Pregnant employees, especially those in low-paying, physically taxing jobs, are commonly forced to choose between their health or compensation. While current federal law does not support pregnant workers as effectively as it should, new proposed legislation may offer better protection.
In 1978, in an effort to mitigate discriminatory practices aimed at pregnant women, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
The PDA is a federal statute prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or other medical conditions. According to the PDA, employers cannot discriminate because of current, previous, or potential pregnancy for any aspect of employment (i.e., hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, training, fringe benefits, etc.). Furthermore, employers may not discriminate due to medical conditions stemming from pregnancy or childbirth.
Since the PDA’s passage, more pregnant employees have continued working while pregnant and work further into their pregnancies without being pressured to leave their jobs. Still, while the passage of the PDA was an essential step in the right direction, it has not ended discriminatory practices aimed at pregnant people.
Generally, the PDA does not require employers to alter working conditions to accommodate pregnant employees unless such accommodations are provided to other similarly situated nonpregnant employees. Therefore, under current federal law, if an employer rarely allows workplace adjustments for nonpregnant employees, the employer is not legally required to accommodate a pregnant employee. While employers cannot fire pregnant employees just for being pregnant, the law does not mandate implementing workplace changes if an employee’s demands are pregnancy-related.
There are many criticisms of the PDA. First, some argue that the Act is too focused on biology and does not protect the social aspects of motherhood. Others claim that it does not consider the social, cultural, and financial effects of the capacity to become pregnant. Thus, women are discriminated against in the workplace because they could become pregnant, which leads to lower wages, fewer promotions, and less authority. Some believe that pregnancy should not be considered a disability and classifying it as such reflects a patriarchal view of pregnancy. Additionally, critics note that transgender people are excluded from the PDA because its language is centered around “women” and does not use non-binary gender identifiers.
Proposed Legislation – Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
Many states have recently enacted pregnancy accommodations laws to fix the PDA’s shortcomings. However, this leaves pregnant employees who work in states without state protection solely relying on the PDA. Therefore, there has been a national push to implement better accommodations for pregnant employees, and it is already making its way toward becoming federal law.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a bill that “prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by a pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” The language strikingly mirrors the ADA’s structure and requires individual assessments of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. This Bill passed the House of Representatives on May 14, 2021. Currently, the Bill is ready to be voted on by the Senate.
The Bill makes it known that employers cannot mandate pregnant workers to leave their job or deny them reasonable accommodations that would allow them to continue working while maintaining healthy pregnancies. Thus, it would help end discrimination against pregnant people, promote healthy pregnancies, and provide economic security to pregnant employees and their families.
Why the Bill Will Likely Pass
Democrats and Republicans both agree that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act should pass. Bipartisan support is vital to ensuring policies are long-lasting, and when the bill passed the House, it passed with a strong bipartisan vote – 329-73. Additionally, in early August, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions gave bipartisan approval to the bill in a 19-2 vote.
There is also powerful national bipartisan support. A recent survey indicated that 89% of U.S. voters support the Bill – 81% of Republicans, 86% of Independents, and 96% of Democrats. Thus, this Bill is likely to become a federal law.
If you have any questions, please consult with your solicitor or one of the employment attorneys at KingSpry.