The House is expected to take an important vote on Thursday, moving forward with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. This legislation has been around for years and 30 states and the District of Columbia now have protections for pregnant workers stronger than what you’ll find in the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which dates to 1978.
That patchwork of state laws is one reason some big corporations are lining up in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act this time around. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is even supporting it.
The National Women’s Law Center makes an extended case that accommodating pregnant workers is good for business, citing the need for a clear national standard that lets employers know what they should be doing for pregnant employees, but also highlighting employee recruiting and retention benefits, increased productivity, and more benefits that businesses get from having healthy employees who feel valued.
“When employers are unsure whether they are obliged to provide accommodations, it can lead to the loss of valuable employees and lengthy legal disputes. While many large companies have their own policies around pregnancy accommodations that encourage employee retention, small and midsize businesses often lack the human resources departments and in-house counsel needed to traverse the complexities of these situations,” the Greater Louisville Chamber of Commerce’s Iris Wilbur Glick wrote in the Courier-Journal. “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will provide clarity to all parties, ensuring any disputes can be resolved quickly and fairly while helping businesses avoid costly litigation. The law clearly lays out the path for dialogue between employer and employee in which both are working towards the same goal: ensuring an employee can continue working safely during pregnancy.”
Cutting down on pregnancy discrimination will hugely benefit women who too often have been fired on the thinnest excuses or given the choice between risking their health and paying their bills. Forcing women into that unacceptable choice is especially problematic given racial disparities in maternal mortality, preterm birth, and low birth weight. Too often the women who have jobs that won’t accommodate them are also Black women at elevated risk of all pregnancy complications.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act should pass the House on a bipartisan basis and sail through the Senate. As we know when Republicans—and especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—are in control of anything, though, “should” doesn’t go very far.