Happy (early) Mother’s Day! It looks like the working moms of America might be in for quite the gift this year. Lawmakers from New York and California just introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into the House of Representatives.
As we’ve discussed here at The Grindstone before, there’s a certain gray area when it comes to pregnant workers and their protection under the law. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does just what it says, protect expecting women from employment discrimination, and FMLA Law guarantees at least six weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave for the majority of workers, there’s still room left for unfair treatment of soon-to-be-mothers.
For instance, in a past life, I managed a retail chain. Even though we were located in the mall, we sold some furniture. As the manager, I needed to move that furniture on a regular basis. I had to unload any inventory delivered. I had to push it around when I rearranged the store. I had to load it into the car for any customer. I have to say I got some enviable muscle definition during that job.
Now let’s imagine that I was pregnant. Part of my job was to unload and check in all new inventory. While pregnant, it would be unsafe for me to maneuver or lift a 75-pound piece of furniture. There would have been a part of my job that I couldn’t do. And technically, my company could’ve fired me for being unable to perform my duties.
The solution to that problem seems pretty logical. I could have another employee actually move the merchandise while I checked the order invoice. But that would’ve required ensuring I had to two people available to be off the floor during inventory. It might have necessitated adding an additional hour or two to the schedule when we had deliveries.
Unfortunately, some women were being fired because their companies were unwilling to make small concessions such as this to help them with their pregnancy. The New York Times‘ blog “Motherlode” shares stories of a U.P.S. worker being denied the “light duty” loads that were normally available for injured workers. Instead, she was put on unpaid leave and lost her insurance. They mention a Wal-Mart employee who was fired for carrying a water bottle with her. Or a nursing home activity director who simply asked for help moving tables and pushing wheelchairs.
These stories are always so astonishing, because it’s hard to imagine that businesses could have so little regard or respect for their employees. Honestly, I just don’t understand it. But they are prime examples as to why legislation like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is so necessary.
While some might see this as just another set of rules for HR professionals to memorize, it’s worth pointing out that the protections for “reasonable accommodations” are very similar to those in the Americans With Disabilities Act. Companies should already be pretty familiar with the general guidelines. In fact, some women have lobbied for pregnancy simply to be added in as a disability, so that women could make sure that their rights were protected when they are carrying a child. This act creates a separate bill, instead of labeling pregnancy as a disability (which many moms were nervous about).
To most of us, these things might seem like logic. Of course we wouldn’t make pregnant women lift heavy packages and possibly risk their health of their unborn child. Of course a pregnant woman deserves a couple more bathroom breaks, or a stool to rest on occasionally. Unfortunately, a couple unrelenting and unsympathetic companies out there ruined that whole common sense approach. They’ve proven that women need this protection. I’m glad that some lawmakers are stepping up and trying to give it to them.
(Photo: HR People)