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October 17, 2012

Pregnant Women’s Rights – - Long Overdue!

On September 19, 2012, a bill was introduced to help protect pregnant women’s rights in the workplace.  What?  You say there already is a law like that?  Well, not quite!

Back in 1978, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, was passed with the intent to protect women from discrimination due to “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”  It was made a part of the Civil Rights Act because it protects against sex discrimination, covered by that law.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act required equal treatment in employment for pregnant women.  This meant that all policies that were applied to other non-pregnant employees should be equally applied to the pregnant employee.  The law also said that an employer could not refuse to hire a pregnant woman on the basis of her pregnancy or any condition relating to it.  And, it went further yet.  Pregnant women were to be afforded equal health insurance benefits for all her pregnancy related expenses as with other medical conditions.  However, pregnancy has never been considered a disability. . . until possibly now.

The bill mentioned above that was introduced by Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) proposes that pregnant women be given the same workplace accommodations that are afforded to persons with disabilities.  The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would require an employer to make “reasonable accommodations” as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for a pregnant employee, to allow them to perform the essential functions of their job.

If this bill passes, it will bring great relief to pregnant women who once feared disclosing their pregnancy to their employer for fear of being involuntarily transferred to another position, placed on unpaid leave, or even losing her job.  It would permit a woman to have minor modifications to her job duties that would allow her to work as long as possible in her pregnancy without worrying about harm to herself or her unborn child.   These minor adjustments could be as simple as an offer of light duty or even providing a chair in which to occasionally sit, when standing or walking is the norm.  Affording such reasonable accommodations would also give the expectant mother a measure of economic security, knowing her pregnancy will not jeopardize her employment.  The National Women’s Law Center reports that women make up half the workforce, so this bill, if it becomes law, will be a step in the right direction to keep the economy strong.

Keep your eye on this one because opposition is strong.  Republicans who oppose this bill argue that it will bring lower profits and undue hardship on businesses.  See the full text of the bill here.

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