Some laws gain strength over time. Others fade. For Heather Myers of Salina, Kan., the laws Congress passed to prevent pregnant women from workplace discrimination are now a remote and weak entreaty.
In 2007 the 18-year-old Walmart employee was reportedly fired from her job, stocking shelves in the infants department, for drinking from a water bottle. According to her worker orientation meeting, as noted by the Washington Post, employees were allowed to drink on the job so long as it is only water. Her supervisor, however, changed the rules and said she needed a doctor’s note in order to hydrate, even when she was visibly pregnant.
Myers reportedly thought it was, “silly to need a note for that,” but still went and brought a doctor’s note anyway. However, her supervisor changed the rules again and told her drinking fountains were enough. By now, however, Myers had a urinary tract infection (common during pregnancy) and needed to hydrate more regularly. She was given a choice: either the water goes or you do. Myers left and sued.
The special accommodations pregnant women require are often more like courtesy than constraints. They include drinking water, taking more frequent bathroom breaks, or sitting at the cashier rather than standing.
However, according to a report released Tuesday, even these minor and temporary adjustments are often met with firm opposition from employers. Unfortunately, the very jobs more likely to fire an employee for being pregnant correlate with the employees most in need of a stable income. Inflexible, low wage jobs are more likely to fire pregnant women when they the money most.
Over the past 15 years, claims of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace have been climbing. According to Emily Martin, Vice President National Women’s Law Center, it’s because federal laws are confusing and “because of that, some employers feel they don’t have to accommodate pregnant workers.”