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House Bill Aims to Fill Gaps in Pregnant Worker Protections

According to federal data, there are now more women in the U.S. workforce than men, with women occupying 50.04% of positions. (Adobe Stock)
According to federal data, there are now more women in the U.S. workforce than men, with women occupying 50.04% of positions. (Adobe Stock)
January 20, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A bill in Congress that would ensure pregnant women aren't fired from their jobs for requesting reasonable accommodations in the workplace has received bipartisan approval by the House Education and Labor Committee, and should soon move to the House floor for a vote.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is co-sponsored by 26 representatives from both sides of the aisle. Elizabeth Gedmark, vice president of the workforce advocacy group A Better Balance, said 27 states have passed pregnant-worker protections, but Arkansas isn't one of them.

"So, for those folks that are in Arkansas, they are dealing with a much different scenario," Gedmark said. "And that's why we need the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, so that folks can have these protections in every state."

Gedmark said a 1978 federal law bars employers from firing someone because they're pregnant, but doesn't protect pregnant workers from unsafe working conditions. She added pregnancy discrimination remains widespread. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, nearly 31,000 such claims were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2010 and 2015.

Low-wage and hourly workers, and often women of color, tend to work in physically demanding jobs. The bill would clear the way for simple considerations - such as needing to sit or avoid heavy lifting - during pregnancy.

Gedmark said pregnancy discrimination occurs across socioeconomic lines, but these workers are especially vulnerable.

"This unique issue of needing reasonable accommodations tends to be more lower-wage workers, and those pregnant workers who don't have as much bargaining power," she said. "They can't march into HR's office and say, 'I demand a pregnancy parking spot.' If they do something like that, they might risk their job."

As a result, Gedmark said, many low-income women are forced to choose between work and a safe pregnancy.

"Sometime she loses her health insurance while she is very far along in her pregnancy and has to switch providers," she said. "We have heard situations where women have wound up homeless - and not just them, but their families, their older children - because they simply can't pay the bills anymore."

Gedmark also noted black women filed nearly 30% of pregnancy discrimination complaints between 2010 and 2015, despite making up only 14% of the female labor force.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR