We're Seriously Still Debating Whether or Not It's Okay to Discriminate Against Pregnant Women?

Illustration for article titled We're Seriously Still Debating Whether or Not It's Okay to Discriminate Against Pregnant Women?

Being pregnant is hard enough without having to worry about being fired for asking for extra bathroom breaks. But, right now, there's no law on the books to stop that from happening. Good God. We're still talking about this? This is a thing we're debating? In 2012?


In an op-ed for the Times that is depressing in that it exists, attorney Dina Bakst argues that although three of four of women currently entering the workforce will become pregnant while on the job, most of them lack the protection that prevents their employers from firing them because of accommodations they may need during their pregnancies.

While it's true that the law already bars discrimination against pregnant women, Bakst points out that there's no provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for women who are pregnant unless they've been disabled by their pregnancy. This means that absurdly what-the-hell cases like that of Patricia Leahy, a Brooklyn woman who was fired for presenting her employer with a doctor's note that stated she shouldn't do any heavy lifting while pregnant, can still occur with regularity. It's murky territory.

And the loophole in the law that protects disabled Americans especially harms lower income women, many of whom are in more physical jobs that require standing for extended periods of time, following a schedule that only allows a limited number of breaks, or lifting heavy objects.

Bakst isn't suggesting that employers be legally obligated to provide pregnant employees with a crushed velour fainting couch and two well-muscled eunuchs with palm fronds, or allow them to shirk their responsibilities. She suggests instead that laws at the federal level mirror the bill proposed by two female New York state legislators. Their law "would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women whose health care providers say they need them, unless doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer."

Fair enough, right? Of course, somewhere in this great green and brown and flashing red and blue country of ours, there's someone (a lot of someones) who believes the sort of law that protects pregnant women from being fired is akin to government overreach in private business. And maybe they have a point. Women should have thought about all the possible awful things that could have happened to them before they decided to try to get out of doing hard work by growing another human being inside of their bodies for 9 months and then pushing it out of a tiny, stretchable hole filled with nerve endings over a series of several hours.

Pregnant, and pushed out of a job [NYT]

Image via /Shutterstock



It absolutely still happens in big ways and in subtle ways. At one past job we had massive budget cuts and had to do lay-offs - among the folks laid off? Both of the pregnant women in our office.

During another job we were interviewing candidates for an open position. I felt strongly about a female candidate, another person on the review team wanted the male candidate and actually said "If we hire another woman we're just going to have to do double the work when she inevitably goes on maternity leave in the next few years." - I argued with that but the male was hired.

And I've been pregnant twice and both times you notice things - being kept off longer term projects, getting a little bit of the mushroom treatment before and after maternity leave, etc. Plus, I have actually been told at one point (jokingly but in a room full of co-workers) "You don't get a say in this because you aren't even going to be working for half of this year." Because we all know 12 weeks of maternity leave = 1/2 of a year's vacation.

Also, I've been pointedly told by older female higher-ups how they worked throughout their maternity leave and "it's just what you have to do" - etc.