When Claire Danes, star of the critically acclaimed Homeland, became pregnant at the height of the show’s success, did she lose her job? The pregnancy certainly did not fit into the plot of this action-packed thriller and could easily been seen as a serious impediment to character Carrie Mathison’s ability to pursue and take down terrorists. But Danes continued in her role thanks to a clever wardrobe, strategic camera shots, and many other accommodations that the producers and directors made to work around her growing belly.
Not all pregnant women are so lucky. Under current law, U.S. employers are not required to make even minimal accommodations for pregnant women, leaving many with no choice but to leave a job that they truly want or need.
When Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, women won the right not to be treated adversely because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and the right to be treated at least as well as other employees. Before that, women could (and were) fired simply for being pregnant.
While the law was hailed as a giant step forward for working pregnant women, it has become clear during the intervening years that it failed to adequately protect women from unreasonable treatment in the workplace. As a result of a loophole, pregnant women are protected from being treated differently than other workers but employers are not compelled to make reasonable accommodations for the pregnant women.
A lot of women – and a lot of employees – are affected by these issues: 65 percent of pregnant women and new mothers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (70 percent in Delaware) were in the labor force in 2010, according to U.S. Census data cited by by the National Partnership for Women and Families. The National Women’s Law Center has documented cases of discrimination nationwide, ranging from one in which a woman lost her job because her employer refused to allow her to carry a water bottle at work, to others where workers were refused requests to be put on “light duty” (like not having to lift over 20 lbs.).
In September, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in their respective chambers of Congress. The bills (S. 3565, H.R. 5647) were intended to close the loophole and strengthen the 1978 law. “Pregnant workers face discrimination in the workplace every day, which is an inexcusable detriment to women and working families in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Casey said when the legislation was introduced.
To read the full article by Bette Begleiter and JoAnne Fischer, visit: philly.com
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