Yesterday, Elizabeth Johnston from the National Women’s Law Center testified before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in support of adequate funding to implement the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which was enacted last year. The new law ensures that pregnant workers in D.C. may no longer be forced to choose between their health and their jobs. It does so by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers who need them to continue safely working during pregnancy, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. However, the promise of this law can only be fully realized with sufficient funding for public education, outreach and enforcement.
While the vast majority of women can work throughout their pregnancies without needing any adjustments to their work rules or job duties, at some point during pregnancy some workers may have a need for temporary adjustments to their job duties that will allow them to continue working safely and supporting their growing families. The new law ensures that employers provide the same rights and reasonable accommodations for pregnant women as are available to workers with temporary disabilities or injuries.
Adequate funding is crucial to the effective implementation of the law. In particular, funding is needed for the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) to issue regulations and user-friendly guidance on the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act; train investigators to investigate violations and enforce the law; and engage in a public awareness campaign to ensure that employees are aware of their rights and that employers are aware of their obligations to pregnant employees. The experience of advocates in California where a similar law has been on the books for more than a decade is that employers who are reluctant to accommodate pregnant workers will come around very quickly, once made aware of their legal obligation.
By providing adequate funding for the successful implementation of this law, the D.C. City Council can help keep pregnant workers safe and on the job. Adequate funding will also help employers retain valuable employees and avoid unnecessary litigation by complying with the law in the first place. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.