Pregnant women and teens in New York City have a reason to celebrate. As of January 30, being pregnant or recovering from a recent childbirth will no longer put your job at risk.
Women in the workforce have had to deal with various types of discrimination based solely on their gender — from lower wages for similar work as their male counterparts to their employment being jeopardized due to needing time away from jobs to care for family members — by virtue of more female workers also being the caregivers at home as well.
Now, gender equity in the workplace is one step closer in New York City, as a law has gone into effect that prevents companies from refusing to make accommodations for pregnant workers or workers who have recently given birth. Unless an employer can prove an “undue hardship” by making physical allowances for pregnant or recently pregnant employees, any refusal to make accommodations can leave that employer open to charges of discrimination, just as they would be for discriminating against any employee with a short term or permanent disability.
In practical terms, the new law will be a particular boon to women and girls who work in service industries, which often involves long hours of standing, lack of bathroom breaks, rules about allowing water bottles at stations or counters and mandatory heavy lifting that can often leave a pregnant person with the real dilemma of either putting her pregnancy or her job at risk. Losing a job when pregnant is an additional hardship as so few employers, despite laws against it, refuse to hire candidates that appear visibly pregnant.
New York City joins the New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie has signed a similar bill into law, and Maryland, where the act went into effect in October. A federal version hasn’t been passed due to opposition from Republican members of the House, but 90 percent of voters polled have said they would be in favor of a such a bill.
Such massive support isn’t surprising. After all, everyone benefits if a pregnant person is able to remain at her job, especially when all it takes are some minor accommodations such as light duty for a few months, a chance to sit down occasionally or a few extra trips to the bathroom. The pregnant person benefits from not having her job growth or income interrupted, not being forced to look for new employment and not having to endanger her pregnancy. Families benefit from the security of her income and her and the baby’s safety. Businesses benefit from avoiding lawsuits, from not needing resources to train a new employee and not losing funds during a candidate search. Overall, society benefits from not needing to fund unemployment payments or foot the bills that could come from medical needs from a pregnancy in jeopardy.
Even beyond all of that, it’s a simple issue of fairness. That’s the message from Peggy Young, a UPS worker who was put on unpaid leave when she was pregnant because she couldn’t lift heavy loads and the company said it had no “light duty” jobs it could give her instead. “Men can’t have kids. Businesses are making women choose whether to have kids or have a career,” Young told reporter Shelia Bapat in an interview. “Why can’t companies account for pregnant women’s needs and let them keep working, especially today since most families need two incomes?”
Women should not have to choose between their kids and their careers. Even more so, they should not have to choose between their health or the health of their pregnancy and their job. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is finally addressing that problem. Now, we need to have it become a federal rule, too.
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