Working During Pregnancy – Easing Labor Pains

Filed under: Opinions/Blogs |

By  — Speaking at the White House Summit on Working Families in June, President Obama remarked: “Twenty-first century families deserve twenty-first-century workplaces. And our economy demands them, because it’s going to help us compete.” In particular, he said, this “means treating pregnant workers fairly, because too many are forced to choose between their health and their job. Right now, if you’re pregnant, you could potentially get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks – clearly from a boss who has never been pregnant – or forced unpaid leave. That makes no sense.”

Many women work during pregnancy

Many women work during pregnancy.

It doesn’t make sense, especially given that women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force, and three out of every four women entering the workforce will experience at least one pregnancy while employed.

Many Mothers Work During Pregnancy

Among first-time mothers who gave birth within the last 12 months in 2013, 2.4 million, or 61.7%, were in the labor force. Between 2006 and 2008, about 3.4 million, or 65.6%, of first-time mothers worked during pregnancy. Of those women, 88% worked into their third trimester, while 65% worked into their last month of pregnancy.

Consider also that worker access to supportive policies like paid maternity leave increases the likelihood that a mother will remain in the labor force and decreases the likelihood that she’ll need public assistance to support her family.

Of the first-time mothers who worked during pregnancy between 2006 and 2008, 21.9% quit their job, 50.8% took paid leave, 42.4% took unpaid leave, 9.5% took disability leave, and 4.7% were let go from their job. They had to make one or more of these leave arrangements while still pregnant, or up to 12 weeks after the birth of their child.

Statistics like these are behind recent efforts at the federal, state and local levels to pass legislation that would create more supportive working environments for our pregnant coworkers. Within the last few months, Delaware and Illinois have joined several other states and localities in passing their own versions of the proposed federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, meaning that working women in those places no longer have to choose between their health and their livelihoods when they become pregnant.

Additionally, the EEOC recently issued new guidance stating that, in most cases, federal law requires employers to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations.

Pregnant workers and new parents have workplace rights. At the Department of Labor, we want to help ensure that they have the tools and information to exercise those rights as they balance the demands of work and family. Visit the Women’s Bureau website for resources on employment protections for workers who are pregnant or nursing. See what employment protections your state offers in our map.

Originally published on the U.S. DOL blog. Latifa Lyles is the director of the Women’s Bureau.

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