Shawn Fremstad

Should Working Women Have to Get Permission From Their Employers Before Getting Pregnant?

Note: This commentary originally appeared on Inclusion's blog.

AP reports that the Ohio Civil Rights Commission might extend basic pregnancy leave protections to all new moms, not just those who work for business with more than 50 employers:

… the Ohio Civil Rights Commission [is] propos[ing] changes that would strengthen the state's 30-year-old pregnancy discrimination law by guaranteeing all working mothers at least 12 weeks of post-childbirth leave without fear of losing their jobs. Small businesses, however, panned the proposal at a recent hearing, viewing it as an attack on employers with fewer economic resources.


The federal law mandates companies with at least 50 employees to allow new mothers who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The proposed state law would require employers with at least four workers to offer the same 12 weeks of unpaid leave regardless of how long a woman has worked for a company.


The FMLA and the existing state law, which requires companies to give women a "reasonable period of time" off work to care for their newborn, es tablished a good basis for the rights of pregnant employees, but the changes would reflect that pregnancies cannot always be planned around what is most convenient for an employer, said Toni Delgado, spokeswoman for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

"No woman should have to fear for her job, especially when she's facing a drastic financial burden of having a child," she said.


The response from conservative interest groups is predictable. According to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, pregnancy leave shouldn't be a basic employment protection for all new moms. Note how the conservative Chamber frames this as a protection that would "reduce flexibility", which essentially means it would reduce the flexibilty of employers to decide if and when women can get pregant (if they want to keep their jobs that is):

But small businesses especially those staffed by primarily female employees, such as nursing homes or day care centers would be disproportionately hurt by the new law, said Tony Fiore, director of labor and human resources policy for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

"Smaller employers are just not as equipped to absorb the cost that it takes for a person to leave for 12 weeks," he said. "The last thing we need to do is reduce flexibility and increase costs during the hard economic downturn that Ohio is in."

Yes, and some businesses aren't competitive enough to pay the minimum wage or meet basic workplace health and safety standards. And some business could stay afloat if they were allowed to force low-wage workers to work 60 or 70 hours a week without overtime, or if they could employ children as laborers. But we allowed businesses to ignore these protections if they "couldn't absorb the cost" we be giving those less efficient employers a subsidy, and saying that there is no real bottom line for how to treat workers.