3 Reasons Congress Should Pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Despite legislation prohibiting such bias from occurring at the federal level in 1978, many businesses continue to frequently refuse pregnant employees the temporary adjustments to their jobs that would allow them to continue working while maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

Pregnant employees’ requests for “accommodations,” such as extended time off, scheduled shifts, and the reassignment of potentially dangerous jobs, are routinely refused, which may have devastating effects on their health and finances. No one should have to decide between a safe pregnancy and a steady income.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would make it illegal for businesses to discriminate against pregnant workers and would make it mandatory for them to provide “reasonable accommodations” for their employees. More progress has never been made in passing the PWFA. The measure was already approved by the House of Representatives and is now awaiting a vote by the entire Senate.

Many pregnant women the ACLU has represented have been forced to choose between obeying their physicians’ recommendations and keeping their jobs. Their experiences highlight three critical factors that make the PWFA not just necessary, but long overdue.

3 Reasons Congress Should Pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
3 Reasons Congress Should Pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

1: The PWFA is Vital For Workers’ Health

In most cases, continuing to work throughout pregnancy is safe. Unfortunately, however, many occupations are really hazardous to the health of pregnant women. There are real risks to the lives of police officers and firemen. Staff members in the retail industry, such as cashiers, often stand for long periods of time. Workers in the cleaning industry are often put in harm’s way.

Even a “typical” pregnancy may cause problems, from morning sickness to the need for frequent prenatal care appointments, which can keep a person from their desk for extended periods of time. It’s for these reasons that pregnant professionals may need to temporarily alter their tasks, or in the case of more serious issues, take leave from work. If an employer refuses to provide reasonable accommodations for a pregnant worker, the employee will have to choose between not going to work or working without the necessary protections.

2: The PWFA Protects Families From Serious Financial Hardship

Employees who experience pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and are compelled to take unpaid leave or are dismissed because they need reasonable accommodations to do their jobs typically face severe financial hardship as a result. The timing couldn’t be worse for pregnant employees and their families, and the loss of income imposes expenses not encountered by other workers who choose to establish a baby.

“At that point, I was about six months away from my due date. How was I supposed to live for six months without a paycheck? How could I buy what I needed to prepare for my baby’s arrival? How would I support my son after he was born? When I got the leave paperwork from the company, the news got even worse: Rural/Metro’s policy did not allow employees who were on leave to work for another company, either … The reality was that I not only was going to lose my paycheck temporarily; I also was at risk of losing my job forever.” — Michelle Durham

When Alabama EMT Michelle Durham got pregnant, her doctor advised her to avoid heavy lifting, but her employer gave her no other choice than to take an unpaid vacation (with a 90-day limit). She was essentially terminated with many months still left till her due date. Michelle lost her job, had to move in with her grandma, and rack up substantial credit card debt as a consequence. She had given birth to a son years before, but she was still struggling to make ends meet.

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3: The PWFA Will Help Assure Equal Opportunity For Pregnant Workers

Pregnancy has grown commonplace in the workplace in the United States since Congress made it illegal to do so under federal law in 1978. With women making up half of the labor force today, it’s no surprise that almost eighty-five percent of all working women will get pregnant at some point. According to the census, the vast majority of working mothers plan to and do continue working until their very last month of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a natural part of life, and it’s only fair that employers recognize it as such.

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“Though my male co-workers were allowed to come and go virtually without penalty, I kept racking up points due to my pregnancy. If throwing up due to severe morning sickness made me late, I got a fraction of a point. Once, I started bleeding and had to be hospitalized overnight. I accrued a point for that too.” — Katia Hills

Former AT&T Mobility employee Katia Hills of Indiana was let go after receiving a termination warning for having a poor attendance record. Katia’s terrible morning sickness, prenatal checkups, and ER trips were not considered “excused” by AT&T, whereas the absences of her coworkers who had to miss work for reasons like jury service or a family member’s death were. Therefore, Katia not only lost her position but also her chance to work her way up the corporate ladder and become a manager.

Last Lines

Businesses sometimes reject pregnant workers the temporary adaptations to their positions that would enable them to continue working while keeping a safe pregnancy, despite laws forbidding such prejudice at the federal level in 1978.

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