New legislation aims at ensuring employers make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). This bill requires private sector employers with more than 15 employees to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees, job applicants, and individuals with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
Much like the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are not required to make an accommodation if it imposes an undue hardship on the business. However, pregnant workers and individuals with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions cannot be denied employment opportunities, retaliated against for requesting a reasonable accommodation, or forced to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation is available. Under the PWFA, workers who are denied a reasonable accommodation will have the same rights and remedies as those established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These include lost pay, compensatory damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
According to a brief from the House Committee on Education & Labor, this legislation is essential, as 88% of first-time mothers work during their last trimester, and 62% of workers say they have witnessed pregnancy discrimination on the job. The brief states, “In many instances, physicians recommend that pregnant workers avoid or limit certain risks in the workplace, including exposure to certain toxic substances, heavy lifting, overnight work, extended hours, or prolonged periods of sitting or standing.” The brief concludes that workers are forced to endure these risks because they lack access to reasonable accommodations and that this is most often the case for black and Latina workers.
Lack of accommodations for pregnant workers has been a nationwide problem. A 2018 New York Times investigation exposed many instances where workers suffered miscarriages, experienced premature labor, or even delivered a stillborn baby after their employers rejected their requests for assistance or support. Often, the investigators noted, these refusals to accommodate pregnant women were legal.
“This bill is long overdue. I introduced the PWFA because our current laws are forcing pregnant workers to make impossible choices between staying in an unsafe job or being forced out on leave or fired. It doesn’t have to be that complicated; and by moving the legislation forward…, we can finally ensure that no one has to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
Education and Labor Committee Chair Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) observed, “Research demonstrates that pregnant workers need access to reasonable workplace accommodations to protect their health and the health of their babies. These simple accommodations — which can include water, seating, and relief from heavy lifting – do not need to be, nor are they typically, complex or costly.”