“Thirty five years ago today, the United States outlawed pregnancy discrimination. Passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was a historic moment and a promise that every American woman has the right to work free from discrimination based on pregnancy or because she might become pregnant. The law has given federal enforcement agencies and women themselves powerful tools with which to combat pregnancy discrimination. Its positive effect on cultural norms about pregnant women in the workplace cannot be overstated. As a leader of the coalition that fought for the law’s passage, we are proud of what it has meant for women, families and the country.
But it is painfully clear that the promise of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has yet to be fully realized. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of pregnancy discrimination charges has actually risen in recent years. Across the country, women are still being fired, forced out of their jobs, and denied employment and promotion opportunities because they become pregnant. In too many cases, pregnant workers do not have the same rights and workplace protections as similarly abled workers when they need small accommodations to continue working, such as carrying a water bottle, taking more frequent bathroom breaks or sitting rather than standing on the job.
It is unacceptable and a betrayal of both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity that this insidious form of discrimination persists. And there is much that Congress and the Obama Administration can and should be doing to help.
Members of Congress should advance the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act right away. We commend Senator Casey (D – Pa.), Senator Shaheen (D – N.H.) and Representative Nadler (D – N.Y.) for championing this badly needed bill. Putting in place the same workplace protections for women with pregnancy-related limitations that are already in place for workers with similar limitations will prevent employers from forcing pregnant workers out of their jobs and help ensure they provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women. In short, it would promote the kind of equality pregnant workers have long needed and deserved and help keep women on the job and providing for their families.
The administration also must take tangible steps to combat pregnancy discrimination. It should issue thorough and specific guidance on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for employers, strengthen enforcement of the law, address barriers faced by pregnant women in the federal workforce, and set up an interagency task force to coordinate and improve compliance, communication, data collection and litigation pertaining to the law. These are reasonable measures that would mean real progress toward ending pregnancy discrimination and strengthening the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Pregnancy discrimination is a serious problem in this country. More than three in five pregnant women in the United States (62 percent) are in the labor force and their wages are more important than ever to families and our economy. This anniversary is a stark reminder of how long America’s pregnant women have been promised truly fair workplaces, and how urgent the imperative is to make good on that promise. It is past time.”
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.