No, Employers Do Not Have an Obligation to Accommodate Pregnant Women

“Schools and employers have an obligation to accommodate pregnant women,” says Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner.

Carney is the senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “where he works on economic competition, cronyism, civil society, localism, and religion in America.”

He believes that “special accommodations often irk both the Left and Right”: “They irk conservatives or libertarians who hold steadfastly to the idea of self-reliance and ‘equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.’ But there’s also an unease on the Left with the notion of stating, in effect, that some circumstances or qualities are more deserving of an accommodation than others.”

Carney praises the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act recently introduced by Iowa Republican representative Ashley Hinson. “Hinson is right,” says Carney. “Colleges, like employers, ought to accommodate pregnant women and new mothers (and fathers).”

I have read and enjoyed many of Carney’s articles over the years, but I must strongly object to the idea that employers should have an obligation to accommodate pregnant women.

Whether colleges should have to grant special accommodations to pregnant students depends on whether they are public or private. And even if they are private, they are usually always in bed with the federal government due to Pell grants, student loans, and research grants. But the idea that private employers should be obligated to accommodate pregnant women, new mothers, new fathers, or anyone else is anathema to a free society.

Because of his praise of the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act, which would not make compliance voluntary, I believe I am correct in concluding that Carney would have no problem at all with government forcing private employers to grant these accommodations.

In a free society, private entities—not just employers, but clubs, organizations, and associations—could not only decide to not grant special accommodations to pregnant women, they could discriminate against pregnant women any way they chose to, including firing them or refusing to associate with them. Just like they could choose to not offer accommodations for facial hair, tattoos, piercings, or head coverings. They could also choose to not offer paid or even unpaid maternity leave or family leave. Just like they could choose to not offer sick leave, paid vacation, or bonuses.

Would a business that refused to grant any accommodations to its employees have trouble retaining people? Certainly. Would a business that discriminated against pregnant women be looked at kindly? Of course not. Would a business that did not offer maternity or family leave lose out on qualified female employees? I believe so.

But in a free society, these things must be allowed to take place and let the free market sort things out.

Where does it all end? If employers should have an obligation enforced by government to accommodate pregnant women, then no logical or reasonable argument can be made against employers having obligations enforced by government to accommodate anything else.

We must keep government out of the private sector, not burden it with more regulations, even “good” ones.