June 19, 2013 — Pregnant workers are often denied accommodations that could allow them to remain on the job, even though their employers make adjustments for other workers with temporarily medical conditions or disabilities, according to a new report from the National Women's Law Center and A Better Balance, the Washington Post reports.
While pregnancy is not considered a disability or covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, changes to the law in 2008 mandated that employers accommodate workers with temporary disabilities.
The new report, titled "It Shouldn't Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers," features stories about eight pregnant workers who experienced pregnancy discrimination. For example, an employee at a Washington, D.C., business was forbidden from drinking water and had to ask her manager's permission to use the bathroom, even though no other employees were subject to similar restrictions.
Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, said the majority of pregnant workers who contact the group about discrimination complaints work in low-paying jobs with inflexible standards and occupations conventionally dominated by men. The group conducted the report because pregnancy discrimination is "significant and widespread" but routinely dismissed by lawmakers and policymakers who "don't believe or understand that [it] is real," she said.
Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel for NWLC, said federal laws are unclear and some employers are unaware they need to accommodate pregnant workers. Because of this confusion, Martin said, "some women are losing their jobs, forced to take unpaid leave, or [they] ignore their doctor's advice and continue to work without the accommodations because they can't afford to lose their jobs."
Martin called for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to make clear employer guidelines on pregnancy-related accommodations. Pregnancy discrimination claims submitted to EEOC have increased in the past 15 years, with 5,797 filed in 2011, according to the Post (Schulte, Washington Post, 6/17).