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Wal-Mart updates policy to accommodate pregnant workers

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Wal-Mart Stores tweaked its pregnancy policy in March following a proposed shareholder resolution and separate Jan. 11 charge filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a woman who claimed she was not offered accommodations (lighter duty options) during her pregnancy. 

“Over the past several months, we looked at what other assistance we could provide to our pregnant associates. As a result, we enhanced our policy because we believed it was the right thing to do for them,” said Randy Hargrove, corporate spokesman.

Hargrove said Wal-Mart’s policy already provided managers across its network the authority to make accommodations for any pregnant employee, such as carrying a water bottle or providing a stool as needed which complied with federal law. He said the new revision now allows for additional accommodations for all pregnant workers.

“This includes, but isn’t limited to moving an associate to another job so she can continue working. For example, if a pregnant associate were an overnight stocker and was restricted from lifting, we can move her into another vacant position where the duties of the job meet her restrictions,” he said.

Hargrove said allowing the new accommodations could help some pregnant women continue working, when in the past they may have had to take an early leave of absence. 

A group known as A Better Balance said they had been asking Wal-Mart to change this policy since January 2013, when they wrote a letter arguing the retailer’s employment policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Wal-Mart disagreed saying its policy was “perfectly legal” and now with the revision, “goes beyond the law.”

Another group of Walmart associates recently filed a resolution for shareholder proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission asking for broader accommodations for all pregnant Wal-Mart workers. Hargrove said the shareholder proposal was looked at before the company made this recent revision expanding the accommodations, and is now moot because of the recent revisions.

The EEOC charge filed Jan. 11 is still active, according to Liz Watson, senior counsel of the National Women’s Law Center. Watson told The City Wire that Wal-Mart’s recent revision to its employment policy is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough because the language used is ambiguous.

“The revised policy only provides accommodation for temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy, and it’s unclear whether it applies to healthy, pregnant workers," Watson said.

 Wal-Mart reiterated that the accommodations it’s willing to make are for all pregnant employees.

Watson’s group is among those involved in the recent EEOC pattern and practice charge against Wal-Mart. She said the company has a history of denying accommodations at the store level. It is important that the corporation make this new policy clear from the top down, she said.

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“As the nation’s largest employer their practices affect huge numbers of women. This issue of pregnancy discrimination has become all too common in the workplace. We see it in retail, hospitals, restaurants and the postal service,” Watson said.

Complaints of pregnancy discrimination are prevalent. The EEOC notes that it receives about 1,000 calls per year on work and family issues alone, according to Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney for the EEOC.

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