For the holidays, Walmart is offering moms-to-be special deals on its selection of “work-to-wear” maternity fashions. For its pregnant workers, however, Walmart is offering a raw deal.
When working as a Walmart maintenance associate in Laurel, Maryland, during her pregnancy, Candice Riggins paid a heavy price when her cleaning duties started making her sick. According to a complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Walmart refused to accommodate her request for a new job assignment in order to protect her health, and eventually fired her for being too sick to work.
Riggins’s troubles began in March, ironically, just as Walmart announced reforms to its pregnancy policy. Amid pressure campaigns by rights advocates, which had charged that the company systematically discriminated against pregnant workers in granting temporary disability relief, the company expanded the policy to explicitly include accommodations for “temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy.” But Riggins’s experience suggests Walmart continues to alienate, not accommodate, its most vulnerable pregnant workers.
Riggins was about six months pregnant when, according to the complaint, she “started to feel nauseated by the harsh chemicals she used when cleaning the bathrooms.” After she raised the issue with a co-manager, she was given temporary work as a cashier, but only when the position was short-staffed. At other times, she was stuck cleaning bathrooms, and eventually, she landed in the emergency room. Doctors warned her against working because the toxins “could harm her fetus and herself.”
Over the next few weeks, Riggins made several formal requests to be transferred to cashier duties, but she claims she was passed over, while Walmart instead hired new workers for the position. Then, about thirty weeks into her pregnancy, waiting at the bus stop to get to work, she fell unconscious. The doctors again warned of the dangers of her job. But she worried about the dangers of losing the meager income her future family depended on. She tried to resume work the next day, but still felt ill and returned to the hospital.
Throughout the ordeal, Riggins later told ThinkProgress, “I was really afraid of losing my job. I would go in and try to push through it and put on this face, like I’m okay.”