Why We Need The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
A never-before-done analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, released last week, confirms what America’s women, families and employers have long known from personal experience: a significant number of women work during pregnancy and unfair treatment of pregnant workers has a negative impact on our economy.
Released for Labor Day, the findings provide further evidence that equal treatment and anti-discrimination protections for pregnant workers are essential to the economic security of our nation’s families. (Yet nowhere in all of Mitt Romney’s praise for motherhood did he mention pregnancy discrimination and equal pay protections.)
The analysis was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families using the most recent Census Bureau data. It finds that in every single state, the majority of women who gave birth in a one-year period also held jobs during that time. Across the nation, 63 percent of women who gave birth held jobs. A map with the findings for each state can be found here.
Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, explains:
These new data confirm that women work during their pregnancies. That is no surprise given the economic struggles so many families are facing. But it makes it even more unacceptable that, nearly 35 years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act became law, so many pregnant women are reporting pregnancy discrimination. Pregnant women are being forced out of their jobs or denied minor job modifications that would allow them to remain in the workforce during their pregnancies – even though employers routinely make similar modifications for male employees who have been injured, had heart attacks or are temporarily impaired. This contributes to the poverty spells so many families experience after having children, and it threatens the stability of millions of families. We can, and must, do better.
Despite the anti-discrimination protections provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have increased by 35 percent in the past decade. Often this discrimination is the result of employers refusing to make minor accommodations for pregnant workers, even though they regularly make minor accommodations for workers who have other health issues or limitations. Dr. Mary Beamer’s story out of New Jersey is, unfortunately, typical. Beamer claims she was fired after missing eleven days of work due to complications from her pregnancy. When she sued for sex discrimination her employer counter-sued for over $50,000 claiming she broke her employment contract.
In May of this year, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D – N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (D – N.Y.), Jackie Speier (D – Calif.) and Susan Davis (D – Calif.) sought to address this unequal treatment of pregnant workers by introducing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 5647) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure the same workplace protections for women with pregnancy-related limitations as the protections already in place for workers with similar limitations. In doing so, it would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace, help ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women who want to continue working and, ultimately, promote equality for pregnant workers.
“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would promote the kind of equality pregnant workers have long needed and deserved,” continued Ness. “This Labor Day, all members of Congress should think about what’s at stake for women, families and our economy when discrimination against pregnant women goes unaddressed in our nation’s workplaces. We must not allow workers to be unnecessarily and unfairly pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy. It’s time to prioritize this balanced and badly needed bill.”
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act currently has 106 sponsors in the House and introduction in the Senate is expected soon. So far it’s been Republicans standing in the way of workers and a fair wage and treatment. Whether or not it succeeds largely rests on the direction the country heads in after the election.
Photo from jaafronfarr via flickr.