Skip to main content

Jarrett: We must end pregnancy discrimination

By Valerie Jarrett
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
More than 30 years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, many pregnant women still experience unfair challenges on the job.
More than 30 years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, many pregnant women still experience unfair challenges on the job.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Valerie Jarrett says pregnant working women shouldn't be discriminated against
  • Jarrett: Pregnant women still experience unnecessary challenges on the job
  • With women as nearly half the workforce, we can't afford to treat them unfairly, she says

Editor's note: Valerie Jarrett is senior White House adviser to President Obama, assistant to the President for public engagement and intergovernmental affairs and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- More than 30 years ago, Congress wisely passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Yet today, many pregnant women still experience unfair and unnecessary challenges on the job.

Nondiscrimination has been the law of the land for over three decades, yet, in some workplaces, the standard for treatment of pregnant women has remained in the dark ages. Some are fired or demoted, with no hesitation, when a modest accommodation would allow them to continue to work and support their families.

The stories are heart-wrenching and preventable. There's the pregnant woman who was terminated when, in violation of company policy, she started carrying a water bottle on advice of her doctor to fight urinary and bladder infections.

Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarrett

Or the store clerk who was fired when her physician restricted her to lifting only lighter loads due to her pregnancy, even though during the course of work she rarely needed to lift heavier weights.

I vividly remember early on in my career when I was eight months pregnant, working literally around the clock, and worrying that each trip to the restroom or my need to catch the occasional catnap was causing my colleagues to question whether I could keep up.

In so many cases, modest accommodations -- adjustments that readily might be made for other employees -- are denied pregnant women, forcing expectant moms to choose between their health and that of their pregnancies, and their jobs.

Obama signs equal pay actions
Obama advocates for paid family leave

With women composing nearly half the American workforce and increasingly serving as the primary breadwinner for families, we can't afford to treat pregnant women differently than their counterparts, especially when slight job modifications could help them stay in the workforce at no risk to their health.

That's why this week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued much-needed enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination. It is the first comprehensive update of the commission's guidance in more than 30 years and will translate into real relief for countless women, especially low-income women who are working hard to support their families.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama hosted a White House Summit on Working Families that focused on the need for 21st century workplaces to adapt to the needs of the 21st century workforce with policies that are good for both families and employers.

Working parents, working families and expectant workers are vital members of our workforce. Ensuring their success is how we maintain our global economic advantage.

As EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien made clear when releasing the guidance, pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are otherwise qualified to perform, and certainly should not be a basis for treating women less favorably than other similarly situated workers.

The EEOC is helping employees and job seekers learn more about their rights. And, as importantly, it is helping employers -- the vast majority of which want to do the right thing and only need the technical assistance to do so -- understand their obligations.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT