Pregnancy in America Not So Jolly Good

BY DIANE DIMOND

Well, well, well. Kate Middleton, aka the Duchess of Cambridge, is expecting a baby! Her husband, Prince William, is reported to be ecstatic. The people of Great Britain are utterly delighted that the Royal Family will be soon have a new heir. And they are sending up a collective prayer that the expectant mother will soon get over a bad case of hyperemesis gravidarum (a sort of extra wicked morning sickness), which caused Kate to be hospitalized.

Isn’t it sweet that a whole country is in such a jolly good mood since the baby news was announced! It seems the royal pregnancy is being celebrated all over the world.

Let’s compare and contrast.

The pampered Duchess won’t have to worry about health insurance, hospital costs or missing a paycheck during her pregnancy. Nope, she will be giving birth to the third in line for the royal throne, so all the nuisance of medical paperwork and bills will be taken care of automatically by the British government.

Here in America, things are very different for pregnant women. We don’t mollycoddle them much, and it is not unusual to see an expectant mother continue to work until close to their due date — mostly for economic reasons.

A law passed in 1993 (the Family and Medical Leave Act) protects the job of a new parent if they want to take unpaid leave after a birth or adoption. And there is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which requires employers to treat pregnant mothers the same as they would any other employee with a temporary limitation.

For example, if an employer grants lighter duty for a person with a temporary bad back or for someone who just returned to work after hernia surgery, then it must also be granted to a pregnant woman.

But guess what: There is little enforcement of the law. Employers fire pregnant women anyway by coming up with all sorts of dubious reasons. It’s a shame because women currently make up about half the U.S. workforce. And for an increasing number of families, Mom is the primary breadwinner. She’s also, of course, the one who delivers future new taxpayers to the nation.

Among the horror stories: Victoria Seredny worked as the activity director in a nursing home. When her doctor ordered that she not lift heavy objects following a miscarriage scare — something she was required to do just a few minutes a day — her boss refused to allow other workers to help her, even the ones who volunteered their assistance. Victoria was fired for failure to perform her duties.

Heather Wiseman’s pregnancy caused her to have recurring bladder infections, and her doctor told her to be sure to stay hydrated all day. She began to carry a water bottle with her when she went to her job on the sales floor at Wal-Mart. Her boss informed her that only cashiers were allowed to have water bottles, and when she continued to show up with her doctor-ordered bottle she was fired for insubordination.

Peggy Young worked for United Parcel Services, and on occasion, her delivery duties required that she lift packages as heavy at 70 pounds. When she became pregnant, she asked for a lighter assignment. UPS denied the request even though the company had accommodated other employees who had been injured in a car accident or lost their driver’s license due to a drunk driving conviction!

These three women all sued their employers and lost. Appeals are underway.

Enter now what seems to be a long-overdue proposed law called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. It was introduced in Congress earlier this year. It sounds good on paper, but its language makes me cringe a bit. The proposal requires that employers offer pregnant employees the same kind of accommodation that disabled citizens get under the Americans With Disabilities Act, unless “the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.”

Well, excuse me. As a formerly pregnant woman, I didn’t consider myself disabled. Fat, maybe, and like a sponge that had absorbed too much fluid — but certainly not disabled! Why doesn’t Congress just enforce (or add amendments with some teeth) to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

Or better yet, why doesn’t the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Justice step up and invoke Title VII, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination?

So many times we have laws in place that, if properly enforced, could fix myriad problems. Instead, some politician decides to write up a whole new law that, of course, takes forever to pass in our paralyzed-by-partisanship Congress.

Does anyone really think that both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, consumed with fiscal cliffs and other major economic issues, will prioritize passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act? Yeah, me neither.

Discrimination against pregnant mothers could end tomorrow if there was a concerted, unified effort to do so. Here’s a suggested message from Washington to employers: You are not legally entitled to fire a pregnant woman because she needs an extra bathroom break or can’t lift a heavy box, or because she’s not the svelte figure you’d like greeting customers at the front desk. Case closed.

Hey, isn’t this the administration that boasted how much they do for women? Then prove it.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net.