Female medical workers feel maternity leave unfair
volume. 36 issue. 28 | May 07, 2003
Imagine being five months pregnant and asked to lift something beyond your body weight. Nursing assistant Sandra Mann knows this situation all too well. One of her duties in the nursing home she works for in San Diego, Calif., is lifting residents up in bed. Some of them weigh 250 pounds each while Mann weighs approximately 130 pounds.“I am starting to grow concerned for my baby every time I have to help lift a heavy person in bed (with a fellow worker) or take a resident to the restroom,” said Mann. “My doctor and I both agree I can do the work, but I’m still worried about injury. It’s only human to worry about things of that nature.” Helen Ines, a Honolulu nursing assistant, is currently six months pregnant and shares Mann’s concern. Ines searches for a partner to help her when she needs to do heavy lifting.
“I always ask my partner for help,” said Ines. “I’m not afraid to do the work, but I want to be safe.”
Ines said that being pregnant and working is not easy. The work takes a lot of energy out of you as well as other complications.
“I’m getting slower now,” acknowledged Ines. “I used to be fast at my work, but now it’s getting hard for me to move around. It’s easy for me to get tired and sometimes my baby kicks me when I do heavy lifting. And my stomach sometimes gets tight when I am doing hard work.”
Ines plans to work until she is unable to perform her duties. After that, she plans to go on temporary disability insurance (TDI) after her doctor’s approval.
While Mann and Ines cope with their current situations, Ines’ co-worker, Alma Bonilla, remembers the loss of what could have been her third child.
She had a miscarriage when she was two months pregnant, possibly because of heavy lifting.
“I was asked to help a co-worker lift up in bed a heavy resident (approximately 250 pounds) who needed to be lifted up,” she said. “When we lifted him up, I felt something unusual (in my stomach area). I immediately went to the restroom and saw a lot of blood.”
Bonilla said she went home and cleaned up after the incident. She then went to a local hospital where she found out bad news about her pregnancy.
“In the emergency room, the medical staff did tests (on me) and found out I lost the baby,” said Bonilla. “I’m not sure if the lifting caused the miscarriage or if it was just God’s will. Maybe it was just not meant to be.”
Donna Sampaio, union business representative for Local Five and Ines and Bonillas’ representative, explained how doctors play a valuable role in the woman’s ability to collect TDI.
“The doctor is the key to it all,” said Sampaio. “It is up to the doctor to decide what limits are put on the person and what date they can work up to when pregnant. After that, TDI can kick in after a seven day waiting period.”
Sampaio said that according to state law, a pregnant woman has six weeks of TDI entitled to her after she gives birth. Anytime before pregnancy or after the six week period has to be approved by the employee’s doctor.
If employers do not abide by the law, they can be held liable.
Sampaio also said that pregnant woman usually will use her sick leave before they use TDI because TDI only pays out 58 percent of a person’s average paycheck.
Sampaio feels the fact that woman are granted only six weeks for pregnancy is unfair, since other types of injuries may entitle you up to 26 weeks of TDI.
And what about TDI for the men who are the fathers of the children being born? Is their any TDI granted to them?
“No, not unless they are having some kind of anxiety attack,” Sampaio said. “Then he (the man) might get something. TDI is designed for people who have some type of medical situation.”
Sampaio said that a man could use the nationwide family medical leave act that provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protection. She said that men generally would use vacation time to cover times when a father wants to spend with his new child and spouse or girlfriend.