Amy Zvovushe, 31, had a new job (as a senior program manager at a marketing company in Connecticut) and a new baby on the way. But instead of colleagues sending congratulatory cards and putting stork decorations on her desk, Zvovushe says that when she announced her pregnancy at work, she was asked to resign. The company didn't offer her maternity leave. The federal Family Medical Leave Act says employees must work for a full year to be eligible, and she'd only been their employee for four months.
Unfortunately, Zvovushe is only one of many pregnant women forced out of a job. In the U.S., thousands of women are fired while pregnant, Dina Bakst, a lawyer and founder/president of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center wrote in a recent Op-ed for the NY Times. She blames the gap between discrimination laws and disability laws for the injustice.
Federal and state laws ban discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. And amendments to the Americans With Disabilities Act require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees (including most employees with medical complications arising from pregnancies) who need them to do their jobs. But because pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, employers are not obligated to accommodate most pregnant workers in any way.
Considering three-quarters of the women who enter the work force will become pregnant, Bakst calls for action. She highlights New York State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther of Sullivan County who have introduced legislation that "would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women whose health care providers say they need them."
Some states have made significant progress. According to Bakst's piece in the NY Times, "as of 2010, seven states, including California, had passed laws requiring private employers to provide at least some accommodations." And many companies -- including those on Working Mother Magazine's list of top 100 companies for mothers -- work to create flexible, supportive environments for pregnant women, even if the law doesn't require them to.
Jeannette Cox, a law professor at the University of Dayton, is also fighting for pregnant women's rights in the workplace. She argues that pregnancy should be considered a disability. Though pregnant woman are covered under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, some protections under the ADA don't apply to pregnant women and Cox says it's time for a change.
As for Zvovushe, her story had a somewhat happy ending. After she was told she'd lose her job if she took time off, she had a later conversation with human resources. ABC News reports that she recorded this discussion without telling them, and caught several alarming statements on tape. For example, the executive said:
"You don't receive protection under FMLA so technically if you don't come to work ... it doesn't matter whether you're having your appendix out or you're having a baby or you're dealing with a sick person you didn't show up for work on Monday."
Zvovushe's attorney, Jack Tuckner, then contacted the company, and (likely because Zvovushe had the HR rep's harsh words on tape) they agreed to grant her leave to care for her baby.
"Because they were able to fix it, they say no harm, no foul," her attorney said to ABC. And, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is scheduled to host a hearing about pregnancy discrimination this month.