To safely carry a baby to term, pregnant employees in physically demanding jobs may seek accommodations from their employers. But their requests are not guaranteed to get approved. A recent New York Times investigation into the public records involving workers with miscarriages demonstrates the high stakes of what can happen when these requests get denied and the mother and baby’s health get put in jeopardy.
How pregnancy discrimination can cause miscarriages
In the report, multiple women who worked at a Memphis, Tennessee warehouse for a Verizon contractor — first owned by New Breed Logistics and then by XPO Logistics — spoke out about how their employer denied their request for a lighter workload and suffered miscarriages as a result of their work. Some even got rejected in spite of doctor’s notes recommending otherwise.
Their stories are harrowing and disturbing. Erica Hayes, for example, told the Times that she pleaded to work with lighter boxes during her pregnancy and got repeatedly denied by her supervisor. She kept working because she had to. “My job was on the line,” she said. One day “blood-drenched her jeans” and she fainted coming out of a bathroom, the report detailed. She ended up miscarrying. “It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life,” Hayes said about the experience. Verizon said it opened an internal investigation in response to The Times‘ inquiry.
Some people can work during their pregnancy without needing accommodations, but when the job is more physical, doctors acknowledge there is a risk of losing the baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, workers who do “extensive occupational lifting” can experience a “modest increased risk of miscarriage.”
But your employer does not necessarily need to follow your doctor’s advice. “Under federal law, companies don’t necessarily have to adjust pregnant women’s jobs, even when lighter work is available and their doctors send letters urging a reprieve,” the Times details, citing how the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only has to accommodate pregnant employees’ requests if the employer is already doing so for other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.” If your employer is already treating your non-pregnant employees terribly by overworking them, they do not have to treat pregnant employees any better.
Under the 1978 federal law, employees must treat employees similarly, but not necessarily well. In 2013, over 5,000 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “In every congressional session since 2012, a group of lawmakers has introduced a bill that would do for pregnant women what the Americans With Disabilities Act does for disabled people: require employers to accommodate those whose health depends on it. The legislation has never had a hearing,” the Times notes.