The news abounds that England is expecting a new member to the royal family, and that the Duchess of Cambridge was recently hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum, a brutal form of excessive nausea related to pregnancy that can often require medication, IV fluids and nutritional supplement to combat. As royalty, Kate will get the best of care. For everyday women, however, even standard symptoms, never mind complications, aren’t treated with nearly as much deference, especially not if you are a woman in the workplace.
Bathroom breaks for pregnant women are a privilege, not a right.
So claims National Processing of America, a call center being sued for unlawful termination after firing a pregnant employee, whom they believed took too many trips away from her desk to either vomit or just urinate. Their solution to her needing to run to the lavatory to be sick? She was provided with her own wastebasket to keep at her desk. So, besides being expected to vomit in front of her coworkers, apparently she and they were all expected to cope with the post-puke smell as well.
Nausea and the need to frequently urinate are pretty common when pregnant, and the employee had a high risk pregnancy as well. The company, however, was less than sympathetic.
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On another occasion, defendant’s manager told plaintiff that defendant did not ‘pay [her] to pee,’ objecting to plaintiff’s necessity to use the bathroom when plaintiff experienced nausea or dizziness due to her pregnancy conditions. Defendant’s manager claimed to plaintiff it was not ‘fair to other employees’ for plaintiff to take excessive bathroom breaks. When plaintiff complained about being told that defendant did not ‘pay [her] to pee,’ defendant characterized plaintiff’s need to take bathroom breaks due to the conditions of her pregnancy as being ‘constantly out of her desk.
Few women have the ability to take leave from work when pregnancy becomes debilitating. But as long as companies are hostile to even the most basic needs of pregnant women, we can not achieve equality in the workplace. Morning sickness in some form is common. Frequent urination occurs in every pregnancy.
Women are in the workforce. Women get pregnant. Companies simply have to find a way to cope.