Sick Benefits for Pregnant Women

Thousands of women will be able to claim sick pay due to problems that sometimes come in the late stages of pregnancy.

This is the result of a landmark ruling in Stockholm District Court on Tuesday, where the judge decided the national health insurance agency had discriminated against pregnant women.

The pain in her pelvis was so strong that she could not walk properly. Her doctor advised her to stay home and not go to work. But the national health insurance agency said it would not pay for her sick leave.

Why? Because she was pregnant. And pregnancy is not an illness, it is part of the normal life cycle, the health insurance agency told the woman. And when she protested, they told her "It was your choice to become pregnant".

Now four women - one bus driver, one nurse, one nursery teacher and one health and safety inspector - have won 7,000 US dollars each in damages, because the court ruled that health insurance agency had discriminated against the women.

Kristin Jonsson is one of them.

"It feels great to finally be believed," she says "because at the time I felt like I was distrusted, I felt like a little cheat when letter after letter came from the insurance agency and they did not believe that I was sufficiently ill. But now we have been believed and it feels very very good."

Three years have passed since Kristin Jonsson and the other three women first tried to get the sick pay. They appealed against the decision and were given the money that should have had from the start.

Tuesday's court ruling comes on top of that, and it is a result of efforts by the Ombudsman against Discrimination.

The Ombudsman claims that the National Health Insurance Agency routinely rejects sick pay applications from pregnant women - and that it is discriminatory: if a person who was not pregnant had the same or comparable symptoms, he or she would have been treated differently and would have received sick pay.

And when it came to the crunch in the court, the national health insurance people failed to prove that when they acted the way they did, it had nothing to do with the fact that the women were pregnant.

According to the court ruling, it is the degree of a person's pain and trouble that should be relevant for the insurance agency's decision, not the reason for the pain.

The Court also says that the agency ought to abide by the anti-discrimination laws by a "comfortable margin".

It is not yet clear if the national insurance agency will appeal the decision, but the Minister for Social Security, Cristina Husmark Persson does not seem to think this is a very good idea:

"I will have a meeting with the board of the national insurance agency next week. The question of discrimination and how clients are treated, is high on my list of priorities to discuss at the meeting, Husmark Persson says.

The court ruling, she says, shows that the law that do work, that women do have the right to sick pay and that there have been discrimination against these women.

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