Casey Introduces Pregnant Worker Fairness Act to Senate
September 20, 2012 8:18 am
Pregnant workers with demanding jobs currently exist in a legal grey area — while the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 provides protection from blatant discrimination, the Americans with Disability Act does not consider pregnant workers a protected class requiring reasonable workplace accommodation.
In practice, this has led to egregious firings. A pregnant woman employed by Walmart was fired for carrying a water bottle at work per her doctor’s orders. Another pregnant worker at Rent-A-Center was fired after her supervisors discovered that she was restricted from heavy lifting because of her condition. With these injustices in mind, Senator Robert Casey (D-Penn.) has introduced the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act (PWFA), which takes cues from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If made into law, the bill will protect pregnant workers from unjust firing, coercion to quit or take unpaid leave, and will force employers to make modifications to accommodate pregnant workers. Casey’s bill joins similar legislation introduced to the House of Representatives in May.
Speaking Friday at the Maternity Workers Center in Philadelphia, Casey said that he’s heard firsthand from pregnant workers who have experienced workplace discrimination:
Pregnant workers face discrimination in the workplace every day, which is an inexcusable detriment to women and working families in Pennsylvania and across the country,” said Senator Casey. “My bill will finally extend fairness to pregnant women so that they can continue to contribute to a productive economy while progressing through pregnancy in good health.
The earlier bill introduced before the House of Representatives in May was nearly identical to this one — so why hasn’t this common-sense legislation made any headway? Shiela Bapat of RH Reality Check attributes the Republican-controlled House’s inaction to an unwillingness to place restrictions or burdens on employers, but adds:
It’s true, regulations like the PWFA are a burden on employers — but we have to balance that burden against the conditions many US working mothers face…The National Women’s Law Center points out that In 2010, 41 percent of working mothers were their family’s primary breadwinner. Pregnancy and a new baby means increased expenses, and a woman’s wages will often be particularly important during this time.
State laws providing protections similar to those proposed by the PWFA are in place in Connecticut, Louisiana, Hawaii, California and Texas, and the House bill has 108 sponsors. Perhaps Casey’s bill will gain more traction in the relatively friendlier Senate so close to election time.
Women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, and discrimination and inequality are pervasive in the workplace. The PWFA and other legislation that seeks to level the playing field should be welcomed by workers and lawmakers alike.
Image from here