What If Pregnancy Came With a Pink Slip?
Critics Say Law Againat Firing Expectant Moms Makes Job Market Tougher for Women
By JOHN STOSSEL and RUTH CHENETZ
May 5, 2009
Carrie Lukas, like many working moms, has had to deal with being pregnant at work. Lukas, a vice president at the Independent Women's Forum, often writes and speaks out about social issues. This past summer, Lukas became pregnant with her third child.
"This will be my third maternity leave in four years, and it does mean that I have to take time off," said Lukas.
Pregnancy leave is an ingrained feature of the American workplace, ensuring that women won't face termination for starting families. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act says it is illegal to fire, or not hire, a woman because she is pregnant.
But moms like Lukas say the law has unintended consequences.
"If my employer decides they no longer want me as an employee, then it should be their right to fire me," said Lukas. "I understand the desire for people to have the government step in and try to protect women, but there's real costs to government intervention."
These costs are rarely talked about publicly. But it is just a fact that some employers avoid hiring people who fall into special, Congress-protected groups. After the Americans With Disabilities Act became law, it was assumed many more disabled people would enter the workplace, but a study by MIT economists found that employment actually "dropped sharply."
Most people agree with that, but not everyone. Lukas said laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act may actually create problems for women.
"Sometimes the laws that are intended to help women like me actually end up hurting women like me. All of a sudden, a potential employer is looking at me and thinking, she just might turn around and sue us. That makes it less likely that I'm going to get hired," said Lukas.
And let's face it, she said, pregnant women can be costly for an employer.
"A lot of responsibilities are shifted each time I go to a doctor's appointment. That means I'm unavailable to do whatever work needs to be done during that time, which means one of my colleagues is often picking up the slack. It's an economic reality that there are costs for businesses for having pregnant women as employees," said Lukas.
Lukas said laws that deny that economic reality don't help working women.
Sanford doesn't deny that there may be costs involved with employing pregnant workers, but that doesn't give companies the right to not hire or fire a woman because she may become costly, he said.