Pregnancy: Don't discriminate
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Family friendliness should be the key to success for most companies, but pregnancy discrimination remains the modus operandi at too many companies.
It's been illegal to discriminate against pregnant women since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act became law in 1978. The federal law says women who are pregnant are entitled to the same short-term disability benefits as any other employees. In other words, if a company allows an employee to take off six weeks of paid leave to recuperate from a heart attack, it must offer a new mom six weeks of paid leave following childbirth.
The law has been around for 25 years, but not long enough to root out the problem. In 1992, 3,385 pregnancy discrimination claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that prosecutes discrimination cases. Ten years later, that figure jumped nearly 40 percent to 4,714.
We have trouble understanding why even one case would have to be filed. In an age when more than half of new moms are working and successful companies understand there is a bottom line benefit to supporting families, why would a company demote or refuse to promote a woman who is pregnant?
We don't know. But they do.
That means women need to know their rights, preferably before getting pregnant. Because it's best to prevent a problem. Ask about your employer's short-term disability policy-what benefits would you be entitled to if you broke a leg? How much time would you be allowed to take off with pay? Would your job be waiting when you return? Ask co-workers what benefits they got during pregnancy leave. And take notes of any conversation with a supervisor. A paper trail is always important to prevent problems.
Melissa Josephs, senior policy associate at Women Employed, a Chicago-based advocacy group for working women, gets calls from pregnant women on the organization's Job Problems Hotline. Women want to know whether they should tell a prospective employer they are pregnant. The short answer is no, Josephs says.
They want to know how to counter an employer's attempts to treat them differently once they reveal they are pregnant. Answer: If you can still do the job, the company has no right to transfer, demote or otherwise change your job.
If you can't stop the discrimination before it happens and you believe you are being treated unfairly, you have a number of legal options.
If the discrimination occurs in Chicago, call the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, (312) 744-4111. In Cook County, call the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, (312) 603-1101.
If it occurs at an Illinois company with 15 or more employees, call the Illinois Department of Human Rights, (312) 814-6200 or the Chicago office of the EEOC, (312) 353-2713.
If the company is found guilty of discrimination, the pregnant woman can be entitled to job reinstatement, back pay and other relief.
For more specific advice, call Women Employed's Job Problems Hotline between 10 a.m. and noon on Fridays, (312) 782-3902.
Fix sex offenders registry now Bravo to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and her work to put more teeth into the state's sex offender registry program.
Generally, we consider ourselves to be staunch supporters of the American Civil Liberties Union, defending the Bill of Rights to the last.
But when we're talking about people who sexually abuse children, we find it difficult to argue they deserve a right to privacy.
According to Madigan, there are some 15,000 registered sex offenders living in Illinois communities. Two-thirds are not under any form of supervision, yet the U.S. Justice Department reports that 103,600 children were sexually abused in 1998-more than 1 in 1,000.
We parents cannot protect our children if we don't know who to protect them from. The state's Web site, www.isp.state.il.us/sor/frames.htm, allows visitors to search for registered sex offenders by name, city, county or ZIP code. Click for a description and sometimes even a photo of the offender.
But the site could do so much more. It could give us details about the crime, ensure there is a photo of every sex offender and tell us if there are convicts who have failed to comply with registration requirements. Those are just some of the issues to be tackled by Madigan's newly formed Illinois Sex Offender Registry Team.
It's a great idea and has the support of law enforcement around the state. We're expecting great things from this task force. The goal-safeguarding our children from the monsters who prey on them-is too important for them to fail.