Will the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Help Women? 

What Women Really Think
May 8 2012 3:51 PM

Introducing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

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Should pregnant women get special accomodations at work?

AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock.com

As all mothers-to-be can attest, being pregnant doesn’t necessarily relegate you to bed-rest, but it does generally require a certain amount of accommodation, especially at work. As our former colleague KJ Dell’Antonia reports over on the New York Times Motherloade blog today, a new proposed bill in the House of Representatives would require employers to make those accommodations as a matter of law.

Federal legislation to be introduced Tuesday by House members from New York and California (including Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney) is intended to ensure that no woman has to make [the choice not to work because of pregnancy]. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, says Mr. Nadler, will “require an employer to make a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, unless this creates an undue hardship on the employer.”

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The legislation would also prevent employers from using a worker’s pregnancy to deny her opportunities on the job, force her to take an accommodation that she does not want or need, or force her onto leave when another reasonable accommodation could help keep her on the job—all rules that should already be familiar to employers, thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Currently, women cannot be discriminated against for being pregnant, but companies are not required to make any adjustments to work-load or type; and, as Dell’Antonia points out, while many companies have voluntarily allowed for the necessary changes, some women have been fired for “infractions” as minor as carrying a water bottle on the job.

While most employers ought to find this measure reasonable, I suspect we’ll be hearing about how making basic accommodations for pregnant women is an assault on the free-market or something very soon. Stay tuned.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.