State-specific info available for workers, employers and healthcare providers
The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and the non-profit advocacy group A Better Balance have developed new resources to support healthy pregnancies for working women. Resources now available on PregnantAtWork.org and Babygate.ABetterBalance.org provide information about the legal rights of women who are pregnant and working, including the right to adapt work-related responsibilities as necessary to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
The majority of American women provide critical income for their households. Despite the existence of legal protections to prevent discrimination against pregnant workers, low-wage women in particular are at risk of being forced out on leave or even facing termination once they reveal their pregnancies to their employers. Ironically, pregnant women often face these challenges after presenting a note from their doctor aimed at supporting a healthy pregnancy.
The new materials include state-specific “How to Talk to Your Boss about Your Bump” guidelines, educational videos about working while pregnant and information about adjustments that can be made at work to support pregnant employees (e.g., access to additional breaks, sitting instead of standing and carrying a water bottle).
Also available on A Better Balance’s Babygate website is state-by-state information about workplace rights for nursing mothers and new parents. Additionally, PregnantAtWork.org offers an interactive tool to help doctors craft effective work notes to employers. Well-crafted doctor’s notes increase the likelihood that pregnant women who need reasonable accommodations will be able to continue working.
“People are often surprised to learn that pregnant women face discrimination at work in this day and age, but sadly it is not uncommon. Many employers still deny accommodation requests,” said Liz Morris, Deputy Director at the Center for WorkLife Law. “These resources are intended to help working women and their employers avoid discriminatory practices in the first place.”
Take the case of A Better Balance client, Nicolet, a Latina food service worker who lives in Queens, New York. When she told her manager that she was pregnant, her manager asked her to get a doctor’s note affirming that she could work safely during her pregnancy. Nicolet’s doctor sent her back to work with a standard note that included a vague warning to avoid “heavy lifting,” even though her job rarely required her to lift anything heavy. In response, Nicolet’s manager cut her hours, leaving her with a reduced income at a time when she was relying on earning money to support her future child.
“Nicolet just needed to temporarily refrain from heavy lifting to stay healthy and on the job,” said Dina Bakst, Co-President of A Better Balance. “If she and her doctor had access during her pregnancy to these new resources, this hardship may have been avoided in the first place. We created these resources to empower pregnant employees by arming them with information about their rights in the workplace.”
PregnantAtWork.org includes an interactive tool for doctors to use when drafting notes for employers. For example, the site could have guided Nicolet’s doctor to be more specific about weight limits and frequency of lifting that should be avoided, and to make clear that Nicolet was still able to do her job. It also would have warned her doctor against making recommendations that are not medically indicated, which lifting restrictions often are not. This tool will help prenatal care providers to write work notes that trigger important legal protections and provide the information employers need to provide the right type of accommodation to meet each woman’s individual needs.
A worker at a big box store in Kansas, Chelsea, faced similar challenges with her employer during her pregnancy. Chelsea was pushed onto unpaid leave after the note her doctor wrote to her employer indicated that she should be allowed to sit during the course of her pregnancy and avoid bending to the ground or lifting more than 20 pounds.
“These resources would have been useful to me when I was pregnant,” Chelsea noted. “I didn’t know how to tell my boss that I was pregnant or where to turn when I was pushed out.”
“The note-writing tools on PregnantAtWork.org have been a valuable addition to our practice,” said Dr. Rebecca Jackson, UCSF professor and chief of OB-GYN at San Francisco General Hospital. “For many of my patients, it is incredibly important that they are able to work for as long as feasible and safe so that they can continue to support their families and save their leave time for after the births of their children. I now feel confident that the notes I write will not jeopardize my patients’ financial well-being but instead will help them to continue to work.”
The site also offers essential information for pregnant women who are searching for work or starting a new job. New York City-based Alyssa had a high-risk pregnancy and was starting a new office job with a large non-profit organization. She knew that she would need to see her doctor more often than a typical pregnant worker would, and was concerned about requesting additional time off. Like many other pregnant women looking for work, Alyssa was unsure about her rights and obligations. She called A Better Balance and, armed with this information, she navigated the situation with her new employer.
“I need to work, but maintaining a healthy pregnancy has to be my top priority,” added Alyssa. “Really understanding my rights and how to talk to my boss about my situation made the whole process a lot less stressful.”
The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law is a research and advocacy organization dedicated to developing new intellectual frameworks and concrete tools to advance gender equality both within and beyond the workplace.
A Better Balance promotes equality and works to expand choices for men and women at all income levels so that they may care for their families without sacrificing their economic security. The organization employs a range of legal strategies to promote flexible workplace policies, end discrimination against caregivers and value the work of caring for families.