Remember when you were a kid and you would say something really mean to your mom? And then Mother’s Day would roll around and you would write one of those “thanks for putting up with me” mea culpa cards? Yeah? Well a whole heck of a lot of us are still waiting for cards from these folks*:
- All the companies that have fired, demoted, or refused to hire or accommodate pregnant workers and put their health at risk because they need more frequent bathroom breaks on the warehouse floor, or temporary lifting restrictions, or other simple pregnancy-related accommodations.
- And legislators like South Dakota State Rep. Wayne Steinhauer, who dismissively stated that if an employer refuses to provide a pregnant worker a simple accommodation so she can continue working safely, “It’s not prison. [She] can quit!”
But, really, cards won’t cut it. For members of Congress who claim solidarity with women and families, now is the time to lead—support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers who experience limitations in their ability to work due to pregnancy, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer—just like the ADA requires employers to do for disabilities.
This bill is urgently needed because it’s 2019, and too many pregnant workers are still being pushed onto unpaid leave or off the job entirely when they ask for simple accommodations at work—like a bottle of water at their work station, or a stool to sit on at a cash register—so they can continue to work safely and provide for their families. Being unnecessarily forced onto unpaid leave or even fired can be absolutely devastating to a pregnant worker and her family, who lose income at the very moment their financial needs are growing. And those who are most likely to need an accommodation, but most likely to be denied one, are workers in low-wage jobs who are least able to afford losing their income at this critical time.
The real kicker here is that employers are denying pregnant workers these accommodations EVEN THOUGH these employers provide them to other workers with similar limitations—like workers with disabilities or workers who have been injured on the job! But if you can’t lift that box because of your pregnancy…hmm hmm hmm. We aren’t accommodating you.
Red and blue state legislators are increasingly working to put an end to this deeply unfair and deeply harmful practice by passing state equivalents of the PWFA. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have enacted bills or Executive Orders requiring certain employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees at work. North Carolina and Kentucky are the most recent states to join the movement, with an Executive Order from the North Carolina Governor in December and a strong bipartisan bill passing Kentucky’s legislature in March. In just the last six years, 20 bills have passed—all with bipartisan support AND, in the majority of cases, with unanimous or near unanimous support. From South Carolina to New York, Kentucky to Illinois, West Virginia to Washington, state lawmakers are recognizing these are common-sense, common ground bills.
And businesses also get it: when South Carolina passed their PWFA last May, business voices heralded it as a “development that all workers and managers can cheer” because it provides clarity about workers’ rights and managers’ responsibilities.
This momentum is amazing—but where you happen to live in the U.S. shouldn’t determine whether you receive the accommodation you might need to continue working through your pregnancy. That is why we need the federal Pregnant Worker Fairness Act.
A pregnant worker should not be forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy.
*If this blog sounds familiar, that’s because it is. We asked Congress to support the PWFA when it was re-introduced around Mother’s Day back in 2017. While more and more states have passed state PWFAs since then, Congress still hasn’t acted… So here we are again, renewing our call for legislative action, not cards.