Commentary

08.07.15

Fired for Being Pregnant

By

Pregnant Woman

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age women can be fired for becoming pregnant. A quick Google search for “pregnant and fired” brings up multiple headlines in the news documenting stories of women fired once their bosses learned of their pregnancy.

Heidi Spontak was working as a bartender, she said that when her boss learned of her pregnancy she was fired minutes later. This was despite having worked successfully through previous pregnancies and having been a satisfactory employee to date.

Dina Bakst, founder and president of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, recently recounted several experiences of pregnant workers losing their jobs:

  • A cashier, seven months pregnant, who was fired for needing a few extra bathroom breaks.
  • A retail worker was fired for requesting temporary relief from climbing ladders and heavy lifting. A federal judge eventually ruled her termination was legal because her employer was not required to meet her request for accommodation.

The ACLU of Ohio recently settled a sex discrimination case where a religiously affiliated organization fired a woman for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, which they claimed was in violation of their unwritten employment policy.

Women Support the Family

No question that becoming pregnant can jeopardize a woman’s job security for a range of reasons, and at a time when she needs health insurance and economic security the most. According to The National Women’s Law Center, 41 percent of women with children are the primary source of income for the family. A report from the University of California explains low-income pregnant women are hit the hardest. They are more likely to be the family breadwinner, have less social support, and have employers who treat them with hostility, including harassment related to their pregnancy and denial of their rights.

Despite current state and federal laws, women can be fired for being pregnant, leaving them without health insurance and economic security at the time when they need it most. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act could change that.

A Critical Gap in the Law

Discrimination against pregnant women by employers is illegal at the federal and state level. The Americans With Disabilities Act, passed 25 years ago, mandates employers make reasonable accommodations for workers with a disability or a medical condition, including those resulting from pregnancy. Because pregnancy alone is not classified as a disability, employers do not have to provide any accommodations whatsoever for pregnant employees, according to Bakst.

Progress at Last

Fortunately, legislative progress was made last month to fill the gap in current laws that leave pregnant women vulnerable. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced into the Senate with bipartisan support, and it’s slowly gaining the same in the House. The bill was introduced in 2012 and 2013, but couldn’t get critical bipartisan backing to get it passed.

The PWFA resembles the ADA in that it requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers that do not place an undue burden on businesses. This simply could mean allowing a woman extra breaks, to carry water, or to sit on a stool instead of stand. Bakst explains businesses would be better off with the legislation as firing and rehiring is a more costly than making simple modifications that enable a pregnant woman to keep her job.

No woman should have to fear losing her job at the time she needs it most. The PWFA provides lacking protection for women’s civil rights, and is better for families and business. Let’s encourage Congress to enact this legislation.

Jill Davis is a volunteer with the ACLU of Ohio.

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