Before companies even think about attracting customers or increasing profits, they have one obligation that comes before everything else, and that’s creating a safe, welcoming environment in which their employees can work. But according to The New York Times, many employers are falling short of that goal in one key area: they’re discriminating against pregnant women.
The Times conducted a lengthy investigation spanning a wide range of employers and found that in many strenuous jobs, women lost their pregnancies or suffered other negative effects on their health after their employers denied their requests for light duty, with some even ignoring doctors’ notes. One Verizon employee in Tennessee, for example, was forced to spend eight hours lifting heavy boxes. At the end of the day she discovered her unborn child had been lost. Experts told the Times that in many cases, situations like this are preventable if employers pay better attention to their workers’ needs.
“When employers ignore these medical recommendations, they are potentially jeopardizing patients’ health,” said Rebecca Jackson, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at San Francisco General Hospital. “It’s especially bothersome to me that this is occurring for women in strenuous jobs, given that they are at the most risk of injuring themselves or the pregnancy.”
What happened at Verizon was by no means an isolated incident. The Times dug into this issue and found that pregnancy discrimination is widespread in corporate America, with some employers denying expectant mothers promotions and pay raises and others outright firing them to avoid paying for maternity leave. And for those in physically demanding jobs, the cases of discrimination have been truly horrific. The Times found a litany of cases of miscarriages, premature labor, and in one case, a stillborn baby.
At this time, there isn’t much in terms of legislation in place to prevent pregnant women in the workplace. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is on the books nationwide, but it’s only four paragraphs long and 40 years old. We’re only now starting to see a bipartisan group of lawmakers starting to work on upgrading that law and forcing companies to do better when it comes to accommodating pregnant women.
“Women shouldn’t have to choose between keeping a doctor appointment or their job,” said Senator Dean Heller, one co-sponsor of a new, updated piece of legislation designed to fix the problem.