January 8th, 2013

Many Minnesota readers know that it is illegal to discriminate against employees who become pregnant. Current laws afford protection from being treated unfairly, paid less, denied work or promotional opportunities, or retaliating against a worker who takes maternity or paternity leave. Those protections have helped accomplish a lot for employees and have made the situation much better for pregnant employees, but the truth is that the law still falls short of making sure that employers can’t discriminate against pregnant workers.

One area where protection is still lacking is in the requirement that employers make accommodations for pregnant workers. While the law enforces reasonable accommodations for disabled workers, pregnant workers who have a temporary change in physical capabilities are not entitled to accommodations. This means that if a pregnant worker with a job that requires standing asks for more frequent breaks to sit or requests a chair, they could face retaliation and it would be perfectly legal.

Lawmakers have proposed expansions to current protections for pregnant workers, but like many legislative efforts, the bill never made it past the committee phase and was not introduced to the general assembly. The two lawmakers who introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act said that working families face an “inexcusable detriment” and that women should be entitled to treatment at work that allows them to stay healthy and productive until they choose to take their leave.

It’s probably difficult for many younger readers to imagine a time when becoming pregnant was an acceptable reason to fire an employee, but in fact before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, it was not only legal but very common for workers to lose their jobs when they announced a pregnancy.

Source: Philadelphia Post-Inquirer, “Pregnancy discrimination: a real-world challenge,” Bette Begleiter and JoAnne Fischer, Jan. 8, 2012.

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