Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Introduced in Senate

By Rachel Walden — September 21, 2012

Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) this week introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to provide pregnant workers with legal protection against discrimination, similar to protections provided by the existing Americans with Disabilities Act (which does not cover pregnancy).

Many women need simple accommodations like being allowed to sit while working or additional bathroom breaks, and these are not protected under existing laws. As an example, one pregnant worker was reportedly fired for carrying a water bottle and drinking from it while working, as it was against store policy prohibiting eating or drinking while working.

Casey remarked:

Pregnant workers face discrimination in the workplace every day, which is an inexcusable detriment to women and working families in Pennsylvania and across the country. This legislation will finally extend fairness to pregnant women so that they can continue to contribute to a productive economy while progressing through pregnancy in good health.

The bill was also introduced in the House earlier this summer by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and has more than 100 cosponsors. Not much has happened on it, though, except referrals to various committees — prompting RH Reality Check’s Sheila Bapat to remark that the bill was “going nowhere fast.”

Bapat also clarifies why the the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act matters, even though a Pregnancy Discrimination Act has existed since 1978:

There are laws that protect pregnant women from discrimination, but they have not been interpreted to protect women seeking adjustments to their work responsibilities. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed over 30 years ago and prevents discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.” But the PDA is interpreted to only protect women who are pregnant but not hindered in job performance due to pregnancy or women who cannot work at all and need leave.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women has an online guide to laws affecting pregnancy discrimination in employment, which is a great starting point for understanding existing protections and the gaps in current laws, such as the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The National Women’s Law Center has been working to promote passage of the Act, and has a number of useful posts at their blog for learning more. Excellent posts in the series include “It Shouldn’t Be A Heavy Lift: Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Introduced in Senate,” and “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: What It Means for Low-Wage Working Women.”

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