Today the West Virginia legislature took an important step forward in ensuring that no pregnant woman in that state is forced to make an untenable choice between keeping her job and protecting the health of her pregnancy. The state’s House of Delegates unanimously passed the West Virginia Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA). This is the latest in a string of state and local unanimous and near unanimous votes in support of strengthening protections against pregnancy discrimination – including in New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia.
Although many women can work throughout their pregnancies without any changes in their job, some women find at some point during a pregnancy that their job activities begin to pose a challenge – especially in physically demanding low-wage jobs and jobs that are traditionally held by men. Many of these women could continue to work without risk to themselves or their pregnancies with slight job modifications. However, too often their employers deny pregnant workers’ requests for simple accommodations like a stool that would allow a pregnant cashier to sit instead of stand, or an exception from a rule against drinking water while working – which can have disastrous consequences for the woman, her pregnancy, and her family.
The West Virginia Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act addresses this problem by making it unmistakably clear that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers’ limitations that arise from pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions unless this would create an undue hardship for the employer – just as they must already do for workers who have temporary disabilities.
Physical limitations that can be reasonably accommodated shouldn’t force anyone out of work. The unanimous, bipartisan vote in support of this critical bill by the West Virginia House of Delegates demonstrates the great potential for common ground when this common sense principle is at stake.
The West Virginia House also wisely voted down two amendments to the bill offered by an anti-choice delegate – one that would have defined “person” to include any fetus carried by a pregnant worker (with the odd result that a fetus would have its own right to file a charge of discrimination) and one that would have required accommodations for limitations arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions “including the health of the unborn child.” As one self-identified pro-life delegate pointed out in arguing against the latter amendment, in this context it makes no sense to suggest that there is a distinction between protecting the health of a pregnant worker and that of her fetus. Ensuring that a pregnant woman can get the reasonable accommodations that she needs in order to continue to work in a manner that is safe for her pregnancy in accordance with her health care provider’s advice is exactly what the West Virginia PWFA is all about.
The PWFA will now move on for a vote in the West Virginia Senate. We hope that the Senate will move quickly to pass this bill so that families in the state can rest assured that when a woman becomes pregnant she will not be forced to choose between her health and her livelihood.