The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Accommodating Pregnant Employees in the Workplace

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On June 4, 2015, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”) was re-introduced in Congress with bipartisan support. The bill calls for reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a longtime supporter of pregnant workers’ rights, Legal Momentum welcomes the reintroduction of this crucial bill, and vigorously supports its passage.

pregnant woman working

The PWFA promotes long-term economic security for pregnant women and their families, and healthy pregnancies. The bill will increase employee productivity and benefit the economy. Many states—and some municipalities—already offer the accommodations proposed in the PWFA. These jurisdictions include states as politically diverse as California, Delaware, Illinois and West Virginia. We still need a federal statute to protect all women workers, however, because many states still haven’t passed their own PWFAs.

The PWFA aims to protect pregnant workers that would not be covered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Young v. UPS decision. Peggy Young, who lost her job after becoming pregnant, argued that her employer’s failure to accommodate her pregnancy violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Young argued that UPS’s accommodation policy was discriminatory because even though UPS accommodated many other workers—including those who had lost their driver licenses for driving drunk—it failed to accommodate Ms. Young’s request for basic pregnancy-related accommodations. . The Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision in favor of UPS, a ruling that was considered a victory for Ms. Young. The Supreme Court decision, however, falls short of protecting all pregnant workers. For instance, the ruling doesn’t make clear how many non-pregnant workers a workplace policy must accommodate before the employer becomes obligated to accommodate pregnancies as well.

The PWFA affirmatively requires employers to accommodate all pregnant workers. The accommodations mandated by the PWFA especially protect women in low-income and non-traditional occupations where pregnancy is most likely to lead to workplace discrimination. The PWFA will also be vital for workers who are domestic violence victims, 5 to 8 percent of whom experience abuse during their pregnancies.

Forcing working women to go on unpaid leave because their employers refused them minor, temporary accommodations—accommodations as small as carrying a water bottle—is inexcusable. The PWFA would also make it illegal. Women should never have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a secure income.

Contributed by: 

Sarah Roberts