Everyone’s work experience has changed this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but there is one thing that stubbornly refuses to change: discrimination against workers who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
When our client Sarah Spriesch was pregnant, she was involuntarily forced onto a medical leave even though she was willing and able to continue doing her job as a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department. When she returned to work after giving birth, she was denied breaks and a clean place to pump, causing her pain and humiliation including on one occasion when she leaked through her shirt in front of her colleagues.
Another client – Jennifer Panattoni, an officer in the Frankfort Police Department – was denied a properly fitting uniform and protective gear during her pregnancy. She was eventually forced off the job she loved and required to take leave, limiting the financial resources available to her growing family, when the Department refused to modify her duties for her safety and the safety of her progressing pregnancy. Worse yet, her Department then subjected her to the same mistreatment all over again during her second pregnancy.
Pregnant workers who can safely continue to work should be allowed to do so. One reason our efforts for both Ms. Spriesch and Ms. Panattoni were successful is a state law passed in Illinois in 2014 which guarantees that workers who are pregnant or have recently given birth must be provided reasonable accommodations that enable them to continue doing their jobs. This is a critical protection that ensures pregnant workers in Illinois are not forced to make an untenable choice between safeguarding the health of their pregnancy and maintaining their income for their families.
Sadly, not every state has clear protections like these on the books for pregnant and postpartum workers. And the existing federal law which addresses pregnancy discrimination, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, has left many important questions unanswered and created uncertainty about when exactly reasonable accommodations for pregnancy are required.
That is why the ACLU and other advocates support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a federal bill being debated in Congress that would promote women’s health and economic security across the country by creating explicit obligations for employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum workers.
The PWFA is expected to be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives next week. Click here to let your Representative know that you support these legal protections to ensure no pregnant worker has to choose between her health and her livelihood.