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Why pregnancy discrimination can have tragic results

Companies across the country continue to discriminate against pregnant employees even though it's illegal. This discrimination often takes the form of being denied raises and promotions. Some employers find reasons to fire pregnant employees before they begin their maternity leaves.

However, for pregnant employees whose jobs involve physical labor, the cost of this discrimination could be their health and even their babies' lives. An extensive investigation by The New York Times found multiple cases where women were denied requests for a lightened workload during their pregnancies and suffered miscarriages, delivered premature babies who died soon after they were born or suffered other medical issues.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act enacted four decades ago doesn't mandate employers to accommodate requests for a less physically intensive workload, even with a doctor's letter, unless they're doing the same for those "similar in their ability or inability to work."

While some congresspeople of both parties have sought to update the 1978 law to strengthen requirements for such accommodations, so far, such requests have gone nowhere in either house. Therefore, under current law, all employers have to do is refuse all requests for lightened workloads by pregnant women, and they aren't in violation of the law.

Fortunately, some states have enacted laws that do mandate accommodations for pregnant workers. In 2014, West Virginia enacted the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act. It requires employers to "make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of an employee" if they have written documentation from the employee's health care provider. However, there's a caveat that they aren't required to do this if they "can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business...."

Lifting heavy items is one of the biggest risks to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Studies have linked lifting and bending to fetal death because it redirects blood flow to the muscles used for lifting and away from the uterus.

Warehouse jobs, which are increasing in the U.S., often involve potentially dangerous lifting, bending and climbing work. Too often, employees do this work in facilities with temperatures that regularly climb into the triple digits in the summer.

If you have concerns about a company's failure to accommodate your medical needs during pregnancy or if you believe you've suffered retaliation for exerting your rights, it's wise to seek the guidance of an experienced West Virginia employment law attorney.

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