Let's Stop Making Decisions for Pregnant Women in the Workplace

Hardworking women are being forced out of their jobs or onto unpaid leave after they reveal they are pregnant. Many are denied even minor accommodations, such as bathroom breaks, forcing them to work under conditions that cause them pain or discomfort. And it must stop.
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"Will you really have enough time to work on this project?" "Shouldn't you be spending more time with your newborn?" "If I gave you a break, I'd have to give everyone a break."

These are just some of the discriminatory comments working women hear from their bosses during or after their pregnancy, and they do more than just make women feel uncomfortable.

Hardworking women are being forced out of their jobs or onto unpaid leave after they reveal they are pregnant. Many are denied even minor accommodations, such as bathroom breaks or a flexible schedule to attend a doctor's appointment, forcing them to work under conditions that cause them pain or discomfort.

And it must stop.

Although it has been illegal under federal law to discriminate against pregnant women for nearly 40 years -- and illegal under New York City law to deny pregnant women reasonable accommodations since 2014 -- women are still routinely discriminated against in the workplace for being pregnant.

At the NYC Commission on Human Rights, the agency that fights discrimination citywide, we see pregnant women who are denied even minor workplace accommodations, such as one pregnant retail worker who was told she wasn't allowed to attend a doctor's appointment because it was the holiday rush season. In another case, a pregnant worker was told she needed take more time off to spend with her newborn and was later terminated. And yet another worker was fired immediately after she told her boss she was pregnant.

Workplace discrimination has real and lasting consequences for pregnant women, their careers, and their families.

When women are forced onto unpaid leave, they lose a paycheck when they need it the most. Some even lose access to health insurance as a result of being on unpaid leave, which forces them onto Medicaid. And some even question whether they want to continue with their pregnancy at all when faced with workplace discrimination.

All too often, employers make assumptions about what pregnant women can or should be doing in the workplace -- the meetings they should attend, the projects they can handle, the hours she should be working. Although some of these assumptions may be well intended, they take away a woman's right to make those decisions for herself, limiting employment opportunities.

It is imperative that pregnant women everywhere understand their rights in the workplace and that employers know their responsibilities under the law.

This month, New York City issued legal guidance to help pregnant women and employers understand existing protections under the New York City Human Rights Law. The guidance specifies that employers in New York City are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, such as minor changes in work schedules, additional bathroom and snack breaks, or less strenuous or hazardous positions if available. The guidance also clarifies that employers are prohibited from retaliating, demoting, or firing a woman because she is pregnant.

Women should never have to choose between starting a family and her career. No one has the right to limit a pregnant woman's opportunities in the workforce because of their personally-held belief about how pregnant women should live or work or question their commitment to their jobs.

Pregnant women deserve the same respect, dignity, and employment opportunities as everyone else -- and it's about time we give it to them.