In the past several decades, there has been a dramatic demographic shift in the workforce. Not only do women now make up almost half of the workforce, but there are more pregnant workers than ever before and they are working later into their pregnancies. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, holding a job during pregnancy is more common than at any other time in history. In a recent survey, 61 percent of respondents reported being employed during pregnancy. More families depend on women’s income than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, women are the primary or sole breadwinners in nearly 40 percent of families with children.
Many pregnant women and new mothers can and do perform their jobs without difficulty. For others, the physical limitations of a pregnancy or the demands of having a new baby at home make it difficult to perform their job duties without some form of reasonable accommodation. The simple reality is that some of these women— especially those in physically demanding jobs—will have a medical need for a temporary job-related accommodation in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
There are federal laws that ensure fair labor standards are followed for pregnant women and new mothers. Laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act offer protection from discrimination and establish rights to reasonable accommodations. For breastfeeding moms, the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to establish a right for eligible hourly workers to have a time and place for breaks to express breast milk. This type of legislation ensures women can continue to contribute to the economy and support their families, while having healthy pregnancies. However, these laws alone do not cover the minor adjustments that can be made with relative ease to ensure greater comfort and overall quality of life for expecting women.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which provides resources to employers on accommodating workers with disabilities, accommodation ideas include:
- Strategies to meet physical demands, such as lifting aids, temporary reassignment of duties, reserved parking, ergonomic chairs, reassignment to less physically demanding jobs, and alternative workstations.
- Schedule shifts, such as flexible arrival time; periodic rest, food, water and bathroom breaks; telecommuting; a less physically demanding shift; limited overtime; and flexible use of leave.
- Policy modifications, such as exceptions to a dress code as well as relaxed “no food or drink” and “no-sitting” policies.
Some accommodations are simple while others are more complex. The key is to handle each situation individually and creatively, maintaining open dialogue with the employee on how best to support her and help her do her best work—all the while keeping her health, well-being and ideal physical environment top of mind. Managers can support affected employees’ quality of life by educating themselves and providing common-sense accommodations.
Michael Norris is CEO of Hospitals, North America for Sodexo and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Mr. Norris is committed to developing the next generation of STEM leaders – both women and men – and helping to prepare all young people entering the workforce to be successful.