Bill prohibiting pregnancy tests could hurt women’s job chances

The battle for women’s rights is a worldwide struggle, and Latin American’s with their machismo cultures have not been exempt. Women have been penalized for many things, including their role in the reproductive process.

Women in Honduras sweatshops, for example, were not only working in poor conditions but were given pre-employment pregnancy tests and another two months after employment, according to an article by Jennifer Swedish in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights. A positive test would subject her to an immediate firing.

In previous years women were required to be sterilized and given birth control injections disguised as tetanus shots or oral contraceptive pills disguised as malaria medications, the article said. In worst case scenarios, women were given injections that caused abortions.

Although reports in Costa Rica are not this extreme, the country is still in a controversy of allowing pregnancy tests. An employer is not prohibited from requiring an employee or prospective employee to take a pregnancy test.

The idea was debated in a conference by the International Labor Organization. Officials maintained that there are two reasons women are subjected to pregnancy tests. The first is because the job the applicant is seeking is dangerous for the health of a baby, and a pregnant worker would not be able to properly carry out the duties asked of her.

“Many workplaces require potential employees to have a medical examination prior to being permanently appointed,” said an Australian representative. “That medical examination may include a pregnancy test to enable accurate interpretation of the test results. Where the test is taken with the employee’s informed consent and done for bona fide purposes, it would be unnecessary to penalize the employer.”

It is for this same reason the United States federal government permits employers to use pregnancy tests.

The other reason, which is more common and discriminatory, is because the employer does not want to have to pay for time off due to maternity leave, officials said.

In Costa Rica, maternity leave is one month before the birth and four months after. Employers must pay 50 percent of the new mother’s salary and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro
Social pays the other half, according to the labor law.

Many observers acknowledged that making it illegal to give pregnancy tests would lead to the hiring of men over women.

“Requiring a test may lead to discrimination against women,” said a representative from Finland at the conference. “It also violates the privacy of women. It is important to ensure that potential mothers are not discriminated against in recruitment situations.

Despite this, the Comisión de la Mujer sent a new bill to the full legislature Oct. 23. The measure would revise the labor law and add a sub-letter J to prohibit pregnancy testing for women to start or keep a job.

The measure, No. 17.872, would also require an employer to continue paying a pregnant woman who was dismissed from her job during an investigation by the Dirección Nacional y la
Inspección General de Trabajo until it was ruled that the firing was lawful under the misconduct clause.

If the dismissal was unlawful, the woman would be notified and reinstated within 24 hours. In current law it is illegal to fire a woman because she is pregnant, but the former employee is not paid during the investigation process.

The final amendment would change a women’s nursing option from 15 minutes every three hours or 30 minutes twice a day to one hour before a woman starts work, letting her start late, or one hour before the workday ends.

This deal is good for three months but could be extended for one year with a doctor’s note.

“The commission has been working to strengthen the rights of women, in the case of pregnant women,” said Pilar Porras, president of the Comisión de la Mujer, in a release. “All the changes that we made to the labor code were consulted by Ministerio de Trabajo, the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social and the Ministerio de Hacienda, and we expect its prompt approval by congress.”

In a Sept. 18 draft, it was proposed by the women’s commission an entitlement of 10 paternity leave days for father’s who lived in the household and a special doctor’s license that gave mother’s eight months off for children born with disabilities.

However, the chairperson noted that they would have to conduct a research to see if the additions were cost effective.
These items did not make it into the final bill.

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