By Haley Robinson, a Fall 2013 Leadership Conference Intern
Pregnant women have been fired for drinking water, using the bathroom too frequently, and being unable to lift heavy objects. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) promises to strengthen protections against pregnancy discrimination and ensure that pregnant workers aren’t fired if they temporarily need to stay off high ladders, avoid lifting 50-pound boxes, or sit on a stool if their job usually requires them to stand.
Thursday, October 31, marks the 35th Anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, a lawamended to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit gender discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes,” the law lacks the clarity to protect pregnant workers sufficiently.
Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, said in a NY Times opinion piece that “three-quarters of women now entering the workforce will become pregnant on the job, yet gaps in our civil rights laws leave this enormous class without the right to the modest accommodations that would protect them.” For example, Hilda Guzman, employed at a Dollar Store in Long Island, experienced severe health issues when her employer refused to allow her to sit down during her shift as a cashier. Hilda was told by her management that she couldn’t “get special treatment since a man can’t get pregnant.” Standing all day eventually caused bleeding and premature labor pains, preventing Hilda from working and causing her family to live on one paycheck.
A national coalition of advocates will mark the anniversary. “No woman should have to choose between her health and her job,” said Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. The National Women’s Law Center is leading a day of action on Capitol Hill, where advocates will meet with members of Congress to get support for the passage of PWFA.