I was grumbling to myself as I leaned on one foot then another while waiting at the bus stop. The buses are always late when you are feeling particularly tired, I thought to myself. I was hoping I could find a seat, as there usually is at this time of day. Behind me, also looking hopefully down the road, was a young woman not far from giving birth. A bit tough having to wait so long for the bus for someone in her state, I thought. Along came my bus, 30 minutes late and almost full, but I thought I would still probably get a seat. I did and I was just getting comfortable for the 20-minute ride when I noticed the woman who was just about to give birth hadn’t gotten a seat and was clinging to the handrail as the bus took off sharply. Being a gentleman, even though not that young, I beckoned the woman over and gave her my seat.
Sounds out of the ordinary? Of course not. What this man did happens every day hundreds of times a day in this city, but that simple act of respect for pregnant women has so far not been extended when they get to work. Up to now, there have not been any concessions for women who are pregnant in the workplace. That’s all about to change at last as very soon they are to be treated with the same preferential treatment as people with disabilities.
On the May 5, the legislature in New York State amended the state’s human rights law to order accommodation for any employee with a disability. Even though pregnancy is not a disability as such, for this new law it is to be considered a temporary disability. For anyone who fits into this category, an employer is expected to provide such conveniences as suitable seating, a limitation on lifting of heavy objects, more time to go to the bathroom and not taking part in any dangerous maneuvers on the job. Recovering from child birth is included too. This initiative is all down to an initiative of New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, under his Women’s Equality Act, which is soon to become law.
The way pregnant women have been treated under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 has not been sufficient in protecting them from being discriminated against while at work. Over the last few years there has been a considerable rise in the number of pregnant women staying at work up to the date that their baby is due. Now they will be able to continue working until they choose to stop and they will not be shackled with the previous options, which included taking unpaid leave, losing their job altogether or doing duties that could compromise their pregnancy.
This change in legislation is long overdue in New York State and it will now be added to the list of 15 states and a number of cities, including New York City, in offering pregnant women some accommodation while fulfilling the dual roles of work and pregnancy.