Each year hundreds of thousands of workers are faced with an impossible choice: risk losing their jobs or endanger the health of their babies. Experts estimate that 250,000 pregnant workers are denied accommodations related to their pregnancies each year. This is likely a conservative number. Many others have been fired or pressured to leave their positions.
No one should have to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy.
No one should have to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy. This failure to protect pregnant workers is an egregious injustice and moral failing of our country. Thankfully, there is something Congress can do. There is growing support in Congress for the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (H.R. 1065/ S.1486), a bill that would ensure that workers can access temporary and reasonable accommodations—such as a stool to sit on, a schedule change, or a break from heavy lifting—while pregnant.
Current Legal Protections Are Not Enough
A law protecting pregnant workers already exists, but it is not sufficient. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It bans discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace by requiring employers to treat pregnant workers in the same way as those who have a similar inability or ability to work.
This bill would help fill the gaps of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, allowing people to work and thrive at their job without putting their health in danger. It also has important implications for racial justice.
This law is not enough. It places the burden on the pregnant employee. Suppose a worker needs a medical accommodation for their pregnancy. In that case, they must first determine if someone else in their workplace “has a similar inability or ability to work” and whether they were provided an accommodation before accessing it themselves. This creates a barrier for workers which does not exist for others who need medical accommodation, such as workers with disabilities.
This bill would help fill the gaps of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, allowing people to work and thrive at their job without putting their health in danger. It also has important implications for racial justice. Black and Latina women in low-wage positions are disproportionately impacted by pregnancy discrimination. In addition, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times higher than white women. The accommodations that PWFA provides would help to protect the health of mothers and their babies.
The Opportunity Before Congress
Since the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act is inadequate, advocates have turned to Congress for more expansive protections. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure that pregnant workers are treated fairly by prohibiting workplaces from firing them or pressuring them to leave their job for needing reasonable accommodations for pregnancy. It includes adjustments stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
If congressional champions can offer PWFA as an amendment to the appropriations bill, it has a good chance of becoming law.
PWFA passed the House in May 2021 by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority (315 - 101). It has been introduced in the Senate (S.1486) and currently has 11 co-sponsors—five Democrats and six Republicans.
We may soon have an opportunity to advance this critical legislation by attaching it to the omnibus spending bill currently being negotiated in Congress. If congressional champions can offer PWFA as an amendment to the appropriations bill, it has a good chance of becoming law.
Pregnant workers need our help to ensure that they don’t have to choose between pregnancy and a paycheck. This legislation has momentum and strong bipartisan support. Now is the time to weigh in with your elected officials.