Finally, with bipartisan support, a federal bill designed to protect pregnant women who face workplace discrimination passed in the U.S. House in mid-May. Now, it is on to the U.S. Senate. This has been a long time coming since the bill has been under consideration since 2012 and reintroduced nearly every legislative session since.
During that time, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) just could not gain bipartisan support even though courts throughout the country continued to hear thousands of lawsuits from female workers claiming their employers discriminated against them because of their pregnancy. But the political atmosphere has changed as the timing seemed right for a number of Republicans to get on board with the bill.
Clarifies aspects of Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Reintroduced in February, the PWFA was destined to gain lawmakers’ attention amidst the pandemic that forced numerous women out of work and without certain protections such as health insurance. (The bill initially passed the House in September but did not make it to the Senate.)
The PWFA strengthens the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which passed in 1978. Critics described the original legislation as too vague. For example, it seemed up to employees to prove discrimination occurred and that employers failed to provide certain accommodations.
The PWFA clarifies certain aspects of the act. For one, the bill requires employers to negotiate with pregnant employees regarding reasonable accommodations such as allowing them to work from home, placing a limit on heavy lifting, water breaks and bathroom breaks. Such a clarification declares that employers are expected to help pregnant employees and remain responsible for providing them with accommodations.
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace has become all too common. For example, in 66% of the discrimination legal cases filed from 2015 to 2019, courts ruled in favor of employers. The bench contended that employers did not have to provide pregnant women with certain accommodations.
It is time for Washington to wake up and do the right thing. Pregnant workers must receive certain protections through clearly written legislation. The time seems to have finally come as many advocates remain optimistic.