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Unsafe Working Conditions for Pregnant Women Tied to Poor Health Outcomes

According to federal data, there are now more women in the U.S. workforce than men, with women occupying 50.04% of positions. (Adobe Stock)
According to federal data, there are now more women in the U.S. workforce than men, with women occupying 50.04% of positions. (Adobe Stock)
January 21, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A bill in Congress that would ensure pregnant women aren't fired from their jobs for requesting reasonable accommodations in the workplace has received bipartisan approval by the House Education and Labor Committee, and soon should move to the House floor for a vote.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is co-sponsored by 188 representatives from both sides of the aisle. Beth Messersmith, campaign director with MomsRising, said unsafe pregnancies are linked to poor health outcomes across North Carolina.

"Oftentimes when these accommodations aren't provided, it can also lead to infant mortality, to preterm birth, to low birthweight. North Carolina has a bit of an epidemic of all of those," Messersmith said. "We're in the bottom among states in infant mortality and pre-term birth."

She pointed out while a 1978 federal law bars employers from firing someone because they're pregnant, it doesn't protect pregnant workers from unsafe working conditions.

Messersmith added pregnancy discrimination remains widespread. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, nearly 31,000 such claims were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2010 and 2015.

She said North Carolina has made strides in protections for pregnant state employees, but pointed out the law doesn't apply to large corporations and other employers.

"Here in North Carolina last December, Gov. Cooper did a pregnant-worker and lactation-accommodation executive order that basically provides those sorts of things for state employees," she said.

Messersmith said low-wage and hourly workers - and women of color - tend to work in physically demanding jobs that put their pregnancies at risk.

"We know that women of color and immigrant women are over-represented in physically demanding jobs, where accommodations often aren't made," she said. "Things such as working in retail or in food service or in the health-care industry, where there's a lot of lifting or standing for long periods of time."

She also noted black women filed nearly 30% of pregnancy-discrimination complaints between 2010 and 2015, despite making up only 14% of the female labor force.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC