Editor’s Note: The following op-ed is authored by State Senators Colin Bonini and Bethany Hall-Long
On Dec. 3rd, the U.S. Supreme Court and the nation heard Peggy Young’s story.
Peggy was a hard-working, dedicated UPS employee when she became pregnant and was forced to take unpaid leave when UPS refused to accommodate her doctor’s advice that Peggy avoid heavy lifting to protect her health and her pregnancy. Peggy would have kept working despite the lack of accommodations because she needed to support her family, but UPS gave her no choice, forcing her to take unpaid leave, even though UPS provided light duty to other workers with medical needs arising from disabilities or on-the-job injuries.
No woman should have to choose between her job and her pregnancy.
That’s why, earlier this year, the two of us – a conservative Republican and a progressive Democrat – joined forces to take a stand in favor of pregnant workers and common decency by co-sponsoring the Delaware Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. With the support of many members of the public, including a significant number of Delaware business owners, the legislation passed unanimously and was signed by Gov. Jack Markell. The Act makes it absolutely unmistakable: pregnancy discrimination is illegal in Delaware, and employers must reasonably accommodate pregnant workers.
The law was needed because courts around the country have wrongly interpreted the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act to allow employers to force pregnant workers who need accommodations off the job.
To bring the point home, a young woman was working for a Delaware health care facility, performing a mix of clerical work and patient care, when she got pregnant and was advised by her doctor to temporarily limit her work to her clerical duties so that she could stay off her feet during the remainder of her pregnancy. However, when she told the hospital officials about her doctor’s orders, they were ignored. The hospital said it would not accommodate her because she hadn’t been injured on the job, but it also wouldn’t allow her to return to her regular job. Ultimately, the hospital fired her.
That’s why our legislative colleagues made it crystal clear that Delaware will not tolerate discrimination against pregnant workers.
Now, it’s the Supreme Court’s turn to set things right for the rest of the country.
Providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers is a common sense move. It benefits women, families, businesses, and taxpayers. In Delaware, about 68 percent of the women giving birth each year are working women.
These women shouldn’t have to put the health of their pregnancies at risk to keep supporting their families. After all, families cannot afford to lose a paycheck and taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the cost of providing public benefits for a family that loses income because an employer won’t accommodate them.
Discriminating against or pushing out pregnant workers does not save businesses money, either. It costs an employer about 150 percent of a salaried employee’s yearly salary or as much as 75 percent of an hourly worker’s salary to replace them. The smarter and more economical solution is to provide reasonable accommodations.
Those accommodations might be as simple as allowing pregnant employees working as cashiers to sit on stools rather than standing to reduce swelling in their legs or changing no-food-or-drink policies so that employees can drink water to prevent premature and potentially dangerous contractions. Or, as in the case of Peggy Young, reassigning occasional heavy- lifting duties for a pregnant employee who has been advised by her doctor not to lift more than 20 pounds.
A lot of credit should be given to UPS, which, in advance of any future court rulings, has since changed its policies to be more accommodating to pregnant women.
We’ve taken a bipartisan stand in Delaware to show that when we come together in favor of pregnant workers, everybody wins. It’s common sense and it’s the right thing to do for women, families, and businesses. It’s also our legal obligation.
The Supreme Court heard Young vs. UPS on Dec. 3. Let’s hope they hear us, too, and make it absolutely clear in its ruling that employers can no longer treat pregnant workers like second-class citizens.
Sen. Colin Bonini is a Republican representing the 16th Senatorial District in Delaware and Sen. Bethany Hall-Long is a Democrat representing the 10th Senatorial District.