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Protection During Pregnancy

Work and pregnancy.

Reducing the Risks

Mozurkewich believes that pregnant women in physically demanding jobs should ask to be switched to "light duty" work after the first trimester, but she knows that's not always realistic. "The problem is that these women can't afford not to work, and their employers can't honor their requests for a lighter load without losing money," she says.

Cindia Cameron, who supervises the hot-line staff for 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women in Atlanta, Ga., gets a lot of calls asking about light duty. "The news isn't good," she says. "You'd think that since light duty is offered to people with bad backs and broken legs, it would also be offered to pregnant women. But it isn't." A Texas federal court recently upheld Continental Airlines' decision to restrict light-duty privileges to people with work-related injuries, Cameron says. Pregnant flight attendants and baggage handlers have to keep slinging suitcases or take unpaid maternity leave.

In the final analysis, the decision to work during pregnancy is yours. You can't hold an employer liable for medical problems that develop -- even when your doctor has advised you to quit work or change the kind of work you do during a problem pregnancy, Mozurkewich says. Worker's compensation covers clear-cut on-the-job injuries, but the issue becomes murkier with pregnancy complications, which cannot be linked to a specific work incident. Such claims are usually contested and may become caught up in court appeal after court appeal.

Instead of threatening legal action, negotiate for fair treatment clearly and respectfully and you may well get some kind of concession, Cameron says. There's also strength in numbers: Talk to other people in your company to find out who shares your concerns and will support your grievance.

If you can't get light duty, try to take days off as you need them, Mozurkewich says. A 1989 French study of female factory workers showed that those who took sick days periodically during their third trimesters had lower preterm birth rates than those who worked without breaks.

Protection During Pregnancy

Unfortunately, there aren't enough laws that protect working women during pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 requires companies employing 15 people or more to treat pregnancy just like any other disability and to cover it under short-term disability plans. But most companies don't offer short-term disability insurance anyway, Cameron says. She recommends that women investigate their company's policies before asking for assistance. "Then document any experience you've had with light-duty jobs and make a case that you are valuable to the company."

Some companies do offer disability leave, and Social Security also offers disability insurance to women with problem pregnancies. You may be eligible if your doctor determines that your pregnancy is particularly difficult or if medical conditions you had before are exacerbated by your pregnancy. Ask your doctor for a letter documenting your case to take to your company's human resources department or to the local Social Security Administration office.

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