Not Cool Walmart

As the nation’s largest retailer, second-largest corporation, and largest private employed (with 1.3 million workers), Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (Walmart) made headlines this past year at an unprecedented rate. And, all too often, those headlines revolved around Walmart’s infamously rampant questionable employment practices. According to Workplace Fairness, stories persist about Walmart’s wage law violations, inadequate health care, exploitation of workers, and the retailer’s anti-union stance. Altogether, some 5,000 lawsuits are filed against Wal-Mart each year, or roughly 17 suits per working day.

Walmart has recently updated its worker accommodation policy to explicitly make women eligible for reasonable accommodations for any female employee who experiences temporary disability caused by pregnancy. Ms. Magazine notes that this major policy update was a response to a class action lawsuit filed by A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center. Although it finally puts Walmart in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, many advocates argue that the new policy might still allow discrimination against pregnant workers. While the policy change is a step in the right direction, it is not inclusive of women who may not have a disabling pregnancy-related injury, but still need reasonable accommodation in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, expresses, “While we are enthusiastic about this policy change, it does not go far enough…Over and over again, Walmart has failed to accommodate pregnant workers.” This is a huge problem. Imagine a pregnant woman working long hours, climbing tall ladders, and going most of the workday without drinking enough water. It is no secret that Walmart’s workplace practices are beyond questionable—this is an aspect of their employee mistreatment that needs to be addressed.

Earlier this year, a complaint was filed against the superstore that suspected Walmart of maintaining a nationwide policy and practice that discriminates against pregnant women. The root of the complaint revolved around a seven-months pregnant Walmart sales associate who had been forced to take unpaid leave. The associate explains: “Three months before my baby was born, Walmart forced me out the door.” She said, “I was doing my job as a sales associate just as I had been for months, but suddenly I lost the paycheck that my family was counting on…simply because I was pregnant.”

This issue brings attention to a universal and growing problem in the world, particularly the United States. Complaints about discrimination against pregnant women in the U.S. has increased by 71% from 1992-2011. In 2010-2012 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received approximately 12,000 of related complaints.

Question: If it’s against the law to fire an employee for being pregnant, then why are women being forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancy, or worse, being fired for requested accommodations requested by physicians? Two words: not cool.

The version of feminism that I choose to stand behind pledges and fights for equality. This persistent discrimination against pregnant workers is, quite frankly, bullshit. I’m calling you out, Walmart.

Thankfully, more steps are being taken to battle this abhorrent discrimination. In May 2013, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Among other things, the act would prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant employee to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation. Find out more about how you can get involved here: 

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Help stop this debauchery before it becomes more widespread than it already is. 

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