Passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is bipartisan evidence

Passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is bipartisan evidence

When Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, it was intended to protect pregnant workers from unfair treatment at work. However, in the years since its adoption, it has been difficult to enforce due to the law’s ambiguous language. In fact, according to A Better Balance, an organization that advocates for pregnant workers, caregivers and families, more than two-thirds of pregnant workers lose their discrimination cases in court.

Yet the workplace discrimination that pregnant workers often experience is as blatant as it is widespread. And too often, this has tragic consequences.

Consider the case of Tasha Murrell, who worked in an XPO Logistics warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee. According to a testimonial she shared on the A Better Balance website, she had a note from her doctor telling her that she should limit the amount she lifted during her pregnancy. Despite this fact and the stomach pains she was feeling, her employer did not allow any changes to her duties. One day while working, she told a supervisor that she was in pain and asked if she could go home early. He was told no. The next day she had a miscarriage.

Other workers who asked to move to lighter duties, to work indoors rather than outdoors in the heat, or perhaps more breaks to sit down, drink water or draw breast milk, were also met with hostility. They were forced to take unpaid leave, slowly kicked out of their jobs, or simply fired simply because they asked for accommodations that would support a healthy pregnancy. As a result, some of them lost their careers, incomes and even their homes.

But a new bill, which passed the House in 2021 with overwhelming bipartisan support, could end these practices once and for all. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to provide pregnant workers with “reasonable accommodation”, allowing them to continue to do their jobs without compromising their economic security or health. These accommodations may include extra bathroom or water breaks, the ability to sit while working, relief from heavy or hazardous tasks, schedule changes, space to pump breast milk and more.

Most would be modest adjustments to a worker’s responsibilities and none would be necessary if they imposed “undue hardship” on the employer. But even these small changes can mean the difference between a healthy pregnancy and financial security for workers, on the one hand, and very real risks for mothers, their babies and their entire families, on the other.

The act is now on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.). This bill must be introduced now. No one should delay such a large bill in order to have a successful pregnancy and be able to continue working. Isn’t it time to do the right thing for pregnant workers?

That pregnant workers face so many barriers at work is hardly a surprise, not to this country. The United States has a pretty sad record when it comes to supporting women and families. In fact, it is only one of six countries in the world, and the only rich one, that does not have a national paid parental leave policy. This means that many workers not only have to continue working almost until the day of their birth, but have to return to work just a few weeks after giving birth. This is despite the fact that it normally takes months or even years for the human body to fully recover from the tremendous physical aftereffects of pregnancy and childbirth.

But many women overcome these difficulties because they need the income or health insurance that their employer provides. Many others simply love what they do and want to work. What they don’t want is having to choose between a job and a healthy baby. And they shouldn’t have to.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would close the gaps in our current laws to provide the kinds of protections workers need. And while these would bring real-time benefits to pregnant workers themselves by allowing them to adequately care for their bodies and their babies while maintaining employment, ultimately our whole society will do better. Why? Because more women will be able to stay in the workforce, which is essential for economic growth and prosperity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made it clear how damaging the loss of millions of working women – of whom an estimated 1 million had not returned to work as of April 27 – is to this country’s economy. We’ve seen how essential so many of them are to keeping this country afloat, often as essential workers who have kept our grocery stores, daycares, pharmacies, emergency rooms and more open throughout. of the crisis. Given that women make up around half of the working population and that 85% of working women will be pregnant at least once, this should be enough people to make passing this legislation an urgent priority.

There are no excuses; there is broad support for this bill. And not just in the halls of Congress. From the ACLU to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the United States Chamber of Commerce, unions and organizations that advocate and address the most pressing policy issues of motherhood and families, like the Mom Congress, all support the law. The same is true for about 90% of voters, including 93% Democrats, 88% independents and 87% Republicans, according to Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling firm.

Majority Leader Schumer, bring the Pregnant Workers Equity Act to the Senate. Any further delay could be disastrous, spell the death of this bill and lead to significant repercussions that women and their families will feel for decades. Requiring simple workplace accommodations that will allow workers to have healthy pregnancies without risking their financial security is not asking a lot. In fact, it’s pretty basic. And all it takes is one vote.

Martha Nolan is Senior Policy Advisor at HealthyWomen. HealthyWomen strives to educate women ages 35-64 to make informed health choices.

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