Guadalupe Hernandez was in line for a promotion at a fast-food restaurant in Washington, DC, where her co-workers and customers adored her. She became pregnant, however, and instead of a promotion, Hernandez got fired. Why? Her pregnancy left her needing more bathroom breaks than she needed before.

She’s not alone. Pregnant retail workers get fired for the same reason. Hostesses who usually stand during most of a work shift get fired for using a stool during down times.

In Minnesota, Diana Teigland’s job as a US Postal Service (USPS) worker required time outdoors, but after getting pregnant her doctor told her to stay inside during the hottest days of summer — days so hot they set new records. The USPS wouldn’t allow it. Indoor work was allowed for injured and disabled workers but not for pregnant workers. Teigland had been saving up her sick and personal days to take after the baby was born but she used them up to save her job that long, hot summer. Her employer doesn’t provide paid maternity leave so any time she spends at home with the new baby is unpaid.

Most women are able to maintain perfect work records during pregnancy, with a few minor tweaks to accommodate the pregnancy. Most people do not consider pregnancy a disability but too many employment policies do not allow any variances to work schedules or responsibilities to make pregnancy safer on the job. Too many pregnant women are forced to choose between their baby or their job. When a woman loses her job — by choice or by force — due to pregnancy, her family loses out on much-needed household income.

Liz Watson says, “Pregnancy discrimination is alive and well in the workplace today.” Watson serves as Senior Counsel for the National Women’s Law Center and is Director of Workplace Justice for Women. These organizations are working with a family advocacy group called A Better Balance to push new legislation — the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act — so women can work through pregnancy without fear of discrimination, safety risks, and financial hardship.

According to the National Women’s Law Center:

  • 71% of American mothers work outside the home
  • 75% of all women who get jobs outside the home will become pregnant at some point during their careers

Current law addresses pregnancy by saying workers must be treated the same way during pregnancy as other workers doing similar jobs. It does not allow for reasonable accommodations that present no undue hardship to the employer as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires for disabled workers.

The Women’s Law Center and the advocacy groups working with it are borrowing some of the provisions in the ADA and adapting them for use in proposed legislation for safeguarding pregnant workers.

On the state level, many are enacting protection laws for pregnant workers. California already handles pregnancy leave the same way it does a disability claim. The US Supreme Court is reviewing the case of a worker for UPS who faced pregnancy-related discrimination on the job so federal protections may be a possibility someday.

Source: “It shouldn’t be a heavy lift: fair treatment for pregnant workers (pdf).” A Better Balance. A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center. 2013. Web. Mar 11, 2014.