October 24, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Natalie Kitroff with The New York Times recount the experiences of Ceeadria Walker and Tasha Murrell who experienced miscarriages this year while working at XPO Logistics in Memphis, TN. Both women had notes from their doctors who recommended to XPO that their patient be given light duty work. The NYTimes reports that XPO’s management refused to accommodate the pregnant women’s needs. Walker’s and Murrell’s pregnancies ended prematurely.

What I didn’t know before reading the piece is that it’s not illegal for an employer to ignore the health needs of a pregnant employee. Unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires and employer to provide “reasonable accommodation,” the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act says an employer only has to accommodate a pregnant worker’s needs if the company is already doing so for other employees who are “similar in the ability or inability to work.”

In the last several years, numerous employees at the XPO facility in Memphis have experience miscarriages. Silver-Greenberg and Kitroff write:

“One evening in January 2014, after eight hours of lifting, Erica Hayes ran to the bathroom. Blood drenched her jeans. She was 23 and in the second trimester of her first pregnancy. She had spent much of the week hoisting the warehouse’s largest boxes from one conveyor belt to the next. Ever since she learned she was pregnant, she had been begging her supervisor to let her work with lighter boxes, she said in an interview. She said her boss repeatedly said no.

She fainted on her way out of the bathroom that day. The baby growing inside of her, the one she had secretly hoped was a girl, was gone.

‘It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life,’ Ms. Hayes said.”

A Better Balance (ABB), a national legal advocacy organization, has supported women who have been discriminated against for being pregnant. In 2017, ABB released a report, “It shouldn’t be a heavy lift: Fair treatment for pregnant workers,” which describes what some pregnant women experience at work. One is a waitress whose pregnancy caused her to have to urinate more frequently. Her boss made her ask for permission to use the bathroom but did not make the same demand of other employees. Another is a letter carrier whose physician told her not to work in extreme outdoor heat while she was pregnant. The postal service gave letter carriers inside jobs when they were healing from injuries, but they refused to accommodate the pregnant letter carrier in the same way.

ABB has worked with state lawmakers to pass laws that will ensure pregnant women are provided reasonable job modifications to maintain a healthy pregnancy. They’ve also worked with federal lawmakers to craft the “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.”  It was introduced in the current Congress by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Perhaps the NYTimes story will give the bill some traction and some action with the new Congress.



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