Yesterday, Congress took up legislation that could significantly impact women’s health — and no, it doesn’t limit contraception or force anything into their vaginas.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act aims to protect pregnant women in the workplace from common discrimination — not being allowed to carry a water bottle, for example — that threatens their health and stops them from being productive employees, or from working altogether.
Introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA), the bill would “ensure that pregnant women are not forced out of jobs unnecessarily or denied reasonable job modifications that would allow them to continue working,” according to a media advisory:
Currently, pregnant working women around the country are being denied simple adjustments – permission to use a stool while working a cash register or to carry a bottle of water to stay hydrated or temporary reassignment to lighter duty tasks – that would keep them working and supporting their families while maintaining healthy pregnancies. [...]
In recent and startling examples, a retail worker in Salina, Kansas was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections; an activity director at a nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana was terminated because she required help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage; and a delivery truck driver in Landover, Maryland was forced out on unpaid leave because she had a lifting restriction and was denied light duty.
The simple protections offered in the bill are modeled (PDF) on the Americans with Disabilities Act, under which women are not covered because pregnancy is a temporary condition (and not a disability). Existing bills protect certain rights — Title VII protects a woman from being fired because she is pregnant and the Family and Medical Leave Act establishes minimum paid maternity leave — but this bill addresses specific on-the-job discrimination against a woman who is currently pregnant.
U.S. maternity policy are significantly worse than other comparable developed countries — nearly half of working mothers end up missing paychecks because of a lack of paid maternity leave. This bill would be a good first step toward fixing a system that doesn’t work for America’s mothers, but it is just one step in a long road toward fair policies for expecting mothers.