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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Congress Reintroduces Bill to Protect Pregnant Workers

June 10, 2015 - Posted by Hunter Davis

On June 4, Sen. Bob Casey, D. Pa., reintroduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, this bill would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers – provided that doing so would not be an undue hardship. It would also prevent employers from discriminating against pregnant women in the hiring process.

Casey’s bill comes on the heels of the recently decided Young vs. UPS Supreme Court decision. In 2006, Peggy Young, a UPS driver, was placed on unpaid administrative leave and was subsequently stripped of her health insurance due to her pregnancy. Young challenged her employer and was successful in appealing her case to the Supreme Court. However, the Court’s decision set a precedent that requires a high threshold for proving that a woman was a victim of discrimination. The case also failed to establish what specific accommodations employers must make for pregnant women. In response to this decision, Casey’s legislation seeks to clarify specific accommodations that employers would be mandated to make.

While a prior attempt at this legislation died in the 113th Congress, recent legislative victories at the state level and momentum from the Young case are promising. For the first time, the bill also has two Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R. N.H., and Dean Heller, R. Nev. In the House, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D. N.Y., introduced companion legislation.

Every year, 250,000 pregnant women in the United States ask their employers for reasonable work accommodations that would enable them to stay on the job throughout their pregnancy. The accommodations they seek are often minor in nature, ranging from more frequent bathroom breaks to restrictions on heavy lifting to access to a water fountain. Many of the accommodations that pregnant women seek mirror those considerations that employers are legally required to extend to an employee with a leg or back injury. However, under current law, pregnant women can be forced to take unpaid leave, or even lose their jobs due to a pregnancy.

Of pregnant women and new moms, 62 percent are in the labor force, and upwards of 40 percent of families have a female breadwinner. Most of these women cannot afford to take a prolonged leave of absence. And as The Leadership Conference points out in a letter urging co-sponsorship of the bill, “When women are denied such accommodations, and have to choose between their paycheck and healthy childbearing, they often lose their jobs and their families will lose needed income and benefits at this critical time.”

“No worker should live in fear that her job is at risk simply because she’s pregnant,” Casey said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction. “This is commonsense legislation that will finally provide pregnant workers the comprehensive workplace protections they deserve.”

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