Workplace pregnancy discrimination—from being passed over for promotion to even being fired—is widespread. For those who have physically demanding jobs, their employers’ refusal to accommodate their needs while pregnant can lead to miscarriages.
In a report from the New York Times, several women who worked at a Memphis, Tennessee warehouse contracted by Verizon allege that they suffered miscarriages after their supervisors ignored their requests for lighter workloads.
Erica Hayes was 23 and working at the warehouse, now owned by XPO Logistics, when she had a miscarriage. Her story, as told to the Times, is harrowing:
At first, Ms. Hayes was processing individual shipments to Verizon customers — one phone, one charger, onto the next. Then, a crush of holiday orders hit the warehouse in December. She said that her boss began dispatching her to the area of the warehouse that handled bulk shipments, often destined for Verizon stores, where the warehouse was struggling to keep up. She often spent up to 12 hours a day lifting huge boxes, some with 20 iPads and 20 accessories.
She said she could have handled paperwork or stayed in the section of the warehouse devoted to small shipments. But she said her supervisor kept ordering her to work with the largest boxes. Ms. Hayes’s mother said that her daughter talked to her about the rejected requests at the time.
Ms. Hayes said she began to bleed regularly at work. She sometimes left early to go to the hospital. Each time, she said, her supervisor wrote her up. As the demerits accumulated, she stopped leaving. Instead, she bled through four maxi pads a day.
“My job was on the line,” she said. At the end of a long shift in January 2014, she felt blood gushing into her jeans.
“It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life,” Hayes told the Times. She was not the only woman who miscarried while working at the warehouse. Since 2014, at least five other women have had miscarriages while being employed there; all of them had requested lighter duties, but they say that their supervisors ignored their requests. For pregnant warehouse workers—one of the fastest growing jobs in America—who are tasked with lifting heavy boxes repeatedly over long shifts, the possibility of miscarrying is elevated, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
One problem? Federal laws meant to protect pregnant workers are outdated and insufficient. As the Times noted, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1978, only requires companies to accommodate workers’ requests if it is already making similar accommodations for other workers. Read: shitty companies who already treat their workers badly are let off the hook.