Fighting (and winning!) for the right to be pregnant on the job
Christina Ayala, pictured here with her daughter, Natalie, with whom she was pregnant during the events in this post
When I started my job as a checkout and stock person, I was aware of the challenges pregnant workers often face on the job, and so kept my pregnancy from my employers — that is, until I became sick. When my doctor told me about the potential dangers to my health and my pregnancy, I knew I had to ask my supervisor for some minor accommodations. Under the direction of my doctor I told my employer about my medical restrictions — no lifting over 5 pounds and I needed a stool to sit on at the checkout counter, or more frequent breaks.
When I returned to work a few days later I was met with the same set of tasks I’d had before my supervisor knew about my pregnancy. He refused to accommodate any of my medical needs — and I had no legal recourse, because at the time, this was completely legal! I was on my feet, without adequate breaks, lifting 20-50 lb objects, all of which caused additional stress to me and my pregnancy. I tried again and again to advocate for myself, bringing up my medical needs with my supervisor and HR numerous times, but my accommodations were never met. I worried about my health, but I continued to work under these dangerous conditions because I had to keep this job to support my kids.
My paid time off didn’t amount to much, so once my baby was born I took just three weeks of maternity leave. I hit my last straw when I returned to work and was told I was unable to pump breast milk anywhere at my job. I was forced to resign because I simply could not work under these conditions. Being pushed out of a job simply because you’re trying to keep your pregnancy healthy, or trying to feed and care for your infant, is a huge part of why over the course of our lives women earn less than men.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects pregnant workers from discrimination, but that wasn’t enough in my case. That’s why I got involved with 9to5’s campaign to pass the Colorado Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, which says employers are required to provide basic accommodations like the ones I needed to keep my pregnancy healthy. I’m proud to report that in the summer of 2016 we passed this law, and pregnant workers across Colorado now have protections against the kind of treatment I experienced.
I’m proud of our victory and fired up to make sure we keeping fighting and winning! We still have a long way to go — we need a law like this at the federal level, and we need to pass paid family and medical leave insurance to make sure parents can afford to take time off to care for their newborns and themselves. We will never fully close the wage gap until we make sure no one is denied work or pushed out of a job for being pregnant.
This blog post is part of 9to5’s collection Faces of the Wage Gap, illuminating the many factors which contribute to income inequality and the necessary solutions needed to reach true economic justice for all women. Please share via social media!