Skip to main content

Jarrett: We must end pregnancy discrimination

By Valerie Jarrett
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
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
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT