A recent study by a University of Dayton law professor, Jeannette Cox, asserts that pregnant women should be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, to protect them from being fired or forced to perform labor that could be harmful to mother or child. (The paper is forthcoming in March in the Boston College Law Review.)
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t recognize pregnancy as a disability, leaving pregnant women physically and financially vulnerable on the job, concluded Cox, who studies employment discrimination. She found that pregnant women are at risk for losing their jobs when “reasonable adjustments” aren’t made, such as retail workers fired for drinking water at work or pregnant police officers forced to perform rigorous assignments (while injured officers were given lighter duty).
Cox argues that the ADA currently covers people with “minor temporary physical limitations comparable to pregnancy’s physical effects.” Under current ADA protections, disabled workers may forgo tasks involving heavy lifting, repetitive bending, reaching, prolonged sitting or standing or working under high-temperature conditions. Not so for pregnant women.
The women most affected are low-income workers who are more likely to work in physically demanding jobs than higher-paid desk jockeys, Cox found. Lower-income workers often face the dilemma of continuing to work in high-risk jobs or leaving work altogether, forgoing income.