Pregnant? Don’t Ask for Special Treatment or You May Be Fired

It’s been illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace for decades, so that must mean that it doesn’t happen anymore, right? Unfortunately, like many illegal things, it just keeps happening.

For 35 years, it has been illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace. If employers can reasonably provide accommodations for pregnant women, and if they would provide the same accommodations for an employee with a disability, they have to accommodate a pregnant woman, too. Often, though, this doesn’t happen, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

When an employer discriminates against a pregnant woman, it could look like a teacher being asked not to teach certain high-level, high-demand classes because of her leave, or it could look like it does for so many women who ask not to have to do the heavy lifting that their job requires, but who are denied. Women in low-wage jobs like cleaning, moving furniture or other heavy objects, or other domestic work are both more likely to need accommodations during their pregnancy and more likely not to get them. When they cannot perform their duties without the accommodations, they get fired from their jobs for lack of productivity.

Take, for example, Natasha Jackson, a former employer of Rent-A-Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Part of her job was to move furniture and other heavy objects, and her fellow employees were helping her out when she became pregnant in 2008. As she describes it, “one morning I came in and I was told I had to wait to clock in until I spoke to both the district manager and the head of human resources.” They told her she shouldn’t be lifting and put her on two weeks paid leave, asking her to get a form filled out by her doctor. Her doctor wrote that she shouldn’t lift over 20 pounds, and then Rent-A-Center put her on unpaid leave indefinitely.

Jackson isn’t the only one with this story. Amy Crosby was 23 weeks pregnant when her heavy lifting at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where she was a cleaner made her carpal tunnel so much worse that she couldn’t even lift her arm anymore. She says, “I couldn’t sleep at night because my arm and my hand were numb.” Her employer told her she couldn’t work if she couldn’t lift, and placed her on unpaid leave and she is now slated to be fired.

This sort of thing happens all the time. The National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance have recently compiled a report entitled “It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers,” which finds that, even though employees with physical disabilities or injuries are accommodated on the job, pregnant women are not. Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, says: “This is really shameful… We run a legal clinic, and we hear stories like these all the time. It’s a significant and widespread problem.” Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center says employers openly fire women for being pregnant all the time. She says, “We don’t have numbers, but looking at published cases, it seems to be a story that’s repeated again and again.”

This blatant discrimination needs to end. Luckily, organizations like the National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance are researching and filing complaints against employers who fire pregnant women because of their pregnancies. The most important thing for pregnant women to remember is to stand up for yourself and your baby and, if you feel you are being discriminated against, find someone who can help you fight back.

Photo Credit: Teza Harinaivo Ramiandrisoa

73 comments

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

I was treated terribly when i was working and pregnant. Expected to work standing the whole time for an 8 hour shift with one bathroom break, no exceptions. I was often told "hold on" for lunch then never given any lunch break. I, along with the other cashiers, was not permitted to have a drink behind the register. when we complained after weeks of a lot of drama we were allowed water. I was one of two cashiers who didn't smoke, the other 4 or 6 did. They would take 20 to 30 minute smoke breaks, regardless of how many customers there were or how longs I had asked for a restroom break. I worked there for 1.5 years, was never late, called out once the entire time, and was always willing to work for others (I needed the money). I was employee of the month 6 times. Yet I was still treated with no respect and denied basic necessities both while pregnant and not, although while i was it was much worse. I saved and saved at my last job as Assistant Supervisor for a security company, so that I could be home with my 3 year old while pregnant this time around. it has been bliss. i quit 3 months into my pregnancy, and saved enough to get me through one year after the baby. I wish people treated women (pregant or not) with the respect all humans deserve

Trinity L.
Trinity L.3 years ago

I have a "real" disability and I am also pregnant. I also work three jobs because I can't get one decent job with full time hours and benefits. (Yes, I did graduate from high school and I have several years of college under my belt). My hours have been cut due to my pregnancy even though I am able and want to work.

Sorry guys, the issue isn't black and white.

For those of you who don't want kids, I respect your decision. I did choose to have kids and I'm not asking anyone to do my work for me. Give me the respect I am giving you, please.

Laura T.
Laura T.3 years ago

is anyone really surprised? the world we live isn't good for women. you can try to change it, but there it is. it dosent mean you stop fighting but don't believe just because a law says you cant discriminate it dosent happen daily

Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda3 years ago

Sadly, discrimination always exists in some form or another.

Cathy Hoskins
Cathy Hoskins3 years ago

Wow women on here are being Hypocrites Pro- Lifers tell Women to keep their babies since abortion is a sin and morally wrong but when they do keep them and can only lift 20 lbs they should be fired for it, so now the Republicans can say they are takers and looking for free stuff. @karen f you of all people should be ashamed of yourself since you should know medical pregnant women for a couple of months have restrictions.

Brenda T.
Brenda T.3 years ago

"I hope those of you who agree with those employers who use people in the manners described never have kids."

... that's kind of the point. I don't WANT kids affecting my life, in any way, shape or form. Your belief that other people should change their lives and priorities to accommodate a choice YOU make is selfish and entitled. If you want to reproduce, go for it. But no one else--- be it an employer who now loses a productive employee for several weeks, or the employees who now have to pick up your slack--- should have to suffer because of it.

Brenda T.
Brenda T.3 years ago

Pregnancy, unlike a disability, is usually entered into with some level of consent (after all, abortion is legal). And as someone who knows people with REAL disabilities (missing limbs, to be exact), the comparison is ridiculous. I question the logic of women who choose to get pregnant while working a job that they know will be impossible to do once they're halfway into their pregnancy. And I see no reason why the employer shouldn't be allowed to fire them.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

#102

Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Zarafonetis3 years ago

Signed petition & Shared on FB.
What an tacky thing to say Rolf!!! :(

ROLF P.
ROLF P.3 years ago

Don't get PREGNANT unless you can afford it, it's not a Medical Condition and I mean it,