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Some high-profile companies have joined forces to back a Congressional push for employers to accommodate employees who wish to work during their pregnancy.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would mandate employers to make minor changes in the workplace to ensure their pregnant staff can still work, Fast Company reports. The new bill would be an upgrade from the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which prohibited employers from discriminating against pregnant workers, but did not require that they accommodate these employees.

While some employers may currently provide workplace accommodations for pregnant employees, others may just opt to place them on unpaid leave. There are 25 states, plus the District of Columbia and four cities, that have passed such accommodations laws, but nothing exists now federally.

In a May 14 open letter (PDF), Adobe, Amalgamated Bank, Chobani, Cigna Corp., Facebook, ICM Partners, L’Oréal USA, Levi Strauss & Co, Microsoft Corp., Spotify and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce implored House members to back the new bill. “It’s now time to clarify and strengthen existing federal protections for pregnant workers by passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” the 11 entities note in their letter. “This bill would ensure that pregnant women who want to continue working receive reasonable accommodations so they can do so.”

The push by these companies comes as Amazon confronts allegations that it fired pregnant workers after they requested modified schedules even as the company promotes itself as a responsible employer, CNET reports. A former employee, who wa pregnant at the time of her employment, alleges that Amazon fired her a week after the online retail giant kicked off its Cyber Monday sales event in November of last year. Beverly Rosales, who worked out of Amazon’s Golden State Fulfillment Center in San Bernardino, California, alleges in her lawsuit that she told her manager a month earlier that she was pregnant, and had asked for a modification to her 10-hour shift that allowed for more bathroom breaks.

But instead of accommodating Rosales, her bosses harangued her about taking too many bathroom breaks and how her production sank. Over the last eight years, Amazon faced suits from other pregnant warehouse workers who alleged they too were not afforded accommodations, CNET notes after reviewing seven lawsuits. Six of the cases were settled out of court. Rosales filed her suit in January and was due to give birth this month (June).

“Amazon wants to push out as much product as possible," Rosales said. “They need as many people that don't need accommodations to work there. They care more about the numbers than their employees.” Amazon would not discuss Rosales’s case or the other earlier suits, but rejected that it treats its workers unfairly. “It is absolutely not true that Amazon would fire any employee for being pregnant; we are an equal opportunity employer," an Amazon spokeswoman said. “We work with our employees to accommodate their medical needs including pregnancy-related needs. We also support new parents by offering various maternity and parental leave benefits.”

Two pregnant Amazon workers called out human resources after they were fired. In one case, an HR manager allegedly told Cathleen Stewart disparagingly that ‘I’d like to go to the bathroom a lot, too,’ after she was reassigned to a different department. After getting the flu in January of 2017, a pregnant Trudy Martinez was told by her doctor to take three days off. She alleged in her suit that an HR manager told her the firm ‘does not accept doctor’s notes’ and then sacked her four days later.

A recent report by A Better Balance also highlights that firms are still denying pregnant workers reasonable accommodations, especially for those in low-wage and physically-demanding jobs. The group, which backs the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, reviewed numerous cases and found disturbing outcomes. “Unfortunately, a cruel thread connects these women: while they all requested modest accommodations at their doctor’s orders and presented doctor’s notes, their employers refused to accommodate them and courts or juries found they had no valid claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,” A Better Balance notes in its report.

Last modified on Thursday, 20 June 2019
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