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Zero tolerance for bias against pregnant workers

By Bethany Hall-Long and Colin Bonini On Dec. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court and the nation finally heard Peggy Young's story.

By Bethany Hall-Long

and Colin Bonini

On Dec. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court and the nation finally heard Peggy Young's story.

Peggy was a hardworking, dedicated UPS employee when she became pregnant and was forced to take unpaid leave. UPS refused to accommodate her doctor's advice that Peggy avoid heavy lifting to protect her health and her pregnancy. Peggy would have kept working despite the lack of accommodations because she needed to support her family, but UPS gave her no choice. The company forced her onto unpaid leave, even though UPS provided light duty to workers with medical needs arising from disabilities or on-the-job injuries.

No woman should have to choose between her job and her pregnancy.

That's why, earlier this year, we - a conservative Republican and a progressive Democrat - joined forces to take a stand in favor of pregnant workers and common decency by co-sponsoring the Delaware Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. With the support of many members of the public, including a significant number of Delaware businesses, the legislation passed unanimously and was signed by Gov. Jack Markell. The law makes it absolutely unmistakable: Pregnancy discrimination is illegal in Delaware, and employers must reasonably accommodate pregnant workers.

The law was needed because courts around the country have wrongly interpreted the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. That misinterpretation allowed employers to force pregnant workers who need accommodations off the job.

Here's an example: A young woman was working for a Delaware health-care facility, performing a mix of clerical work and patient care, when she got pregnant and was advised by her doctor to temporarily limit her work to her clerical duties so that she could stay off her feet during the remainder of her pregnancy. However, when she told hospital officials about her doctor's orders, they were ignored. The hospital said it would not accommodate her because she hadn't been injured on the job, but neither would they allow her to return to her regular job. Ultimately, the hospital fired her.

That's why our legislative colleagues made it crystal clear that Delaware will not tolerate discrimination against pregnant workers.

Now, it's the Supreme Court's turn to set things right for the rest of the country.

Providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers is a commonsense move. It benefits women, families, businesses, and taxpayers. In Delaware, about 68 percent of the women giving birth each year are working women. These women shouldn't have to put the health of their pregnancies at risk to keep supporting their families. After all, families cannot afford to lose a paycheck, and taxpayers shouldn't have to bear the cost of providing public benefits for a family that loses income because an employer won't accommodate pregnant workers.

Discriminating against pregnant workers doesn't save businesses money. It costs an employer about 150 percent of a salaried employee's yearly salary, or as much as 75 percent of an hourly worker's wages, to replace them. The smarter and more economical solution is to provide reasonable accommodations.

Those accommodations might be as simple as allowing pregnant cashiers to sit on stools rather than standing to reduce swelling in their legs or changing no-food-or-drink policies so that employees can drink water to prevent premature and potentially dangerous contractions. Or, as in the case of Peggy Young, reassigning occasional heavy-lifting duties for a pregnant employee who has been advised by her doctor not to lift more than 20 pounds.

We've taken a bipartisan stand in Delaware to show that when we come together in favor of pregnant workers, everybody wins. It's common sense and the right thing to do for women, families, and businesses. It's also our legal obligation. Now that the Supreme Court has heard Young v. UPS, let's hope it makes it absolutely clear that employers can no longer treat pregnant workers like second-class citizens.