On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed a bill into law that protects pregnant workers from discrimination and requires employers to give them reasonable accommodations so that they can stay on the job.
The bill expands the anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation protections of New Jersey’s current Law Against Discrimination to those who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and it applies to employers, landlords, lenders, and others. It also requires that employers provide pregnant workers with accommodations such as bathroom breaks, the ability to carry a water bottle, rest periods, or modifying duties or schedules so that they can avoid strenuous or hazardous work. The bill had passed both the state House and Senate nearly unanimously last week.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act bars employers from discriminating on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth. Yet pregnant workers are still regularly forced out of their jobs or made to work in unsafe conditions. The results can be fatal and devastating. At least three women have shared their stories of being made to continue heavy lifting duties at work that led to miscarriages, and one woman, Reyna García, has sued her employer, claiming that the failure to accommodate her pregnancy led to the death of her baby. Others experience financial hardship, such as a woman who was forced onto unpaid leave even after she brought in a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t do heavy lifting.
The problem has also been growing. Nearly two-thirds of today’s first-time mothers work while pregnant, compared to less than half in the 1960s, and the vast majority continue working into the last months of their pregnancies. Yet many face challenges, such as the 40 percent of low-income workers who can’t decide when they take their breaks. This clash has led to a sharp uptick in pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007 and reached more than 3,700 in 2012.
New Jersey is the latest state to take action to remedy the problem, joining Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas, as well as cities like New York. Philadelphia and Wisconsin also recently introduced legislation. That still leaves most pregnant workers unprotected, however. That’s why lawmakers in the House and Senate re-introduced a bill that would strengthen protections on a national level in May, but as with past attempts, the bill didn’t even garner a hearing.