On Monday, eight male lawmakers in South Dakota voted down a bill that would have required reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers so they can safely stay on the job.
Instead of offering protections against discrimination, unsafe conditions, and getting fired, one of the men had a different solution for pregnant employees. “It’s not prison. You can quit,” Republican state Rep. Wayne H. Steinhauer, who voted against the bill, said during a hearing, according to Rewire.
“You’ve got a choice every day. You make a choice whether you come to work,” he went on. “And I’m here to tell you, if a person’s not allowing you to breastfeed at work or making appropriate accommodations at work, we can pass this law, but you don’t want to work for that guy. Get the heck out of there.”
Discrimination against pregnant employees, such as firing someone for becoming pregnant or refusing to extend her the same work accommodations that disabled employees can use, is already against federal law. The Supreme Court also sided with a formerly pregnant UPS employee who sued her employer for refusing to give her light duty that was available to injured and disabled employees.
But many pregnant employees simply need small changes to be able to continue to work while protecting their health, such as more frequent bathroom breaks, a stool to sit on, or the ability to drink water on the job. Nearly two-thirds of first-time mothers work during their pregnancies, and the majority need some sort of adjustment to keep doing so. Yet an estimated quarter million women have their requests for these changes rejected every year, and even more don’t even ask for fear of jeopardizing their jobs. The situation led to more than 650 charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state agencies over being denied simple accommodations between 2010 and 2015.
To change this landscape, 18 states and Washington, D.C. have passed bills that have come to be known as pregnant workers fairness acts, or laws requiring employers to grant these requests for changes so pregnant employees can keep working unless they can prove it would be seriously detrimental to business. But in the other states, it can be difficult for pregnant workers who want or need to keep working.
Democrats have repeatedly introduced a federal version of the law, which would ensure that pregnant workers all across the country would be covered, but it has made little progress.