By Robin Strongin
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is real and it’s dangerous. But, if the Senate acts quickly, it can pass S. 4431, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which provides reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum workers.
The legislation, which has already passed in the House, enjoys strong bipartisan support and has garnered wide-ranging support from business associations, the US Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, faith organizations, civil rights organizations, maternal health groups, and others. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated that “These and other efforts to protect pregnant workers and new mothers should be applauded as they demonstrate a respect for life, family, and the dignity of workers.”
NCL stands with these organizations in urging the Senate to pass the legislation. Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is not only medically dangerous, but disruption to a woman’s career hurts her earning power and has implications for the labor supply. More than 85 percent of women will become mothers at some point in their working lives, the majority of whom cannot afford not to work.
Despite passage of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, employer bias against pregnant women still exists, especially when it comes to employers providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.
In early February 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult conducted a survey of 2,200 adults on the prevalence of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The survey found that “pregnancy discrimination is common across race, incomes, and other demographics, causing fear about informing employers about a pregnancy and leading many pregnant workers to consider a career change. These trends are particularly elevated among younger women and those who are currently working.”
- Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) mothers have considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of reasonable accommodations or fear of discrimination from an employer during a pregnancy.
- 1 in 5 mothers (20%) say they have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
- Adults are witnessing pregnancy discrimination in their workplaces.
- Over 1 in 5 mothers have been afraid to tell an employer about a pregnancy.
- A comparable portion of adults report that their partner or spouse has experienced pregnancy discrimination at work.
In their November 10, 2022 letter to the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, urging swift passage of the Senate bill, the bipartisan members underscored what pregnancy discrimination looks like, and the terrible toll it takes: …”a warehouse employee in Tennessee who suffered a miscarriage after lifting heavy boxes and being denied light duty; a retail worker in Kansas who was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, and a hardware assembler in Ohio who was terminated after her doctor recommended she not lift more than 20 pounds.”
Advocates are raising the alarm: if the Senate doesn’t enact the bill by the end of this year, opposition from Republicans over a lack of religious exemptions could jeopardize the passage of the legislation as Republicans take over the House.
The bill that passed the House did so with a strong bipartisan vote of 315 – 101. And the Senate bill enjoys strong bipartisanship as well, according to Senate HELP Chair, Patty Murray (D-WASH), who is working across the aisle to get it passed.
If a stand-alone vote in the Senate doesn’t materialize, backers of the bill are considering its inclusion in the year-end spending package. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) warned, “The clock is ticking… This is a bipartisan bill that’s pro-mothers, pro-healthy pregnancies, and pro-workers,”…”Let’s get it through the Senate by the end of the year.”