Long-Awaited Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Moves to the House

Long-Awaited Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Moves to the House

Many are calling the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act ‘long overdue’—and it has advanced with bipartisan support to the House floor for a vote. Here’s what you need to know as employer or pregnant employee.

“Today, we send the message that nowhere on earth should a woman have to worry about her health and the health of her pregnancy because her employer refuses to oblige her reasonable needs for accommodation. In essence, we tell millions of young women that no longer will pregnancy prevent you from taking your dreams as far as they can take you.”

These are the words of Rep. Alma Adams on Jan. 14, 2020 after the House Committee on Education and Labor voted to advance the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694) with bipartisan support. Back in November of 2019, the bill was very much a controversial topic between parties; now, it has achieved the first step of approval.

If passed, it could serve as a groundbreaking law that some are saying is a ‘long overdue’ form of protection for womens’ pregnancy rights. The proposed law has been endorsed by a number of groups: the Women’s National Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Legislators who approved the act did so in the Nature of a Substitute.

Why a Specific Act for Pregnant Workers? Is There not Already One?

Federal law protections and legal precedents protect against worker discrimination based on pregnancy (among other things), but it does very little to address accommodations. One Forbes article explains that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act from 1978 really only covers classic discrimination by forbidding discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, and fringe benefits like leave and health insurance.

Even the 2015 Supreme Court case Young v. UPS did not really address pregnancy accommodations—rather, it only required employers to accommodate pregnant women if the employer provided. Accommodation to any other non-pregnant employee of similar ability to work. However, this means that pregnant women are responsible for being knowledgeable about past and historical accommodations already made, and only with that knowledge can they prove discrimination.

Young v. UPS has repeatedly failed to give pregnant workers the accommodations they need, according to a 2019 report by A Better Balance. Two-thirds of pregnant women asking for accommodations at work still lost when their cases went to court since 2015. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would aim to give women the affirmative right to pregnancy accommodation that does not solely rely on a discrimination argument.

What Kinds of Accommodations are Often Sought?

Pregnancy accommodations are, by and large, not that taxing for employers to employ. Reasonable accommodations include an extra bathroom break, a stool, limiting contact with certain chemicals, or a reduction in lifting requirements.

The proposed law would require employers to not only provide reasonable accommodations to employees for not just pregnancy but also childbirth and related medical conditions—so long as the accommodations would not cause “an undue hardship” for the employer. This somewhat open-ended language is currently used in the American Disability Act, and courts are familiar with interpreting these requirements.

How Does this Help Employers?

Actually, this law could really provide clarity for employers when there was a lot of grey area before. It sets an easily understood standard. Plus, it holds employers accountable to recognizing the needs and wellness of their employees who are, first and foremost, human beings.

Below are the Bill’s five most notable regulations related to pregnancy and pregnancy accommodations:

“It shall be unlawful employment for a covered entity to—

(1) not make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of a job applicant or employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such covered entity;

(2) require a job applicant or employee affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions to accept an accommodation that such applicant or employee chooses not to accept, if such accommodation is unnecessary to enable the applicant or employee to perform her job;

(3) deny employment opportunities to a job applicant or employee, if such denial is based on the need of the covered entity to make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of an employee or applicant;

(4) require an employee to take leave, whether paid or unpaid, if another reasonable accommodation can be provided to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of an employee; or

(5) take adverse action in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against an employee on account of the employee requesting or using a reasonable accommodation to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of the employee.”

Many are excited to see this act moving toward approval, and many have hope that this law—if passed—will remind women that pregnancy cannot impede you from excelling in your career and following your dreams.

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