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Another try for the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Three Democratic and two Republican lawmakers have breathed new life into the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which they say would address legal ambiguities surrounding the rights of pregnant women in the workplace. The measure was previously introduced in both chambers of Congress in 2012 and 2013 but failed to make it out of committee. Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gave the legislation another try, introducing it once again on Thursday, June 4.

Closing gaps in protection. The Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS left pregnant employees’ workplace rights uncertain, the lawmakers observed. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would address legal ambiguities and help ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job. The proposal, closely modeled after the ADA, would require employers to make reasonable accommodations, such as a minor job modification, that would permit pregnant women to continue working and prevent them from being forced out on leave or out of their jobs. The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

The bill’s sponsors pointed out that 62 percent of pregnant women and new moms are in the labor force. Under current law, though, pregnant workers can be placed on unpaid leave or forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy. Young v. UPS recognized that pregnant workers may need temporary accommodations in the workplace, but placed what the lawmakers called “an undue burden on pregnant workers to prove that they were victims of discrimination.” By using a framework familiar to employers under the ADA, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it easier for employers to comply with the law, and easier for pregnant workers to request those minor modifications that will enable them to continue working, according to sponsors.

“Women should have every right to reasonable workplace accommodations as they provide for their families and contribute to the economy,” remarked Shaheen. “This bipartisan legislation will protect pregnant women from threats and retaliation as they seek the accommodations they deserve, and I’m excited for the new momentum we have for this legislation in the Senate.”

Ayotte added: “In New Hampshire, about 70 percent of women who gave birth in 2013 also worked during their pregnancies, and ensuring that pregnant workers are treated equally in the workplace is essential to working families and our economy. Our bipartisan legislation would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow pregnant workers to keep working, and prevent them from being forced out on leave or out of their jobs—helping ensure that no mother is forced to choose between the health of her baby and her job.”

Support. The legislation is supported by A Better Balance; the AFL-CIO; the American Association of University Women; the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; California Women’s Law Center; Equal Rights Advocates; Hadassah; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center; Legal Momentum; the Main Street Alliance; the National Partnership for Women & Families; the National Organization for Women Foundation; the National Women’s Law Center; and many others.