Giving pregnant women the same protections at work as disabled people might help save many jobs, but at what price?

New York is the latest

State to consider a law that requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers as long as doing so doesn’t unduly burden the company. If you’re shocked that pregnant women don’t already have the right to minor, short-term changes in their duties or work environments, such as using a footstool or avoiding heavy lifting, you’re not alone. “It is unconscionable that, nearly 35 years after passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, women are still being forced to leave jobs [and] being denied basic and reasonable accommodations that would allow them to continue to work during pregnancy,” U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a state­ment earlier this year. To address this issue, Nadler and 60 co-sponsors introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in the House of Representatives in May.

Description: Fragile - Handle with Care

Fragile - Handle with Care

Pregnant women should already have such protections under a 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), says Jeannette Cox, a law professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. “The ADA now covers short-term situations that are quite comparable to pregnancy, such as allowing a heavy-lifting restriction following back surgery,” Cox says. However, many women bristle at the idea of characterizing pregnancy as a disability. ‘“We are not disabled,’ is what we hear,” says New York City attorney Dina Bakst, founder of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center.

Know your rights

This reluctance has led to pregnant workers having less legal standing than disabled workers with similar limita­tions, Cox explains. If your pregnancy causes a “medically recognized impairment,” such as gestational diabetes, your workplace rights are more secure, she says: “If you can get a doctor to put a label on you, you should be covered under the ADA.” But you may not be covered if, for example, you request more frequent bathroom breaks or a transfer to less hazardous duty.

Description: Is Pregnancy A Disability?

Is Pregnancy A Disability?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently held a hearing on the persistence of preg­nancy discrimination and may issue new guidelines to employers. “But there’s still no guarantee that all preg­nant women can get what they need to stay healthy and on the job under existing law as it’s been interpreted by the courts,” Bakst says.

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