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By Dick Meister
Yes, employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against women and the disabled. Yet getting pregnant can cause a woman to lose her job or cause her to be denied a job in the first place.
There are far too many examples of that, lots of them documented in a recent study by the New York-based Work and Family Legal Center.
The study cited, for example, a woman seven months pregnant who was fired from her job as a cashier because she needed a few extra bathroom breaks. Another pregnant worker was fired from her retail job after giving her supervisors a doctor's note asking that she not be required to do any heavy lifting or climbing of ladders during the month and a half before she went on maternity leave.
The study indicates that thousands of pregnant women are pushed out of jobs they are perfectly capable of performing. They are put on unpaid leave or simply fired when they request an accommodation to help maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Many of the women involved are single mothers, or a family's main breadwinner. And a high number of them are low-income women, many in physically demanding jobs.
What's needed are laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for women whose health care providers say they need them, unless that would be an undue hardship for the employer.
A few states have enacted laws requiring employers to provide at least some accommodations, such as providing a seat for employees who must spend long periods standing, allowing more frequent restroom breaks, limiting heavy lifting or transferring pregnant employees to less strenuous or less hazardous jobs.
Such laws would seem to be a public health necessity. For without them,women may fear asking for the accommodations they need for their own health and that of their unborn children, lest they be fired.
Pregnant workers who lose their jobs not only lose pay, but also generally have a tough time finding new jobs in today's weak economy. Employers are especially reluctant to hire pregnant workers because of the possible costs of making special accommodations for them.
This is hardly a minor matter. Three-fourths of the women now entering the workforce will become pregnant during their working years. None of them -- not a one -- should have to face the discrimination that's now commonly faced by pregnant workers.
With a Perspective, this is Dick Meister.
Dick Meister is a longtime labor journalist.