Educated women are of great value to the Utah work force, but the state is doing little to protect the rights of female workers when they get pregnant.
Attorney Ann Wise made this observation at State Industrial Commission hearings to determine how extensive is the problem of discrimination against pregnant women and obtain suggestions on how to eliminate the discrimination.Wise said Utah's fertility rate is the highest in the U.S., the number of Utah women in the work force is significant and Utah women have a good level of educational attainment.
"The statistics show these educated women are likely to become pregnant more often than their counterparts in other states. Therefore, the problem of discrimination against Utah women for pregnancy-related conditions is potentially greater than in the nation as a whole," Wise said.
Despite the facts about Utah, the Utah Anti-Discrimination Act, prompted by passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fails to address the issue of discrimination against pregnant women, Wise said.
She said Utah law should be amended to "clearly and definitively make pregnancy discrimination illegal in the state. Moreover, pregnancy should not be handled merely as any other disability, like a broken leg, as it is under current federal law."
In a written statement to the commission, Wise suggested changing the law so that employers are forced to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical limitations of a pregnant woman unless the employer can demonstrate the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.
She defined reasonable accommodation as making facilities readily accessible to and usable by pregnant women and job restrictions, part-time or modified work schedules, temporary light duty work schedule and other similar actions.
Also testifying was attorney Jo Carol Nesset-Sale who doubts the Legislature would pass a law mandating that employers take back women after they have their babies. She said the upbringing of the majority of legislators about women remaining in the home won't result in any legislation protecting pregnant women even though Utah is a family-oriented state.
Speaking about court decisions as they relate to reducing hazards to a fetus, Michael N. Martinez, former general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said the few cases that have been decided in this area specifically ruled in favor of protecting the unborn child.
Martinez said scientific evidence is necessary to establish that items being used in the workplace by pregnant women are harmful to a fetus. He said state officials should make certain that any protections imposed protect both sexes and they should look at having an alternative policy for having pregnant women do light work until they are able to resume their normal work.
A problem exists for small business, Martinez said, because they find it difficult to hold a job open.