Letting a pregnant cashier sit on a stool. Allowing a pregnant worker to carry a water bottle as she stocks shelves. These things seem like common sense—but in many states, employers deny pregnant workers these simple, reasonable accommodations.
Illinois used to be one of those states, but I’m proud to say it isn’t anymore. What changed? We fought for and passed a bill that provides rights for pregnant workers when it comes to these simple, reasonable accommodations. The bill passed unanimously; I can’t remember another time that happened with a piece of legislation that I worked on. I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched Governor Quinn sign the bill into law, because I knew it meant pregnant workers in our state would no longer have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and their jobs.
Because this kind of legislation doesn’t exist on the federal level, pregnant workers like Peggy Young—whose case against UPS was just heard by the Supreme Court—continue to face discrimination at their workplaces. Young, who worked as a delivery driver for UPS for four years, should have had the chance to maintain her job during her pregnancy. She brought her employer a doctor’s note recommending that she not lift more than 20 pounds, which her job only required a couple of times each month, and a coworker was willing to help out on those occasions.
Instead of giving Young light duty, UPS denied her any accommodations and refused to let her work. For nine months, she lost her income and her health insurance.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on this case will have real consequences for working women, the majority of whom will become pregnant during their careers. Approximately two-thirds of American women work during their pregnancy—and many of them are breadwinners or co-breadwinners who are working to support themselves and their families.
Illinois didn’t wait around for the Supreme Court or the U.S. Congress to protect pregnant workers. I hope that women in other states don’t have to wait much longer, either. On the federal level, we can extend these rights by passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would set a national standard to require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers who need them.
It’s past time the U.S. took a step toward more humane workplaces by delivering rights to its pregnant workers.
About the author: Melissa Josephs is the Director of Equal Opportunity Policy for Women Employed, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of working women. She often weighs in on working women’s issues in Women Employed’s monthly e-newsletter, WE-Zine.