Tonight I would like to talk to you about the obstacles faced by pregnant women in the workplace. I will talk about the barriers we face today, as well as those which women of the past had to overcome to be successful working mothers. The laws that protect pregnant women today are something expectant mothers of the past dreamed of as they faced discrimination in the forms of demotion, forced unpaid leave and more.
Before 1978, women who became pregnant while employed had a lot more than their health to be concerned about. There were no laws in place to help protect them from discrimination. In those days, pregnancy was considered a disability. Many women were simply fired the moment their employer found out about their condition. In some cases, women were forced to resign as soon as their baby belly began to show, or at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.
These occurrences were especially common in physically demanding positions. Employers were not required to provide special accommodations, such as lifting limits and restroom breaks, to mommies-to-be. These facts led to many women struggling to support themselves and their families.
Some women were refused work altogether. Denial of medical leave was not uncommon, either. Women were left without health insurance and other benefits, or were even charged extra for certain services. Returning to work after taking leave was an extremely rare instance among new mothers in these days.
However, in 1978, US Congress introduced the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This newly passed law became an important aspect of civil rights. It requires employers to provide pregnant women with the same respect and consideration as other workers with medical issues. It regulates hiring/firing procedures, ensuring women that work will be available to them as long as they are healthy and able to perform their basic job functions.
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