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Reps. Nadler, Maloney, Speier, Davis & Advocates Announce Legislation Protecting Pregnant Workers from Discrimination

Today, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Susan Davis (D-CA), joined by the leaders of women’s advocacy organizations, unions, and business groups from across the nation, introduced critical new legislation – the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – to ensure that pregnant women are not forced out of jobs unnecessarily or denied reasonable job modifications that would allow them to continue working.  Currently, pregnant working women around the country are being denied simple adjustments – permission to use a stool while working a cash register, or to carry a bottle of water to stay hydrated, or temporary reassignment to lighter duty tasks – that would keep them working and supporting their families while maintaining healthy pregnancies.  The legislation will close legal loopholes and ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job.  At press time, the bill had 63 original cosponsors.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will accomplish this by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and preventing employers from forcing women out on leave when another reasonable accommodation would allow them to continue working.  The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

In recent and startling examples, Heather Wiseman, a retail worker in Salina, Kansas, was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections; Victoria Serednyj, an activity director at a nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana, was terminated because she required help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage; and Peggy Young, a delivery truck driver in Landover, Maryland, was forced out on unpaid leave because she had a lifting restriction and was denied light duty.  For the well-being of pregnant workers, and for the sake of the economic stability of American families, our laws must be updated and clarified.

The legislation has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights and women’s advocacy organizations, unions, and business associations, including: A Better Balance; the AFL-CIO; the American Association of University Women; the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; California Women’s Law Center; Equal Rights Advocates; Hadassah; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center; Legal Momentum; the Main Street Alliance; the National Partnership for Women & Families; the National Organization for Women Foundation; the National Women’s Law Center; and many others.  A letter of support from 119 organizations can be found by clicking on this link.

“When American families are struggling to make ends meet, we must do everything we can to keep people in their jobs. This is especially true for pregnant women who are about to have another mouth to feed,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler. “Ensuring that a woman who needs minor and reasonable job adjustments to maintain a healthy pregnancy gets that accommodation should be central to our society’s support for strong and stable families. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is an essential means of clarifying our laws so that pregnant women and their families are not allowed to slip through the cracks.”

“Women need to work during pregnancy and must not be penalized in the workplace for choosing to have a child,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said. “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will give women the tools they need to fight ‘maternal profiling’ on the job.”

“Women are not disposable workers who can be cast off if, and when, they are pregnant,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier. “Welcoming women in the workforce also means women who are pregnant. They deserve the same treatment as any other employee who is in need of a temporary accommodation. I served in the California State Assembly during both of my pregnancies and understand the challenges that working women are confronted with during those nine months. In addition to the regular stresses that come with carrying a child, working women should not also fear losing their paycheck.”

“With more and more women working while pregnant, we need to make sure that their employers provide them the reasonable and necessary accommodations they need (such as access to water) to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy,” said Congresswoman Susan Davis. “It is unfortunate that Congress needs to even address this issue since any sensible person would consider it inconceivable to fire a pregnant woman for trying to care for the health of herself and her baby.”

“Thanks to gaps in federal law, women have been denied the simplest accommodations and forced out of their jobs because they are pregnant,” said Congressman George Miller. “This bill closes those gaps and gives expecting mother’s some basic, long overdue protections in the workplace.  Women are breadwinners, sometimes the sole breadwinners, for countless families. This bill is not just the morally right thing to do; it’s also good economics.”

“It is a shame and a blot on our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity that pregnancy discrimination claims continue to rise,” said Judith L. Lichtman, senior advisor at the National Partnership for Women & Families. “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is balanced, reasonable and badly needed legislation that would help to stem this tide of discrimination, which has terrible costs for women and their families. We thank Representatives Nadler, Maloney, Speier, Davis and Miller for championing this bill, and call on all members of Congress to prioritize equality for pregnant workers.”

“PWFA is consistent with the Main Street Alliance’s position on fairness in the workplace, job security and economic growth. It is unfortunate that we live in an exploitative environment requiring us to make new rules to reinforce the regulations already on the books. Consumer confidence is driven by job security. If a pregnant mom is worried about keeping her job, how likely is she to spend any more than the absolutely necessary on maternity and new born stuff? The more we do to underscore job security, the sooner we'll see better growth,” said Kelly Conklin, co-owner of Foley Waite Associates, an architectural woodworking company based in Bloomfield, NJ, and a Main Street Alliance executive committee member.

“As a longtime advocate of workers and a new grandmother, I take it personally that any woman would face discrimination on the job or lack of accommodations while she is pregnant,” said AFL-CIO executive vice president Arlene Holt Baker. “We have to stop treating working mothers as a burden and realize the contributions they make both on the job and in the home. Congressman Nadler’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will go a long way to supporting working moms and their new families and the AFL-CIO is proud to stand behind it.”

“The PWFA simply would require employers to extend the accommodations they already provide workers with disabilities to their pregnant employees,” said Emily Martin, vice president at the National Women’s Law Center. “By making these reasonable adjustments, pregnant workers could work longer under safe conditions and provide for their families. And employers would retain their trained workforce and avoid the costs of high turnover. This is a win-win proposition that Congress should support.”

“When pregnant women are needlessly and unfairly forced out of the workplace, everyone is hurt,” said State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), the sponsor of similar legislation introduced earlier this year in the New York State Legislature. “When pregnant women cannot be provided reasonable accommodations at their workplace, they lose wages and opportunities for advancement, their newborns are disadvantaged, and both their employers and the economy as a whole suffer unnecessary losses as well. This is crucial, commonsense legislation. I thank Congressman Nadler, Congresswoman Maloney, and their cosponsors for their much-needed leadership on this issue in Congress.”

Some states have passed laws like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure that pregnant workers have on-the-job protections.  In those states – like California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Hawaii – pregnant workers already have the peace of mind they deserve.

Laura, a client of Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in San Francisco, said: “I work as a program counselor at a facility for people with developmental disabilities. When I was pregnant, my doctor recommended that I not bend or twist when securing wheelchairs to a bus. I asked my supervisor for this adjustment. She responded by forcing me out on unpaid leave for the rest of my pregnancy, even though I was not disabled and could do my job with this minor accommodation. My employer also threatened to fire me if I didn’t return to work in 4 months. Thankfully, I learned that I was protected by California law. After Legal Aid informed my employer of this law, I was reinstated to my job and given the adjustment I needed. I recently had a healthy baby boy and am looking forward to returning to work. All women should have this basic protection.”

“Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center is pleased to endorse the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Seventy-five percent of women in the workforce will become pregnant while employed. Yet far too many women are forced out of their jobs when they need them most – when they are expecting a new child. California enacted reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in 1999, and the law has been used countless times to enable women to keep their jobs and support their families while maintaining healthy pregnancies. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a common-sense public policy. No woman should have to choose between her health and her job,” said Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. 

“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is common-sense legislation that would help millions of women, especially those who are economically vulnerable, to keep working and supporting their families. No pregnant woman in this country should have to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy,” said Dina Bakst, president of A Better Balance.

“Legal Momentum strongly supports the PWFA,” said Elizabeth Grayer, president of Legal Momentum. “This bill provides long overdue safeguards that are particularly important for women working low-wage jobs with few benefits or flexibility, and for women working in non-traditional occupations. No woman should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and supporting herself and her family. Reasonable, necessary accommodations for pregnant workers benefit employees, their families, and ultimately workplaces overall.”

“Working families need and want to keep working,” said Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates. “ERA strongly supports the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act because similar protections under California law make the case for federal change. Pregnant women are working with accommodations. Businesses are benefitting from happy and productive long-term employees.  It is a win-win.”

“The economic health of most American families is dependent on working mothers. Seventy million women work outside the home, and three-quarters of them will have children during their lifetime. These women will work through their pregnancies, in fact they must to make ends meet. The last thing an expecting mom should have to worry about is job security, but far too many women face discrimination directly because of their pregnancies. That's why we need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. We need updated tools to ensure equal opportunity for all working women, which in turn will improve the bottom line for American families,” said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations at the American Association of University Women.


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