Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘pregnancy’

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act takes a step forward in the House, this week in the war on workers

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took a step toward a full House vote on Wednesday when it passed in the House Committee on Education and Labor. “The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would explicitly require employers to make reasonable accommodations for women with pregnancy-related limitations absent undue hardship to the employer—the same familiar process in place for workers with disabilities under the ADA,” A Better Balance co-president Dina Bakst explained in The Hill.

The good news is that 27 states have passed similar laws to this one that is unlikely to get a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. The bad news (aside from the final clause in that previous sentence) is that in other states, women continue to be forced between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy. CBS News reported on some typical cases: a paramedic whose ambulance company employer refused to transfer her to a desk job, even though there were some available; and an airport passenger services agent who had to go to the ER after she was pulled onto a luggage belt while moving a suitcase, and whose employer similarly refused to reassign her.

These are not isolated experiences. According to an ACLU attorney, “Roughly a quarter of a million women a year don’t get the accommodations they need to keep working.”

Congress needs to pass—and some president needs to sign—the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Why Workers Like Victoria Need The PRO Act Now

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

Those bundles of joy cost bundles of money, so Victoria Whipple, a quality control worker at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., had been working overtime to get ready for her new arrival.

She also got involved in union organizing at the plant, and management decided to teach her a lesson. It didn’t matter that Victoria had seven kids ranging in age from 10 to 1. Or that she was eight months pregnant. Those things just made her a more appealing target.

On Sept. 6, the day Kumho workers wrapped up an election in which they voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW), managers pulled Victoria off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay solely because she was supporting the union. In a heartbeat, her income was gone.

“It kind of stressed me out because of the bills,” she explained.

What happened to Victoria happens all the time. Employers face no real financial penalties for breaking federal labor law by retaliating against workers during a union organizing campaign. So they feel free to suspend, fire or threaten anyone they want. Workers are fired in one of every three organizing efforts nationwide, and the recent election at Kumho was held only because the company harassed workers before the initial vote two years ago.

Legislation now before Congress—the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—would curtail this rampant abuse.

The PRO Act would fine employers up to $50,000 for retaliating against workers during organizing campaigns. It would require the National Labor Relations Board to go to court to seek reinstatement of workers who are fired or face serious financial harm because of retaliation, and it would give workers the right to file lawsuits and seek damages on their own.

The House Committee on Education and Labor has taken up the PRO Act, and it’s important that members of Congress understand exactly what’s at stake: families like Victoria’s that might be only a couple of missed paychecks away from financial ruin.

They can’t afford to be pawns in a company’s sordid union-busting campaign.

Victoria began working at Kumho a year and a half ago, after being laid off from her dispatching job at a distribution center. Her husband, Tavaris Taylor, recently started an over-the-road trucking job. They didn’t have much of a financial cushion for emergencies, and the suspension put their backs against the wall.

Instead of focusing on her family in the final weeks of her pregnancy, Victoria had to worry about money. It wasn’t healthy for her or her unborn child. And it wasn’t right.

When Victoria’s eldest child asked why she wasn’t going to work anymore, she just said she needed some time off. It would be wrong to burden a 10-year-old with the truth.

Victoria began borrowing gas money from her mom. She cut back her spending. She prioritized the bills and paid only those—rent, electricity and so on—that she considered absolutely essential.

She kept going to her doctor appointments, hoping the company’s insurance still covered her or that Medicaid would kick in if it didn’t. Victoria qualifies for Medicaid even though she works full time. The need for better pay is just one reason Kumho workers voted to join the USW.

But Victoria’s main concern was giving workers a bigger voice in the workplace. She went to a union meeting and thought: “Maybe representation would help.”

That’s how she became a union supporter—and got crossways with a company that couldn’t care less about its workers, their families or federal labor law.

Victoria didn’t know how long her suspension would last or if management’s next step would be to fire her. That would be Kumho’s kind of baby gift.

Then, out of the blue last week, a manager called Victoria and told her to return to work. On Friday, her first day back after two weeks without pay, managers had the brass to ask her if she understood why she had been suspended.

Yeah, she understood all right.

Companies will do almost anything these days—even suspend a pregnant woman and escort her from the premises—to keep out unions and hold down workers. That’s especially true of Kumho. Its egregious union-busting activities derailed workers’ attempt to join the USW two years ago.

Back then, Kumho threatened union supporters’ jobs, interrogated employees about their union allegiance, threatened to shut down the plant if the union was voted in and made workers think they were being spied on. The conduct was so extraordinarily bad that an NLRB administrative law judge ordered Kumho to assemble the workers and read a statement outlining the many ways in which it had violated their rights and federal labor law.

The NLRB also ordered this month’s election, in which workers voted 141 to 137 to join the USW. Thirteen challenged ballots will be addressed at an upcoming hearing.

The mistreatment of Victoria shows that Kumho hasn’t changed its ways over the past two years. Unfortunately, employers have no incentive right now to follow the law.

The PRO Act would help to level the playing field. Besides fining companies for retaliation and giving workers the right to sue, the legislation would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union presentations like the “town hall” meetings Kumho forced Victoria and her co-workers to attend. Employers conduct the meetings to bully employees into voting against a union.

The legislation also would provide new protections once workers voted for representation. For example, if a company dragged its feet during bargaining for a first contract, a regular ploy to lower worker morale, mediation and arbitration could be used to speed the process along. And the PRO Act would prohibit employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers.

Members of Congress need to understand something. Workers aren’t looking to pick fights with their employers. They just want to do their jobs well, work in safe environments and earn enough money to care for their families. And some companies work productively with unions, including the USW, to improve working conditions and product quality.

But employers like Kumho too often exploit their employees and resist any effort that workers make to improve their lot. When that happens, workers like Victoria will stand their ground. Now more than ever, they need the protections of the PRO Act backing them up.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination in California

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Pregnancy is an exciting and emotional time in a person’s life. It can feel like there is so much to do before the baby arrives; from a healthy delivery to making sure you have enough savings in your bank account. You do not need another thing to worry about, especially your job security.

Fortunately, there are both state and federal laws which protect employees against wrongful discrimination based on their pregnancy status or disability as a result of pregnancy. If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, it is important to know your rights and how you and your family are protected under these laws.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pregnancy discrimination is unfavorable treatment towards a woman due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.

This type of discrimination is unlawful at any stage of hiring, employment, or termination. It is illegal to deny someone a job, demote or refuse to promote, decrease pay rate, or terminate employment due to a person’s pregnancy status or desire to become pregnant, intention of becoming pregnant, or possibility of pregnancy.

Pregnancy discrimination also includes a variety of actions. As a pregnant employee, you are not just protected from being fired or demoted due to pregnancy, but it is also unlawful for an employer to deny you reasonable accommodations due to pregnancy status, including a time and place to express milk, or deny you time off following the birth of your child.

What are discriminatory employment actions?

 Any discriminatory action against you in the workplace is unlawful. Some of the most common discriminatory employment actions due to an employee’s pregnancy status include:

  • Refusing to hire;
  • Demoting;
  • Laying off;
  • Denying benefits, such as paid time off and health insurance;
  • Assigning lesser or inferior jobs;
  • Terminations/Firing; or
  • Any other term or condition of employment.

What are reasonable accommodations?

Your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations if, with those accommodations, you are still able to adequately perform your job duties. Reasonable accommodations are determined by considering whether this request would cause undue hardship to the employer. If not, it may be a reasonable request.

Some reasonable accommodations in regard to pregnancy may include:

  • Time off to attend doctors’ appointments;
  • Adjusting work schedules to accommodate for severe morning sickness;
  • Allowing the employee to sit during her shift; and
  • Weight restrictions related to lifting heavy objects.

What laws protect me from pregnancy discrimination?

 There are both state and federal laws which protect employees from discrimination based on pregnancy.

 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or any other pregnancy-related medical conditions.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. This includes pregnancy and limitations as a result of pregnancy.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year due to the birth of a child, the placement of a child via adoption or foster care, the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or the serious health condition of the employee. While this is unpaid, the employee may not lose their job due to her leave of absence under this federal statute. Employees also enjoy continuation of their health insurance and benefits as if they had never taken a leave from work.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based upon the individual’s status as a protected class. In California, protected classes of people include:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion, creed
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability, mental and physical
  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military and veteran status

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), however there are a few significant differences. The CFRA also allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period for the same reasons allowable in the FMLA, but the CFRA also provides leave to care for a registered domestic partner who is experiencing a serious medical condition rather than only a spouse, child, or parent.

The California New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) allows employees to take time off to bond with a new child or a child newly placed for adoption or foster care. This Act requires the employer to provide the employee with a guarantee of employment security and reinstatement prior to beginning parental leave.

The California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL) specifically protects employees who are experiencing a disability resulting from pregnancy. Typically, the employee’s medical team will recommend how long the leave should be, according to your health condition, medical history, and other personal details, however this law does allow for up to four month of leave per pregnancy.

The California Paid Family Leave (PFL) allows employees time off work to bond with a new child following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of the child. This also includes protections for employees to take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member, such as a child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner. It is important to note that this statute only protects monetary benefits but does not provide job security or protection. However, your job may be protected through other state or federal laws.

This article was originally published by V. James DeSimone Law on August 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The team of employment attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law have in-depth knowledge and years of experience in this field. To schedule a consultation, you may call us today at (310) 693-5561. If you are pregnant or thinking about being pregnant, protect yourself, your family, and your job by knowing and understanding your rights and protections under both state and federal laws. If you believe you have been a victim of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, it is crucial to contact an experienced employment attorney right away. Learn more at: https://www.vjamesdesimonelaw.com/employment-law/pregnancy-discrimination/

Is Pregnancy Discrimination On The Rise?

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

BraniganRobertsonA woman’s pregnancy is supposed to be a reason to celebrate – baby showers, nursery decorating, and 3D ultrasounds. When you’re pregnant the last thing you should have to worry about is your job. Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination seems to be on the rise in American workplaces. Employment lawyers like me seem to be getting more and more phone calls from women claiming that they were fired because of their pregnancy.

What is Pregnancy Discrimination?

In 2013 I got a phone call from a woman who said that she got fired after she delivered a stillborn baby. I almost fell out of my chair. The company fired her the day she returned from maternity leave. After filing the case we discovered that the company made the decision to terminate her after she informed the owners that her baby had passed. We also found out that after making the decision to terminate her, the company hired an auditor to come in and “audit” her department to find that she was performing poorly. However, documentary evidence showed that she was a great employee. The case failed to settle and proceeded to trial. The jury found that the company discriminated against her because of her pregnancy and awarded her substantial punitive damages.

While this was an unusual case, it highlights the opposite of how a company should act. A company should never make a decision to fire a woman because she is pregnant, because she is having complications, or because she is planning on taking a maternity leave. While that may seem like common sense in today litigious environment, I am continuously surprised how often expecting women are fired for suspicious reasons.

A Rise in Pregnancy Related Lawsuits

My firm receives hundreds of phone calls each year from prospective clients. Over the last year or so, we’ve noticed a lot more calls from women who believe they were fired or passed over for a promotion because of they became pregnant or had a pregnancy related disability. We’re not the only ones who have noticed this. More and more lawsuits are being filed and federal and state legislatures are enacting or trying to enact more laws to protect women.

Why are their more lawsuits? It may be because more women are career driven today than in the past. Human Resources MBA has a great info graphic discussing this. Inevitably, this topic also leads lawyers to talk more about gender discrimination (which is also unlawful under Federal and State law). Regardless of the reason, lawyers are trying to help their clients in whatever situation they happen to find themselves in.

What Should You Do If You Are a Victim of Pregnancy Discrimination

A lot of pregnant women who are still employed call my firm because they are starting to sense that their manager is upset with them. “What should I do?” “Should I go to HR?” “Should I complain?” “Can I go on maternity leave early?” All of these questions are valid but each and every situation is different. Further complicating the issue is that each state has different laws on point. For example, in California there are a multitude of laws that could apply to a woman’s situation: Pregnancy Disability Leave, the Fair Employment & Housing Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act, the Labor Code, State Disability Insurance, etc.

I first recommend that you spend some time doing basic online research. Look up your respective state’s labor department and see if there are any online resources. You should also speak with HR if your company has competent HR professionals. If you feel like the situation is worsening I recommend that you call a lawyer. Many employment lawyers like me who represent individuals will do a free consultation over the phone.

Hopefully you are never in this situation. A woman’s pregnancy should be celebrated and a time of great excitement. Although pregnancy discrimination seems to be on the rise, collectively we can fight against it by informing each other of the laws that protect women. So please do your research and don’t be afraid to call a lawyer!

If you have additional questions concerning pregnancy discrimination, visit WorkplaceFairness and see their pages on parental leave and pregnancy discrimination. If you need help finding a lawyer, visit their attorney database here.

About the Author: Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in Irvine, California. He is a member of the California Bar and the California Employment Lawyers Association. He exclusively represents CA employees in lawsuits against employers and focuses his practice on pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination. Visit his law firm’s website for more information.

Woman Claims She Was Fired By The Same Company Twice For Being Pregnant

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

Bryce CovertAshley Lucas alleges she was fired not once, but twice, for being pregnant from her job with Service Boss Inc., a company that provides clients with household services such as cleaning, plumbing, and landscaping.

In a lawsuit filed last month in federal court, Lucas says she began working at the company in February 2014 but says she was fired in April, then reinstated, only to be fired again in June. She was pregnant at both times, but she says she had no work restrictions and was able to perform her job. She also says that she was a reliable employee. Given all of these factors, she believes she was fired because she was pregnant.

Lucas also describes management making derogatory comments about her pregnancy. According to her lawsuit, she was told that being pregnant made her unreliable and a liability, that she shouldn’t be working while pregnant, and that she should file for disability or welfare benefits.

Lucas’s lawsuit claims the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). She’s seeking to ensure that the practice of firing pregnancy employees ends at Service Boss, as well as back pay, punitive damages, and legal fees. The company could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lucas may be somewhat unique for being fired twice for the same pregnancy, but she’s not the first employee by far to be terminated for getting pregnant. A nonprofit had to pay $75,000 for having a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy that led to the termination of a pregnant employee. A woman says she was fired after being told to “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” Another says she was fired after being told her pregnancy would make her “move too slow.” The terminations can be swift: one woman claimed she was fired two weeks after telling her employer she was pregnant, while another says it only took hours.

Employers have been warned that these actions run afoul of existing law. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance for the first time since 1983 to remind businesses that Title VII and the PDA protect employees from being fired for being pregnant and also require them to be treated the same as any others “in their ability or inability to work” when it comes to accommodations and work adjustments so they can stay on the job. UPS also lost a high-profile case at the Supreme Court this year in a lawsuit brought by Peggy Young for failing to give her light duty during her pregnancy despite giving it to workers with disabilities or even suspended licenses.

And violating the law could come with steep financial consequences — in July, for example, AutoZone was made to pay a record-breaking $185 million in damages in a case where an employee said she was demoted and then fired for being pregnant.

Even so, pregnancy discrimination appears to be an increasing problem. Charges filed with the EEOC have increased from more than 3,900 in 1997 to more than 5,000 in 2013, and they have also outpaced the influx of women joining the labor force. The majority of charges are from women claiming they were fired for being pregnant. Meanwhile, an estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for pregnancy accommodations at work each year.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 8th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Nonprofit Ordered To Pay $75,000 Over ‘No Pregnancy In The Workplace’ Policy

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Bryce CovertUnited Bible Fellowship Ministries, Inc., which provides housing and care to people with disabilities, will have to pay a former employee $75,000 for firing her after she became pregnant to settle a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The organization has had a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy in place that meant it fired anyone who became pregnant and refused to hire anyone applying for a position while pregnant. It admitted that the former employee, Sharmira Johnson, performed her job as a resource technician providing care to residents well and didn’t have any medical restrictions that would keep her from carrying out her duties. Yet it fired her, arguing it was justifiable in order to ensure her safety, that of her unborn baby, and the safety of its clients.

That argument didn’t hold up in court. U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore found that United Bible “recklessly” failed to comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, religion, and other characteristics, by having the anti-pregnancy policy. The organization also has a contract with the Texas government, which requires it to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The court held that it failed to show that all pregnant women are unable to perform their duties safely. The judge awarded Johnson about $25,000 in back pay and overtime plus interest, as well as $50,000 in damages for emotional and mental suffering.

 

“This decision is another in a long line of federal court cases rejecting employer policies based on assumptions and stereotypes about a pregnant woman’s inability to work,” said Claudia Molina-Antanaitis, the EEOC attorney in charge of the case, in a press release. “Employers cannot impose paternalistic and unsubstantiated views on the alleged dangers of pregnancy to exclude all pregnant women from employment.” United Bible didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While federal law should already prevent workplace discrimination against pregnant women, it is still pretty widespread.

Some of it is a good deal more subtle than United Bible’s blatant “no pregnancy” policy. An estimated quarter million pregnant women are told each year that they can’t have small changes like switching to lighter duty or getting a stool to sit on so that they can keep working at their jobs safely. That means many are either forced onto unpaid leave before their babies are born or simply fired. Others stick it out and risk health complications, including miscarriage.

 

But many women have claimed that they were fired almost immediately after telling their employers that they had become pregnant. These companies don’t have as explicit policies as United Bible’s, but the effect is the same. A survey of decades of cases like these shows that employers frequently rely on stereotypes about pregnant women, like the idea that they simply won’t return to work after they have their babies, and vilify them to justify firing them.

Yet it has become more and more common for pregnant women to remain in the workplace before and after they give birth. The share of first-time mothers who work during their pregnancies has increased from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, while 80 percent work into the last month. On the other end, nearly 60 percent of women are back at work six months after they give birth and more than 70 percent of women with young children are in the workforce.

Given the discrimination pregnant employees still face at work, some states have gone above federal law to enact stricter requirements. Forty-five have protections against pregnancy discrimination, while 14 and Washington, D.C. have laws requiring employers to give pregnant employees reasonable accommodations so they can keep working. A federal law has been introduced multiple times to require all of the country’s employers to give pregnant workers those accommodations, but it hasn’t gained traction.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

It Takes More Than ‘Leaning In’ To Lift Wages for All Women

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Emily-Foster_avatarAccording to a fall 2014 poll by Pew Research center, 77 percent of women and 63 percent of men agree that “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace.” Although women hold 49.3 percent of jobs, they only earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. It’s even less for women of color – Hispanic women earn 54 cents for every dollar white men earn, and African-American women earn 64 cents for every dollar white men earn.

The gender wage gap exists because of policies that fail to benefit American workers, and instead benefit their bosses.

On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. held a panel to explore the necessity of giving women meaningful equality in the workplace. Panelists discussed how structural differences in business regarding small employers and part-time workers keep the gender pay gap strong.

Panelist Caroline Fredrickson, author of “Under the Bus: How Working Women are Being Run Over” emphasized how certain views about how women should advance themselves in the workplace, such as those Silicon Valley executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote in “Lean In,” might work for professionals in full-time jobs, but do not address the majority of America’s working women. “There’s nothing wrong with ‘leaning in,’ but it doesn’t address the problems that many women face in the U.S,” she said.

In 2013, Sandberg rallied professional women across the country to “Lean In” and push for success in their personal and professional lives. Sandberg argued that women should speak up and have meaningful conversations with employers regarding paid leave, affordable child care, and other crucial benefits.

But “leaning in” cannot fix the structural problems that need to be addressed through policy changes. The gender wage gap does not exist because not enough women are “leaning in,” but because of a system that allows part-time workers to be denied benefits and to be discriminated against by small employers, and that does not pay living wages. Part-time workers, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and mothers are among the highest numbers of women being failed by our system.

“Farm-workers, temps, small business workers, part-time workers, etc.” are often left behind by policies that allow businesses to exploit workers with minimal pay and little to no benefits, Fredrickson noted. In her introduction to “Under the Bus,” Fredrickson wrote, “Few of us are aware of how the labor and employment laws leave out so many women.”

Part-time work is a job category dominated by women. In 2014, almost 33 percent of all employed women over the age of 16 in the United States were classified as part-time workers. According to Frederickson, “8 million of these workers are involuntary,” meaning, that no full-time positions are available to them.

Most workers in part-time jobs receive minimal to no benefits. It is also common for businesses to withhold hours from employees to exempt workers from benefit status. Paid sick leave, vacation days, and health insurance are typically unheard of.

The role of motherhood also affects the workplace. According to the Department of Labor, The labor force participation rate for single mothers with children under 18 years of age was 74.2 percent in 2013, and 67.8% for married mothers (spouse present) with children under 18.

Even with high numbers of mothers participating, mothers face some of the biggest hardships in the workforce. At Wednesday’s discussion, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising.org noted, “Being a mom is a greater predictor of job discrimination than being a woman.” Becoming a mom and having a baby is also the number one cause of “poverty spells,” where income dips below what is necessary for basic living expenses, she said.

It is impossible for women to “lean in” if policies do not keep businesses from unfair labor practices. The United States needs to implement checks on our employment policies to protect workers and close the wage gap.

During the panel, Brigid Schulte, journalist for The Washington Post, stated, “the more I learn about how our work policies are structured, the more I learn that they don’t work for anyone.”

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. However, according to Fredrickson, “it only covers a very small number of employees – over 40 percent don’t qualify, and most of those who don’t are young women and women of color.”

The U.S. also lacks policies to protect working mothers. Today, the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity and parental leave. Currently, 51 percent of new mothers receive no paid leave whatsoever.

Affordable childcare is also a huge problem; daycare can cost even more than college. Rowe-Finkbeiner explained the case for affordable childcare, stating, “For every dollar we spend on high quality childcare, we get $8 back – and for high-risk children, we get $20 back.”

Paid leave is also a crucial benefit that many cannot receive. Four in ten private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-wage workers cannot earn a single paid sick day. Paid sick days would ensure that women would not lose pay or their jobs because they or their child fell ill.

Even if more policies are put into place for paid leave, affordable childcare and paid sick days, one underlying force will continue to affect worker prosperity and the wage gap: the need for a living wage.

Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy stressed that “raising pay for all workers” would make a significant difference in the gender wage gap. Women currently make up two-thirds of workers in low-wage jobs. By implementing a living wage, 15 million working women would have a greater ability to support themselves and their families.

There is still a gender wage gap in 2015 because of a lack of policy measures to protect working women. Paid leave, affordable childcare, and paid sick days are all necessary benefits that would help to close the gap. Because women are disproportionately represented in part-time and minimum wage work, a living wage is also a necessity. Until fairer work policies are put into practice, the gender wage gap will remain persistent.

Rowe-Finkbeiner summed up America’s gender gap issue: “We’re living in a ‘Modern Family’ nation with ‘Leave it to Beaver’ policies.”

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on May 14, 2015. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Emily Foster. Emily Foster is a regular contributor to Our Future.

For Women In This State, Getting Pregnant Will No Longer Mean Losing A Job

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Bryce Covert

On Tuesday, the New York State legislature passed a bill aimed at shielding pregnant women from workplace discrimination, which the governor has said he will sign. The new law will require employers to give pregnant workers accommodations so they can stay on the job unless the employer can show it would create an undue hardship. Those changes can be as small as a stool to sit on or more frequent bathroom breaks, and can also include light duty for women with lifting restrictions or other work transfers. Across the country, an estimated quarter million women are denied these requests every year, which means they often end up pushed onto unpaid leave, fired, or experience health complications including miscarriage. Many more women don’t even ask for accommodations because they fear retaliation.

Existing laws, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, should in theory protect pregnant women from discrimination. And in fact, the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, a woman suing UPS over its refusal to give her light duty when she became pregnant. That ruling helps bolsters women who need accommodations, but its impact is likely to be limited. “To get an accommodation under the Supreme Court’s standard in Young v. UPS, pregnant workers must navigate a long, convoluted, and costly process to prove discrimination,” Dina Bakst, co-president of advocacy group of A Better Balance, told ThinkProgress. “Most women simply don’t have the luxury of time or the resources to make that happen.”

Instead, laws like New York’s make things clear from the outset, before women are pushed onto leave or fired. Women “just need clear law when they ask for a minor adjustment at work so they can stay healthy for a few months,” Bakst explained. More and more women will need these adjustments, as the share of first-time mothers working while pregnant has shot up from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, and 80 percent keep working into their last month.

New York’s new law could come to the aid of women like Betzaida Cruz Cardona, who lives in Henrietta, New York and is suing Savers, her former employer, for firing her from her cashier job hours after she handed in a doctor’s note stipulating she couldn’t lift more than 25 pounds even though she was never required to do so. She says she has since become homeless. While she argues that the company violated existing federal law, things could have been easier if she lived in New York City, which already has a Pregnant Worker Fairness Act on the books that would have made it clear that her employer had to accommodate her needs.

Eleven other states have also implemented laws requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. A federal bill that would cover all women has been introduced in Congress multiple times, but it has yet to advance.

This blog originally appeared on ThinkProgress.org on May 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 

Florida Passes Law That Bans Discriminating Against Pregnant Women In Public

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, the Florida legislature passed a bill banning discrimination against pregnant women at work as well as in public places like restaurants or hotels.

The bill amends the state’s Civil Rights Act by adding pregnancy to race, sex, and physical disability as protected classes. It got unanimous support in the state senate and near-unanimous passage in the House. It now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) desk, whose office didn’t return a request for comment on whether he would sign it.

Lawmakers introduced it to codify a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court last year in favor of plaintiff Peggy Delva, a front desk manager at a condominium building who sued her employer for barring her from covering other workers’ shifts after she became pregnant and firing her when she returned from leave. The court ruled that she was discriminated against on account of her pregnancy and that violated Florida’s law against sex discrimination, overturning lower courts who ruled against her.

Federal law, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is also supposed to protect pregnant women, but they still experience widespread discrimination. An estimated quarter million womenevery year are denied their requests for employers to give them accommodations at work so that they can stay on their jobs throughout their pregnancies, so they end up pushed onto unpaid leave or suffering health complications such as miscarriages if they stay. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, who had sued UPS for refusing to give her light duty after she became pregnant, forcing her onto unpaid leave without benefits.

A number of women in a variety of industries have also sued their employers for firing them just after they disclosed their pregnancies.

At the same time, however, more and more women are choosing to work while pregnant. Today, two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, up from less than half in 1960. Of those who do, 80 percent keep working into their last month, compared to just a third in the ’60s. But past court cases show that employers often vilify or stereotype pregnant women, such as relying on the idea that they’ll just end up leaving after they have their babies, to justify firing them.

Some states have taken further action to protect pregnant employees, passing Pregnant Worker Fairness Acts to require employers to give them accommodations to stay on the job. A similar law has been introduced at the federal level but hasn’t moved forward.

Florida’s law should also protect women who say they have been barred from entering bars because they might appear to be pregnant.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Woman Becomes Homeless After Employer Allegedly Fired Her Over Her Pregnancy

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Bryce CovertBetzaida Cruz Cardona is 32-weeks pregnant, unemployed, and homeless. But just a few months ago, she had a job she was willing and able to do that paid her rent.

Cruz had been a cashier at a Henrietta, New York, Savers since April of 2014 when she got pregnant and visited the doctor frequently for complications. At one visit, her doctor gave her a note saying that she shouldn’t lift more than 25 pounds. But since her job simply required that work at a cash register, she didn’t expect it to interfere with her work.

A half an hour after she handed in that doctor’s note and told her manager she still wanted to keep working, she says she was fired without any explanation except that the corporate human resources department told her manager to do so and she should “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” She wasn’t told it was to do with any disciplinary issues or the days off she had taken to visit the doctor, given that they were excused.

A spokeswoman for the company said its policy is not to comment on specific employment matters, but added, “we have not, do not, and will not tolerate discrimination of any type, including pregnancy discrimination, toward our valued employees.”

Cruz told ThinkProgress “everything basically went bad” after she was fired. “My family, we didn’t have enough money to pay everything. It was just arguments and fights [with her boyfriend] because I had lost my job. So I lost my apartment, I lost everything.”

She’s since has been moving “from house to house to house to house.” Moving around so much while pregnant is “extremely hard because it’s not comfortable,” she said. “It’s stressful, depressing.”

Cruz is now suing Savers with the help of lawyers from A Better Balance and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA). Her lawyers say the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which bans employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, given the timing of her termination and the comment that she should stay home, which is “evidence of discriminatory intent,” explained Dina Bakst of A Better Balance. It also violated the PDA by refusing to give her an accommodation so she could keep working, which her lawyers say was given to a different worker with carpal tunnel syndrome. But while the case is about accommodation, “it’s even more so a case of outright discrimination against pregnant people,” said Elizabeth Saylor of ECBA, given that she didn’t need to lift objects to continue doing her job.

Since she had a condition related to her pregnancy that limited her activity, her lawyers say she was also covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawyers are also charging the company with a pattern and practice of discrimination against pregnant women. While the company has an express policy against discriminating against workers with disabilities, “unfortunately they don’t have any policy that we’ve seen or anything in the employment manual relating to not discriminating against pregnant women and providing them with accommodations,” said Saylor.

In response to a request for information about the company’s policies, the Savers spokeswoman said, “Savers makes reasonable accommodations for team members when they have a disability that limits their ability to perform their job.” She said that the policy applies to all workers, including those who are pregnant. Bakst argued, “that’s not what the policy says, and that’s not how the policy was applied to Ms. Cruz.”

Cruz’s lawyers also point to the involvement of the corporate human resources department of a sign that Cruz’s firing wasn’t the work of a rogue manager. “One of our express goals is for Savers to adopt a new policy that clearly states it will not discriminate against pregnant employees,” Saylor added.

To add insult to injury, Cruz says that the company claimed she had voluntarily quit for medical reasons on her termination paperwork, which made it very difficult to get unemployment insurance. She filed for the benefits in early September but didn’t start receiving them until January. And while her boyfriend has helped her out financially, her family doesn’t have the resources to help.

“I tried to get a job, but since I’m pregnant it really has been hard,” she said. “I’m planning after I have [the baby] on starting to find a job, but first I have to find somebody that can have her while I’m working.”

Had Cruz lived in New York City, instead of further upstate, the whole incident might not have happened. New York City passed a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in 2013, which requires employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations, such as light duty, unless they can prove it would mean an undue burden. “It makes it crystal clear that employers have to affirmatively provide reasonable accommodations to workers with pregnancy-related needs,” Bakst explained. The rest of the state doesn’t have such a law, however; one has been passed in its senate but is still pending. “If there was an unmistakably clear law that informed employers of what their obligations are to accommodate workers, this may not have happened,” she added.

Other states have passed similar laws that cover all of their workers, and a federal bill that would apply to the entire country has been introduced multipletimes in Congress. Yet it has failed to move forward.

In the meantime, Cruz’s experience is unfortunately extremely common. An estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for an accommodation for their pregnancy every year, and many more are afraid to even ask. But 80 percent of first-time mothers work into their last month of pregnancy. A number of other employers are facing lawsuits over pregnancy discrimination, from Walmart to Bloomberg TV.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

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