The National Women’s Law Center pulls together real women’s stories to explain why we need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which makes sure that all pregnant workers are able to get the minor workplace adjustments they need to continue working during their pregnancies. These aren’t major changes in job duties; they’re reasonable and small accommodations that make all the difference for pregnant people. A few examples:
When an airline ticket agent in Louisiana was told by her doctor not to lift anything heavy at work, she didn’t expect to run into problems at her job. The airline had allowed her to have a “light duty” assignment during her first pregnancy. But this time she was told that if she provided a doctor’s note requiring any work-related restrictions, she would be immediately placed on unpaid leave. Going months without a paycheck was not a viable option for her family so she continued to work. Throughout her pregnancy, she was repeatedly called on to lift heavy bags on and off the baggage ramp and required to work 10- and 12-hour days on her feet. Toward the end of her pregnancy, she incurred a condition called stress-induced toxemia. As a result, she went into labor prematurely and her child suffered numerous health complications.
Dr. Lucy Willis is a Board Certified physician specializing in emergency medicine, and she practices at New York Downtown Hospital in Manhattan. In the spring of 2012, she treated a pregnant woman who arrived in the emergency department during her shift. She was working as a cashier at a large retailer in the city and was 16 weeks pregnant. Despite doctor’s orders that she remain vigilant about drinking water, she was severely dehydrated. When Dr. Willis inquired why she was not drinking adequate amounts of fluids, she told her that her boss would not allow her to drink water while working at the cash register. While standing for hours at the register, the woman fainted and collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, where Dr. Willis ordered her intravenous fluids. According to Dr. Willis, “[d]ehydration can lead to miscarriage, and while pregnant women are already at increased risk of fainting (due to high progesterone levels causing blood vessel dilatation), dehydration puts them at even further risk of collapse and injury from falling.”
Jane Doe worked at a casual eatery in Washington, D.C., preparing food and working “on the line” serving customers. After Jane became pregnant, she needed more frequent bathroom breaks and to be allowed to drink water and eat on her scheduled breaks. Her supervisor yelled at her publicly when she returned from the bathroom, ordering her – but no one else – to notify all of the other employees and to get his consent before using the bathroom. Although employees were entitled to 15-minute breaks during their four-hour shifts, he often refused to let her take a break, even though she needed to eat because she was hungrier than usual as a result of her pregnancy. Her supervisor also denied her access to water during her four-hour shifts. When Jane asked for advance permission to leave early from a shift to attend a prenatal medical appointment, she got no response from her supervisor, despite asking him repeatedly for an answer. The day of the appointment her supervisor told her she could not leave and threatened to fire if she did. She explained it was an important prenatal appointment and she needed to go. She kept the appointment, and when she returned to work, he immediately fired her.
Laura works as a program counselor at a facility for people with developmental disabilities. When she was pregnant, her doctor recommended that she not bend or twist when securing wheelchairs to a bus. She asked her supervisor to allow her to make this minor adjustment to her job duties. Her supervisor responded by forcing Laura on to unpaid leave for the rest of her pregnancy, even though she was not disabled and could do her job with this minor accommodation. Her employer also threatened to fire her if she didn’t return to work in four months. After Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center informed her employer of Laura’s right to a workplace accommodation under California law, Laura was reinstated and given the adjustment she needed. Laura recently had a healthy baby boy and is looking forward to returning to work. She believes that “all women should have this basic protection.”
Ridiculous, right? The NWLC makes it super easy to tell your Congressperson to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. So head over there, fill out the simple message form, and help get basic workplace protections for pregnant workers. I just did it and it took about 15 seconds.
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