WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) released the following statement on the House passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to reasonably accommodate the needs of pregnant workers and new mothers.
“Discrimination against workers due to pregnancy can be subtle or blatant, and many of them continue working in settings that aren’t suitable or adapted to their new physical and medical needs out of financial necessity,” said Rep. Peters. “This bill places responsibility on the employers to foster a safe and adapted environment for their pregnant workers, who should be able to continue working if they choose, in conditions that don’t pose a threat to them or the child they carry.”
As women increasingly become the primary breadwinners in American households, a growing number of pregnant workers are working later into their pregnancies for their family’s financial security. According to the most recent data, 88 percent of first-time mothers worked during their last trimester. In many cases, physicians recommend that pregnant workers avoid or limit certain risks, including exposure to certain toxic substances, heavy lifting, overnight work, extended hours, or long periods of sitting or standing. Unfortunately, many workers endure these risks because they are forced to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy. This is most often the case for Black and Latina workers, who are overrepresented in low-wage, physically demanding jobs.
Specifically, the bill declares the following employment practices as unlawful:
(1) failing to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations of such job applicants or employees, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on an entity's business operation;
(2) denying employment opportunities based on the employers’ need to make such reasonable accommodations for an applicant or employee;
(3) forcing workers to accept an unwanted accommodation not negotiated by the worker and employer, if such accommodation is unnecessary to perform the job;
(4) requiring employees to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.
Rep. Peters has supported and cosponsored previous introductions of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, but there is currently no federal law that explicitly guarantees all pregnant workers the right to reasonable accommodation so they can continue to work without jeopardizing their pregnancy. As of September 2020, only 30 states, the District of Columbia, and four cities required employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, it suggests that discrimination only occurs if another worker is given accommodations that the pregnant worker is denied.
With the ongoing COVID-19 health pandemic, the need for these protections is vital. Women comprise 64 percent of frontline workers and pregnant people might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Evidence also suggests that pregnant people who contract the virus are more likely to be hospitalized than those who aren’t pregnant.