US Lags Far Behind Other Nations in Fair Treatment of Pregnant and Parenting Workers
This June, our Supreme Court will hand down their decision on which will determine whether or not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees who cannot fulfill their normal job requirements. The plaintiff, Peggy Young, had her job and health insurance suspended by her employer, UPS, during her pregnancy. She could not lift heavy packages during her pregnancy, and UPS refused to accommodate her by giving her lighter duties for the remainder of her pregnancy, even though they accommodated employees incapacitated for other reasons. Her district court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided against her, and it remains to be seen whether or not our Supreme Court will do the same.
Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our nation’s unfair treatment of parenting employees.
The United States joins Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and Liberia as one of the only four nations in the world that does not mandate any paid maternity leave for employees. The United States, a modern developed nation, has worse maternity leave laws than a developing poverty-striken nation such as Sudan. This has a very real negative impact on the lives of working people and their families. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 percent of all workers have access to some sort of family leave. Even worse, US federal government employees have no paid family leave whatsoever.
Pregnancy discrimination and lack of maternity leave force women to choose between their families and their careers. Partially as a result of these discriminatory and unfair policies, women often struggle to find a fit between their careers and their roles as family caregivers, which is much less of an issue for men. Employer policies which fail to accommodate the needs of pregnant and parenting women ensure that the corporate deck remains stacked against the average woman and decrease the number of women in the workforce, especially women in high ranking positions, thus perpetuating gender inequality.
If the balance between work and family life is hard for a middle class woman to maintain, imagine how hard it must be for a poor, single, working mother. With no protection from pregnancy discrimination and no maternity leave once her child is born, she is forced to choose between the life of her unborn child and unemployment—a choice that no one should have to make. The issue of maternity leave is not just a gender equality issue, but also an issue of basic human rights. Pregnancy discrimination and lack of maternity leave don’t just keep women from advancing in the workforce, they also cost human lives. It is absolutely vital that Americans of all political backgrounds unite to make this kind of discrimination and poor treatment history.