Over the last decade, we’re heard from hundreds of women in every corner of the country who faced an impossible choice. Do I keep earning my paycheck when I need it the most, and jeopardize the health of my pregnancy? Or do I follow my doctor’s orders and risk losing my income when I need it the most?
Denied the modest accommodations they needed like a stool or breaks to drink water, these women—along with countless others—suffered devastating consequences because federal law is failing pregnant workers.
In the face of hardship, many of these women have become advocates and voices for change, calling for strengthened legal protections for pregnant workers on the state and federal level.
These women’s powerful stories have inspired A Better Balance to lead the call for The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), from our 2012 New York Times op-ed that led to the bill’s introduction, to testifying at the first-ever Congressional hearing for the bill in October 2019.
It’s long overdue to pass the PWFA, and ensure all pregnant workers—no matter where they live*—are able to stay healthy and working.
Floralba was working at a thrift shop in the Bronx when she became pregnant. As part of her job, she carried heavy piles of clothing. She had a history of miscarriage and worried about the risk to her pregnancy and her baby if she continued to lift such heavy loads. Knowing that other workers had been temporarily transferred to other positions with less physically demanding work, she asked to do the same. Her boss told her to bring in a doctor’s note. But when she did, she was sent home on unpaid leave. “How do they expect me to pay rent, to buy food?” she wondered.
[Floralba’s story was featured in our 2015 report, Pregnant and Jobless. She is a former ABB client†.]
Lyndi, a police officer in Kentucky, was pushed off the job when she requested light duty, robbing her of critical income when she needed it most. Because of the heavy equipment and physical demands of patrolling, when Officer Trischler became pregnant she consulted her healthcare provider who recommended she seek light duty. The City told her that its policy was to only give accommodations to employees injured on the job. At five and a half months pregnant, being forced out of work took a deep emotional and economic toll on her and her family. Lyndi became an advocate for the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which passed in 2019. “I returned to work a mere eight weeks after giving birth and after my son passed away. As heartbreaking as this experience was it was made all the worse by having to face workplace discrimination too. If there had been a clear law on the books, then this likely never would have happened.”
[Lyndi’s story was featured in our 2019 report, Long Overdue. She is a former ABB client.]
Natasha’s dream of owning a home disappeared after she was denied accommodations while pregnant. She was the highest-ranking account executive and the only female employee at a Rent-A-Center store in South Carolina. When she needed to avoid occasional heavy lifting required at her job, she was forced to go on leave. “The timing could not have been worse. My husband and I had just made a down payment on a house… Without my income, we were forced to back out of the contract. Natasha ultimately lost her job and needed emergency public housing. “I am asking you to stand up for women like me so we can have an equal opportunity to support our families while protecting her health,” she urged Congress at a 2019 briefing on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
[Natasha’s story was featured in our 2013 report, It Shouldn’t Be A Heavy Lift. She is an ABB Community Advocate.]
As a worker for an armored truck company in New York City and the sole breadwinner of her family, Armanda asked to avoid heavy lifting during her pregnancy after she pulled a muscle on the job. Her employer responded by firing her, despite having previously accommodated a coworker who had injured his back on the job. Armanda lost her health insurance and had to apply for food stamps, struggling to make ends meet. Armanda testified before the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions in support of the PWFA in 2014. “Once my baby arrived, just putting food on the table for him and my four-year-old was a challenge. I was forced to use water in his cereal at times because I could not afford milk.I was scared every time I looked in my empty fridge,” she said.
[Armanda’s story was featured in our 2019 report, Long Overdue. She was a caller to our free, confidential legal helpline.]
ANGELICA VALENCIA — New York
Angelica, who worked at a packing facility in New York City, was three months pregnant when her doctor advised that she avoid heavy lifting, as she had suffered a miscarriage the year before. She requested to be placed on desk duty, which she knew was available. Instead, her manager assigned her grueling overtime hours. When she asked to return to her normal full-time schedule, they fired her. This took a tremendous toll on her mental and physical health, and caused her great financial distress. She and her husband lost their health insurance, and they had to apply for governmental assistance just to make ends meet. “Now more than ever, I need to work,” she said.
[Angelica’s story was featured in our 2015 report, Pregnant and Jobless. She is a former ABB client†.]
Tasha worked in XPO Logistics’ warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite receiving a doctor’s note saying she needed a lifting restriction and complaining of extreme stomach pain, she was forced to continue lifting on the job. One day, she told a supervisor she was in pain and asked to leave early; the manager said no. Tragically, she had a miscarriage the next day. “It’s not right for companies to treat us like this,” she said. “It’s hurtful, for me and the other women, to even speak out on losing our babies. But I feel empowered. You never know who you might help by speaking out.”
[Tasha’s story was featured in the 2018 New York Times piece, “Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination.” She is a former ABB client.]
Diana, a letter carrier in Minnesota, was given a heat restriction by her doctor in the summer during her pregnancy, limiting her time outside on extremely hot days. Even though her employer provided indoor work for work-related conditions, she was never permitted to work inside. Each day she couldn’t work outside, she had to use a valuable sick day or annual leave day. As a result, she had no paid leave left when her baby was born. “Going without my salary right when I had the added expense of a new baby was very difficult for me and my family. I feel like I was punished for being pregnant.”
[Diana’s story was featured in our 2013 report, It Shouldn’t Be A Heavy Lift. She was a caller to our free, confidential legal helpline]
Candis, a worker at a Walmart in Maryland, began to fall ill during her pregnancy due to the toxic chemicals she used on the job for cleaning. She had to go to the hospital due to the effects of the chemicals multiple times, and doctors told her the work was endangering the health of her pregnancy. When she asked for temporary relief of those duties, she was denied. She was eventually fired after having to call out sick a number of times. “I just kept pushing through and getting sicker and sicker as time went on. Because I was so scared to lose my job. I was the sole breadwinner of my household.”
[Candis is a current ABB client**.]
A single mother of three, Yvette had worked at the same grocery store in New York City for 11 years. Having suffered miscarriages in the past, she knew her pregnancy was high-risk, and she gave her employer a doctor’s note with a lifting restriction. Instead, she was fired, despite the fact that an employee with a shoulder injury had been accommodated with lighter work. She lost her health insurance and had to go on Medicaid, and she and her family survived on food stamps and savings. “My employer told me there was no job for me with those limitations, but I know there was work I could have done, like working in the deli…When I finally returned to work three months after giving birth, I had no savings left.”
[Yvette’s story was featured in our 2013 report, It Shouldn’t Be A Heavy Lift. She was a caller to our free, confidential legal helpline.]
Hilda had worked at a Dollar Tree in Long Island, New York for three years when she became pregnant. As her pregnancy progressed, it became very uncomfortable to stand at the cash register for eight to ten hours at a time. Denied her request for a stool, she began to experience complications, including bleeding and premature labor pains, and was put on bed rest. With no paid leave, she and her family struggled to make ends meet. “These physical problems landed me in the emergency room every few days. Although I could have kept working if I had been allowed to sit on a stool, because my employer wouldn’t let me, my doctor finally put me on bed rest to get me off my feet.”
[Hilda’s story was featured in our 2013 report, It Shouldn’t Be A Heavy Lift.]
Whitney, a worker at a Walmart in Georgia and a single mother of two, submitted a doctor’s note citing some lifting restrictions due to her pregnancy, after experiencing nausea at work. She didn’t think this would be a problem, as she often received help with heavy lifting, and had seen co-workers with lifting restrictions temporarily assigned to lighter work. But upon submitted the note, she was pushed onto an unpaid leave of absence. She suffered severe financial hardship during an already vulnerable time. “I was surprised, and I was angry. I was curious what was wrong and what I had done…I had to get help and make do with what I could,” she said.
[Whitney is a current ABB client**.]
Betzaida, a customer service cashier for a large national retail chain in Rochester, New York, was given a lifting restriction after experiencing illnessand finding out she was pregnant. Despite being cleared to work, her employer told her she should “stay home, take care of her pregnancy, and rest,” and that she would have to reapply for her job after giving birth. The company later claimed she quit, preventing her from receiving unemployment insurance. With no paycheck, she became homeless and had to rely on family and friends for shelter. “I never thought a company I worked hard for would throw me away so easily.”
[Betzaida’s story was featured in our 2015 report, Pregnant and Jobless. She is a former ABB client.]
Amanda B., a veteran and an ER tech in Tennessee, was advised not to lift more than 25 pounds by her doctor at 29 weeks pregnant. Although lifting patients was a part of her job as an ER technician, “there had always been more than enough staff members on hand to help complete this task; when I became pregnant, my coworkers were always happy to assist me,” she said. Despite this fact, Amanda was forced onto unpaid leave and lost her health insurance. “Needing to apply for public assistance just to survive felt like the lowest point in my adult life. I had worked since I was 15-years-old, I was the first in my family to earn a college degree, and I served proudly in the military. My husband is also currently serving in the Army Reserve. We had always been proud to give back to our country and community, yet our community was failing us.”
[Amanda B.’s story was featured in our 2015 report, Pregnant and Jobless. She was a caller to our free, confidential legal helpline.]
Danielle had recently been promoted to assistant manager at a gas station in Maryland when she learned she was pregnant. She asked for basic accommodations like a stool to sit on, and brought in a doctor’s note asking to be put on light duty. Management denied her these accommodations and instead cut her hours. She gave birth prematurely at 36 weeks pregnant. “While there is no definitive evidence that my son’s [sensory processing disorder] was caused by the treatment I received at work, there is research that links maternal stress with low birth weight and preterm delivery.”
[Danielle’s story was featured in our 2015 report, Pregnant and Jobless].
TAKIRAH WOODS — New Jersey
At 14 weeks pregnant, Takirah, a family services worker in New Jersey, was advised by her doctor not to lift over 15 pounds, something she only rarely did. When she requested the accommodation, her employer forced her to take unpaid leave. Desperate to keep her job, she asked her doctor to lift the restriction, even though it could compromise her health and pregnancy.“I felt angry, discriminated against, and confused,” she said. “So many thoughts ran though my head. How would I care for my family and pay my bills? I’m only three months pregnant, my medical insurance will be depleted within ninety days—what will I do then? How will I survive with no employment?”
[Takirah is a former ABB client.††]
Megan, an hourly manufacturing worker based in Oregon, was pushed onto unpaid leave after she brought in a doctor’s note advising she not bend too much on the job. Instead of working with her to accommodate this truly modest request, her supervisors pushed her out onto leave that same day—3.5 months before her due date. Megan suffered serious economic hardship as a result.
[Megan was a caller to our free, confidential legal helpline.]
Sandy worked at a national nutrition retail store, when several weeks into her pregnancy, she began to feel dizzy and nauseous at work, and her doctor advised her to avoid heavy lifting on the job. Her manager refused, instead increasing her workload to be more physically strenuous. She eventually had to seek immediate medical attention after experiencing stabbing pains in her uterus, and she was forced to quit her job rather than continue to jeopardize the health of her pregnancy. She and her family became reliant on government assistance and struggled to make ends meet for years to come. “My family was placed in a stressful position fraught with numerous bills and shut off notices.”
[Sandy’s story was featured in our 2015 report, Pregnant and Jobless. Pseudonym used to protect her privacy; photo courtesy of Game Face Productions / Working Assumptions Foundation.].
*In recent years, 30 states have passed laws granting workers an explicit right to reasonable pregnancy accommodations, with bipartisan support. Stories from these states included here occurred before the passage of the state law, unless indicated otherwise.
†Thanks to New York City’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Floralba and Angelica were able to get reinstated in their jobs.
††Thanks to New Jersey’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Takirah was able to get reinstated in her job.
**Mehri & Skalet PLLC and National Women’s Law Center are co-counsel in Candis’ and Whitney’s cases.