Workplace pregnancy accommodations overdue – Opinion – Rockford Register Star
SPRINGFIELD – Pregnancy is just a natural part of life; unfortunately some employers haven’t figured…
SPRINGFIELD – Pregnancy is just a natural part of life; unfortunately some employers haven’t figured that out yet.
A number of years ago I was in management for a news organization when a reporter I had just hired announced she was pregnant. I congratulated her and passed word up the chain of command.
I was stunned by the reaction of my boss.
“She deceived us, Scott. If she was going to get pregnant, she should have told us before we offered her a job.”
He wanted me to fire her.
I refused, but I knew my intransigence on the matter could cost me my job. Instead, I spent months being harangued on a near daily basis by the head of my organization about how I ought to fire the woman.
Eventually, the person gave birth, took a short maternity leave and returned to the office to be a productive employee. She never knew the discussions taking place between those above her.
That experience changed how I viewed pregnancy in the workplace.
Before this experience, I couldn’t imagine a business hassling an employee for being pregnant. And my default position on government regulation of business has always been less is better.
But you live and learn. I was naïve. And I was wrong.
That is why I’m pleased to see the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act earlier this month.
If the act becomes law, employers with more than 15 employees would have to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Also, pregnant workers could not be denied employment opportunities or retaliated against for requesting a reasonable accommodation. And in most circumstances, they could not be forced to take paid or unpaid leave.
One of the bills co-sponsor’s is U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, who says she has personally felt the sting of discrimination.
“Like many women, I have seen the impact that it can have on a career when an employer refuses to consider accommodations for a pregnancy,” she said. “Years ago, when I was still early in my career, I was up for a promotion. At the time, I had two children at home. During my interview, I was asked if I had child care and if I planned to have more children. I replied that I had everything in my personal life in the right place.
“Despite having more experience, an excellent track record and having been with my employer longer, weeks later it was announced that I did not get the promotion. The person who did was single, with no children at home.”
Bustos asked that I not identify the employer where this happened. That’s understandable. No one wants to talk badly about a former employer. And that’s why I, too, have held off on identifying the firm where I had my bad experience.
But an interesting aspect of Bustos’ situation was that it was a female supervisor who questioned her about whether she planned another pregnancy. In my case, the pressure to fire a pregnant worker came from a man.
Discrimination can come from all quarters.
And that is why we need laws protecting pregnant workers.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. Email: [email protected].