I Wish I Had Obamacare in 2013

If the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare” had been fully in effect in January 2013, things would have been much, much better for my family. This isn’t about politics; this is my reality.

I was laid off when I was 20 weeks pregnant in early 2013. This job was the source of my family’s health care. My options for coverage were grim. COBRA was not an option because it only applies to workplaces with more than 20 employees. The insurance run by the state for low income assessed a massive penalty because I would be giving birth in less than six months. Many individual plans failed to offer maternity care at all or if they did, pregnancy was treated as a pre-existing condition and I would pay a substantial amount on top of the elevated premium. Ultimately, my only choice was a conversion plan, which allowed me to continue the coverage I had with my employer for a certain amount of time. Despite a high premium, the benefits were trimmed substantially (e.g. no prescription coverage, dental, vision and a different deductible). There was some question if the conversion plan would treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. Thankfully, it did not.

Had the exchanges been open last year, the job loss would have been much less detrimental to my family. Losing my job would have still been as heartbreaking and frightening, but not as financially ruinous. Under Obamacare, all plans are required to cover maternity care. I couldn’t be charged extra for a pre-existing condition or because I am female. We could have afforded to pay for insurance for the entire family. Instead, we could only afford to pay for my coverage. Everyone else went without.

I wish I had Obamacare already.

Cities Step up to Protect Workers

State and federal laws leave many workers in the smallest of businesses unprotected from discrimination. Specifically, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act only applies to businesses with more than 15 employees. State laws vary widely. 14 states, plus D.C., cover businesses with more than 1 employee under their anti-discrimination laws. 14 states provide no more protection than federal laws. The remaining states fall somewhere in between.

However, many cities have taken a stronger policy stance against discrimination and have passed ordinances to protect even those workers in the smallest of businesses.

For example, Louisiana has the distinction of offering the least protection to workers of any state (and somehow less protection than the federal law). Louisiana’s discrimination laws do not apply to workers who work for businesses with less than 20 employees. Pregnancy discrimination laws only apply to businesses with more than 25 employees. However, New Orleans takes a different approach. Defining an employer as a business who employs more than 8 employees, New Orleans as a city, has determined workers need more protection from discrimination than the state and federal laws provide.

Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the nation, is another example of a city offering greater protection to workers. Although Arizona offers no more protection than federal laws, defining employer as a business with more than 15 employees, Phoenix’s anti-discrimination laws protect workers who work for businesses with less than 15 employees.

In addition to expanding the definition of employer to offer more protection, some cities go even further and provide more remedies to those discriminated against. Take Seattle for example. While Washington state anti-discrimination law applies only to those working in businesses with more than 8 employees, Seattle’s anti-discrimination laws apply to all businesses with more than one employee.

Not only that, Seattle’s ordinance provides a private cause of action in state court. This is important because in some cities, a discrimination claim is handled only within the city. An employee who files a discrimination complaint against her employer makes her case to the city. In Seattle, one option is to file a complaint to the Office of Human Rights. The Office investigates the claim and determines if there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred and if so, facilitates a remedy, which could include back pay and benefits.

Alternatively, an employee can choose to privately enforce the Seattle law by suing the employer in state court. This not only provides for more remedies, but also makes the case public record.

Thus, even if you work in a very small business in a state where you do not appear to be protected from anti-discrimination laws, your city’s laws may afford you a remedy.

Feminism is Not a Four Letter Word

Recently, a female marketing and business analyst for Beliefnet told the newly hired blogger Kristine Holmgren that she could not use the word “feminism” in the title of her blog because the word is offensive to Beliefnet’s readers.

Beliefnet describes itself as “the most comprehensive online resource for inspiration and spirituality. With a mission to help people find and walk a spiritual path that instills comfort, hope, strength and happiness for people who are exploring their own faith or are curious about others, Beliefnet is the leading source of information spiritual information presented without a defined editorial point-of-view. Whether you’re looking for spirituality, health and wellness, entertainment or more, Beliefnet has something for everyone.”

Except, of course, “feminists.” Why is this word offensive? The actual definition of feminist is people who believe in the theory of “the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” or those who participate in “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” As Suzi Parker recently wrote in the Washington Post: “Feminism is about the opportunity for a woman to choose whatever path in her life she wants, but, also to have the same rights as her male counterparts, whether in the boardroom or the bedroom. If men feel intimidated by this modernity, it’s their problem.” That concept is probably not offensive to most reasonable people.

However, some people may not be thinking of this actual definition when they hear the word “feminism” but instead may view it as the counterpoint to chauvinist or interpret it to mean something like a “Feminazi.” The unfortunate thing here is that banning the word because it is offensive simply perpetuates the misunderstanding of the term.

More unfortunate is that some people, intimidated by this modernity, and in positions of power, do not support the equality of the sexes. This is one reason why you can google the phrase “pregnant and fired” and find new stories each day about women getting fired after they announce their pregnancy or ask for simple accommodations. It explains why “maternal wall bias” pervades work culture and that even those in professional and highly educated fields can be viewed as dead weight or undedicated to their career simply because they choose to have a family.

Feminism shouldn’t be treated as a four letter word. Most people you know are probably feminists by its actual definition.

More on State Anti-Discrimination Laws

14 states, plus D.C., cover businesses with more than 1 employee under their anti-discrimination laws. 14 states provide no more protection than federal laws and Nebraska’s laws inexplicably only cover businesses with more than 20 employees. Louisiana offers the least protections of all–defining employer as businesses with more than 25 employees.

This leaves 20 states in the “middle,” with no obvious reasons for their numerical threshold. No states define employer as more than 7, 9, 10, 11, 13 or 14 employees.

2+ employees

3+ employees

4+ employees
New Mexico
New York
Rhode Island

5+ employees

6+ employees
New Hampshire

8+ employees

12+ employees
West Virginia

So, Washington state, you are in the numerical threshold company of Kentucky and Tennessee. Idaho and Wyoming offer more protection against discrimination.

State by State Discrimination Laws

If you work in a small business, particularly one with under 15 employees, you are not covered by federal anti-discrimination laws and you may not be covered by state anti-discrimination laws.

Check out the Resource page to see if you are covered in your workplace under your state’s laws.

Pregnant and Fired Resources

Here is a quick summary of state laws–it may surprise you which states provide the most protection to employees.

Most protection -Anti-Discrimination laws apply to businesses with more than 1 employee
New Jersey
North Dakota
South Dakota

Least protection – Anti-Discrimination laws apply to businesses with more than 15 employees
North Carolina
South Carolina

*Louisiana law applies to businesses with more than 25 employees.
** Nebraska law applies to businesses with more than 20 employees.

Another great resource is Wage Project

Making Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness Real for Every American

A number of things stood out in Obama’s inauguration speech, which seemed to be a call for action, a reminder that there is work to be done and that we take justice and freedom for granted at our peril and the future of our nation’s peril.

Most strikingly, Obama stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing…”

We may think we have certain rights earlier generations have fought for. However, this does not actually mean everyone is enjoying these rights–or that they even apply to us in our current situations. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. In 1978, Title VII was amended to include pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions as part of the definition of “sex.” In other words, this amendment, known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits employment discrimination based upon pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. However, this federal law only applies to businesses with more than 15 employees. States and cities may offer more protections in the form of a lower numerical threshold, but many do not. Not only is there a numerical threshold for protection, these rights also need to be effectively enforced and asserted.

Although these particular battles were waged in the 60s and 70s, the fight is not over. There is still more work to be done. Obama basically said as much in his inauguration speech: “Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”

We are simply not there yet. It is clearly still legal in many situations to discriminate. Not only is it legal, but it also appears to be professionally and socially acceptable. As Obama said: “That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.”