Featherstone: Pregnant women need job security written into law
'Leaning in" is all very well, but even in 2013, a working woman who gets pregnant can lose her job.
Yvette (who has not made her last name public) worked for a city supermarket for 11 years. When she was pregnant, she asked her supervisor if she could avoid heavy lifting. He instead assigned her to jobs with more heavy lifting than usual.
Sadly, she suffered a miscarriage and was later diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder. So when she became pregnant again, Yvette gave her boss a doctor's note requesting that he not assign her to lift heavy loads, and that he allow her frequent breaks. He told her that with those restrictions, he had no work for her. While her union was able to bring her back to work after the baby's birth, going without a regular paycheck during her pregnancy was a major hardship for her family.
Yvette's story comes from a recent report on pregnancy discrimination by the women's advocacy organizations A Better Balance and the National Women's Law Center, which documents that the problem is widespread in our country. Such discrimination can happen to any woman, but low-wage workers like Yvette are especially vulnerable. Federal law says a woman can't be fired for being pregnant, but many bosses, like Yvette's, refuse to accommodate pregnant women's needs.
Fortunately, the issue has the attention of city lawmakers. A bill in City Council, introduced by Bronx Democrat James Vacca, would obligate employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, whether that means relief from heavy lifting or more frequent bathroom breaks. The bill clarifies that the measures should not cause the business "undue hardship." The council votes on the bill today; it's expected to pass.
Similar legislation has also been proposed at the federal level by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan).
But in New York State, such protections were part of the Women's Equality Act, which stalled last session over abortion rights. That's absurd: While abortion may always be controversial, most of the public agrees that a woman shouldn't have to choose between a baby and a paycheck.
It's past time to acknowledge that the workplace is teeming with mothers. City Council members should pass this bill, and their federal and state counterparts should follow their lead.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.