, or male-dominated jobs.

Emily Martin is vice-president and general counsel for the National Women's Law Center and helped compile the report.  She cites the example of Hilda Guzzman, had been working full-time at a Dollar Tree Store.

Martin says, "A woman who was working as a cashier, and her employer's rule was, cashiers can't sit down. So she was on her feet for eight to ten  hours a day. And this lead to pregnancy complications where she was having early labor and bleeding and going to the emergency room on a regular basis because she didn't have a stool." 

Martin says employers who routinely make adjustments for employees dealing with an injury or other temporary disability won't do the same for pregnant women, even if their doctors provide medical reason to do so.  She says this violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed 35 years ago.

"If you accommodate a temporary back injury that doesn't allow someone to lift for a few months, then you have to accommodate pregnancy too," says Martin, "But unfortunately, 35 years after that rule was passed, employers are still having trouble getting it right." 

Peggy Young is another woman profiled in the report.  She had to go out on unpaid leave from her job as a UPS driver in Landover,  because the company would not accommodate her request to not lift packages more than 20 pounds. Young spent the last six and half months of her pregnancy without pay or health benefits.  

"Women should not have to choose between their work and having a child... period," says Young.

Young sued UPS for pregnancy discrimination and lost in the lower court and on appeal. Martin says the courts have sent mixed messages to employers about their legal obligations. She says, often, women who can't meet the physical demands of the job even for a short period end up using their unpaid family medical leave (FMLA).

"What that means is the worker doesn't have income, and uses up her entire leave before her baby is even born. If she can't come back when the leave is over because she's still pregnant or just had her baby, the employer often fires her at that moment," says Martin.

Peggy Young is another woman profiled in the report.  She had to go out on unpaid leave from her job as a UPS driver in Landover,  because the company would not accommodate her request to not lift packages more than 20 pounds. Young spent the last six and half months of her pregnancy without pay or health benefits.   "Women should not have to choose between their work and having a child... period," says Young.

Peggy Young is another woman profiled in the report.  She had to go out on unpaid leave from her job as a UPS driver in Landover,  because the company would not accommodate her request to not lift packages more than 20 pounds. Young spent the last six and half months of her pregnancy without pay or health benefits.   "Women should not have to choose between their work and having a child... period," says Young.

Young sued UPS for pregnancy discrimination and lost in the lower court and on appeal. Martin says the courts have sent mixed messages to employers about their legal obligations. She says, often, women who can't meet the physical demands of the job even for a short period end up using their unpaid family medical leave (FMLA).

"What that means is the worker doesn't have income, and uses up her entire leave before her baby is even born. If she can't come back when the leave is over because she's still pregnant or just had her baby, the employer often fires her at that moment," says Martin.

Martin says more legislation is working its way through Congress to clarify employers' legal responsibilities; it is called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

A Better Balance also just released a book called "Babygate: What You Really Need to Know About Pregnancy & Parenting in the American Workplace."

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