The law is very clear: you can’t fire a woman simply because she’s pregnant. You can’t force her onto unpaid “medical” leave when she’s capable of doing her job. You can’t discriminate against her, period, even if your customers would prefer not seeing pregnant women in the workplace. You have to treat her as well as you treat other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
Yet despite these basic black-letter rules—enshrined thirty-five years ago in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)—employers often violate them, especially when it comes to pregnant women in low-wage jobs—women who have the fewest resources to fall back on if they lose their paychecks and the most difficulty finding help to enforce the laws that protect them.
As a recent American Prospect piece details, many pregnant workers in low-paying positions such as retail workers, cashiers, housekeepers, and waitresses are still the victims of blatant, and illegal, mistreatment by their employers who fire or otherwise discriminate against them simply on the basis of their pregnancy, or fail to provide them reasonable accommodations when they provide these accommodations to similarly-situated workers.
Luckily, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently identified pregnancy discrimination as a priority in its enforcement efforts, as well as protection of vulnerable workers. These efforts are welcome, as much remains to be done.