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How pervasive is pregnancy discrimination?

In our previous post we discussed the ongoing problem of unequal pay for female employees. Pay inequality is just one form of discrimination that many female workers face, many of which are invisible or subtle and driven by bias or unfair policies that simply make it harder for women to stay at work.

One such type of discrimination is pregnancy discrimination. We might imagine that pregnancy discrimination would involve workplace harassment or obvious bias against hiring pregnant workers, and it does often involve those types of thing. However, pregnancy discrimination can be more subtle than that and many employers may discriminate without an overt intent to do so.

One way that this happens in many cases is through the refusal of minor accommodations for pregnant employees. For example, pregnant women often need to have access to the bathroom more frequently than non-pregnant workers, and they typically need to have drinking water available to prevent dehydration. These are relatively simple needs, but some employers will not provide these in settings like a retail sales job or a factory job. This means that workers who are pregnant must choose between their health and following workplace protocols, the violation of which could cost them their jobs.

For the many women supporting families on their own or with the help of a partner, giving up wages is simply not an option, so they try to press on even though they may be putting their health at risk. If they are ultimately cited for going to the bathroom too frequently or sitting down when they should be standing, they may be fired.

This is a subtle form of pregnancy discrimination that should technically be illegal under employment laws but is all too often the case in American workpalces.

Source:  MPR News, "Pushed Off The Job While Pregnant," June 11, 2013