Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers – Are We ‘Disabled’?

pregnant at work
Image via iStock

Is it time for all working, pregnant women to rejoice? Or shall we pick up our pitchforks and begin marching in protest against the latest label given? What will our signs say?

 “LET US BE DISABLED!” or “WE ARE NOT DISABLED!”

“This is an enduring problem in America’s workplaces – we’re not where we need to be with regard to fair, equal treatment of pregnant workers. We’re just not.” – Chai Feldblum

Here is what’s going on. In an effort to bring clarification to a number of baffling federal laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently issued new guidelines to snap employers into facing reality: “Refusing to give reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers is illegal under federal law.”

I don’t understand why this concept has been so difficult to grasp from the very beginning. If anyone – regardless of gender – could grow a fetus, I’m sure we’d all agree that additional bathroom breaks, lighter load-lifting requirements, and mandatory afternoon naptimes would be welcomed and enforced without hesitation. But unfortunately, these notions, still seen as implausible and outrageous, fail to make sense to numerous employers across America. 

{ MORE: There Is Never a Perfect Time to Have a Baby }

One major example given in the EEOC guidelines states that “pregnancy-related impairment constitutes ADA disability because it substantially limits a major life activity.”

According to this article, “The new guidelines say pregnancy-related conditions can now be considered disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which entitles workers to accommodations at work.” These “pregnancy-related,” medical conditions include: lactation and the need for light duty work, “even if she hasn’t been injured on the job.”

Once you’re pregnant, your prior physical abilities and mental/emotional stabilities transform toward the unknown. Your entire being enters a phase that seems to endlessly ebb and flow. I think it’s good to force employers to face these changes and make accommodations for their pregnant employees. It’s not a permanent change – we’re only asking for 9 to 14 months of leeway in the workplace!

But my prideful, stubborn self is not happy with their wording.

In my mind, when I think of “disability,” I also think of words like “frailty,” “handicap,” “debility,” and “infirmity.” Because of this, I’m not sure I will ever be able to consider pregnancy and lactation as actual “disabilities” … I know many women who struggle with and would welcome lactation! 

{ MORE: 5 Tips to Making Pumping Work at Work }

How many of us would welcome hearing, vision, or memory loss; or paralysis and brain damage? ‎No one would willingly sign up for that – isn’t there another way we can force some change without labeling a woman’s natural abilities as disabilities?

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What do you think?

What do you think?

Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers – Are We ‘Disabled’?

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

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6 comments

  1. Cindy says:

    I believe that my previous job “discriminated” against me due to my pregnancy. I was almost out of my probationary period when they fired me. Due to some pregnancy complications I first missed 2 weeks back to back due to a blood clot in my leg. Then, later, I missed almost another week due to vertigo or “dizziness.” Both of these issues were due to my pregnancy according to the doctors. Now, I can’t seem to find a job & we aren’t really making ends meet. Are there any legal actions I can take due to this or because I was still in my probationary period does it not matter anyways?

  2. Sherry says:

    If you feel that disabled is a four letter word in our culture, why not consider advocating for those with disabilities? I understand your point, that pregnancy is natural and temporary. But so are many disabilities. It seems that your issue is not with the protections of the law but with being grouped with people who have disabilities. If you do not yet know someone who is disabled, I encourage you to get to know someone well.

  3. Traci says:

    Anything that gives us a leg up is alright by me. I don’t really care about the semantics. I’m tired of fighting with management about getting my breaks and not having to lift anything heavy.

  4. Trixie says:

    I am a nurse that recently lost her position due to pregnancy and all the things that it brings. I got through orientation and when my physician said no pregnant woman should be lifting over 20 lbs they forced me on leave thereby because being a prn force me out of a job. PRNs have to work so many days in a period or they ‘fall off’ the schedule. It was rehab nursing with briain injury so there were lighter duty positions they could have put me into (did other nurses under the excuse they were full time and I found out after they told me they couldn’t find a place for me even with suggestions) but didn’t. They didn’t want to mess with me. Honestly even if the wording sucks given the definition above you gave about disability it would seem that if we are limited by what we can do then for a small period we would be disabled to do the things we normally do and would be appropriate. Pride usually doesn’t like those terms and unfortunately in society we get labeled at times, I hate too. However given that people like me who really are capable of working and even though we are temporarily not able to perform some tasks, being let go like that is just wrong and people should be accountable and care about their employees not the bottom dollar or just being unwilling to work with what could be a great employee. I didn’t know I was pregnant when I accepted the job and I am 42 and starting over. I did during orientation communicate this with the manager but they could do anything until the restriction issues and people started to complain when I asked for lifting help on people who were stroke and had some paraplegia so I didn’t miscarry or hurt myself (6 nurses hurt themselves because people wont’ help as team members). If I am labeled as disabled to get a change in this system then I am all for it. Later they can work out what to call it. I needed to be working and providing and now I am not and seriously thinking since all this has come up in seeking out a lawyer on what happened to me to change this system of discrimination.

  5. Ivonne says:

    I am glad that where I work there are many women that are pregnant, so it does not make me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t slack in anyway, so they don’t think I am being lazy.

  6. Grace says:

    my old workplace labeled me as disabled, in order to have healthy food at my desk. normally you only could have clear or see throw rapers of hard candy. with one lunch break and two short other breaks i said fine give my the label i am nasious. that work ended up saying you are fired or quit for missing to many days due to children being sick

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