According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, despite laws, guidance, and willingness to work, many pregnant women and caregivers continue to be denied job opportunities, workplace modifications, leave, and equal treatment.
So at a time when most pregnant women want and need to work, and more American workers struggle to balance work and family, discrimination against pregnant women and workers with caregiving responsibilities remains a significant problem, experts told a meeting of the EEOC on February 15.
The meeting was a follow-up to Commission meetings in 2007, when the Commission issued its groundbreaking “Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities” and in 2009, when the Commission issued “Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities.”
Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women’s Law Center, told the Commission that even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed more than 30 years ago, women still often face demotions, prejudice, and even job loss when they become pregnant.
“Pregnancy discrimination persists in the 21st century workplace, unnecessarily depriving women of the means to support their families,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “Similarly, caregivers—both men and women—too often face unequal treatment on the job. The EEOC is committed to ensuring that job applicants and employees are not subjected to unlawful discrimination on account of pregnancy or because of their efforts to balance work and family responsibilities.”
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by Judith Lichtman, senior advisor for the National Partnership for Women & Families, women are now the primary, or co-primary, breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families. Because of this, “women cannot afford to lose their jobs or income due to pregnancy or childbirth,” Lichtman said.
In addition to discrimination based on pregnancy, women and men face obstacles in their work lives due to their roles as caregivers, said Lynn Friss Feinberg, senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. The aging of the population and changing demographics mean that “42 percent of U.S. workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past 5 years,” and almost half of U.S. workers expect to provide eldercare in the next 5 years, Feinberg said.