Could You be Put on Unpaid Leave for Being Pregnant? 26627

When you first find out you're pregnant, you're absolutely elated. Then you start to think, How am I—or we—going to afford a baby?! Well, it's a million times worse when you're counting on a paycheck and suddenly you don't have one.

That's what happened to Floralba Fernandez Espinal. She had worked hard for two years at Unique Thrift in the Bronx, carrying heavy piles of coats, jeans, dresses and shirts from the storeroom to the showroom to be sold. It was not an easy job, but one the 22-year-old was happy to have, especially since she was three months pregnant.

She had suffered a miscarriage last year, so Floralba was understandably worried that having such a physically-demanding job might be putting her baby at risk. According to the New York Times, she had seen other pregnant workers be temporarily transferred to other positions, like working the cash register or tagging clothes, so when she told her boss she was pregnant, she asked if she could do the same. Her boss' warm and fuzzy response? "Bring in a doctor's note."

Days later, she handed her supervisor a note from her doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, which clearly stated: "No lifting, pushing or carrying heavy objects or loads." But instead of moving her to a less-strenuous job, her manager told her to get to work as if it was business as usual. Out of fear of losing her job, when she needed it most, Floralba did as she was told.

Three hours later, her manager told her to gather her things and go home. She was being put on unpaid leave. Thinking on her feet, she decided to record the conversation on her cell phone so she could take it back to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union she's a member of for help. There seemed to be little they could do—until a new law, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, went into effect in New York City last week. The law requires companies to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees—like providing a stool for a pregnant cashier, or allowing frequent bathroom breaks.

Once the law went into effect, Floralba's attorneys sent Unique Thrift a letter demanding her job back with back pay and allowing her to be assigned to a temporary position that complies with doctor's orders. A meeting is set to take place this week. Fingers crossed all goes well for Floralba. The last thing a pregnant woman needs is to have to worry about being out of work—mamas-to-be have enough to worry about!

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Image of pregnant woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.