The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Why Policy Experts and Health Care Providers Agree It's Time for Congress to Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Why Policy Experts and Health Care Providers Agree It’s Time for Congress to Act

We all deserve to be able to take care of ourselves and our families without fear of discrimination and reprisal.

Advocates, lawmakers and pregnant workers rally on Capitol Hill to support the Pregnant Worker Equity Act on Dec. 1, 2022. The PWFA would close a legal loophole in the landmark pregnancy discrimination law by ensuring that all employers provide pregnant and postpartum workers with modest accommodation at work. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for A Better Balance)

Workplace discrimination against pregnant women is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been a pervasive disease of capitalism and the workplace, systems that were not designed to support pregnancy.

Due to the oppressive impact of workplace discrimination on the health and well-being of our communities, advocates and lawmakers have worked continuously to change our laws, policies and culture to better care for women. pregnant. And while significant progress has been made, including the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978, significant shortcomings remain. We need more policies to protect pregnant women, and passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would be an important and necessary first step.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978 was an important piece of legislation that made it illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. His passage was essential. This has enabled more pregnant women to remain employed and continue to support their families during pregnancy without fear of being forced out of their jobs.

While this legislation is not a comprehensive solution to pregnancy-related discrimination, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was key to ensuring that women and those able to conceive could stay and progress in the workplace, before, during and after childbirth.

Unfortunately, courts have narrowly interpreted the protections offered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, allowing employers to refuse to accommodate workers with medical needs arising from pregnancy. This means that many pregnant women continue to face significant pregnancy discrimination and are forced to choose between their health and their jobs.

This context brings us to today, where we have a clear solution with broad support from legislators across the political spectrum. And yet, even in late 2022, on the cusp of a new Congress, the Senate has yet to act to pass the solution known as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).

The PWFA would require employers to provide reasonable and temporary accommodations in the workplace to pregnant workers as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue burden on the employer. These reasonable and medically necessary accommodations in the workplace may include an extra bathroom break, a glass of water at the workstation, food at your desk, access to extra face coverings, or space to separate work to reduce exposure to COVID-19 or RSV, lifting restrictions or a stool to sit on to reduce standing time.

These accommodations are such small adjustments to an employee’s job that you may be wondering: is a law like the PWFA really necessary? The answer is emphatically yes.

A rally on Capitol Hill in support of the Pregnant Workers Equity Act on Dec. 1, 2022. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Better Balance)

As an advocate and provider of comprehensive reproductive health care (including pregnancy care), we know that while many people can expect a routine pregnancy and healthy childbirth, some need to make adjustments in their professional activities to maintain a healthy pregnancy. We write this as capable pregnant people, one of us being a parent. Pregnancy is a medical condition that requires accommodation to the needs of a pregnant person, including while at work.

These accommodations are such small adjustments to an employee’s job that you may be wondering: is a law like the PWFA really necessary?

The answer is emphatically yes, but don’t just take our word for it. There are countless examples, like the UPS employee who was denied “light duty” and then lost her medical coverage when she was placed on unpaid leave. Or the Walmart employee fired for carrying a water bottle. Or the woman who miscarried and lost her pregnancy because her employer failed to provide the reasonable accommodations — primarily weightlifting restrictions — that she needed.

The health and economic consequences of this type of discrimination in pregnancy are profound. Pregnant workers, especially black, indigenous, Latino and low-wage workers, are routinely fired or furloughed when they need pregnancy accommodations, threatening their livelihoods at home. a time when they need the security of a paycheck the most. And others may have no choice but to risk their health to support themselves and their loved ones, sometimes with devastating results for the health of parents and infants.

Our need for compassionate reproductive health care and our need for safe and just workplaces are closely linked. We cannot have a future where we create safe and healthy communities if we do not address the ways in which our status as pregnant and our status as workers must align. We must do this work even in the workplaces of those who fight for reproductive health, rights and justice: clinic workers, abortion funders and abortion seekers equally deserve places of work who have facilities for their health needs.

The need for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is urgent. Our nation faces multiple crises, including an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a growing epidemic of maternal mortality. The national lack of access to abortion is also an emergency, where many are denied abortion care and forced to carry their pregnancies to term.

The Senate has an important and rapidly shrinking opportunity to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act before this Congress ends. We all deserve to be able to take care of ourselves and our families without fear of discrimination and reprisal.


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