There is less than a month left in the current session of Congress and the Senate has several critical pieces of legislation still pending. With control of Congress divided next year, it’s essential that the Senate take action immediately on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R.1065/S.1486).
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, or PWFA, is a bipartisan bill that prohibits employment discrimination against pregnant workers. Expressly, the bill:
- Requires employers to accommodate employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions – similar to how they must make accommodations for workers with disabilities.
- Makes it unlawful for employers to force pregnant employees to take leave if employers can provide other reasonable accommodations
- Makes it unlawful for employers to take action against an employee for requesting or using an accommodation – actions that have historically pushed pregnant workers out of their jobs.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act aims to retain pregnant workers within their places of employment and prioritize their health and well-being.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on May 14, 2021. Despite bipartisan support, the Senate has yet to take action on the bill. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is not the first legislative attempt to protect pregnant workers. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The law aimed to prevent employers from discriminating against women by denying them promotions, demoting or firing them, or forcing them to stop working due to pregnancy or the possibility of pregnancy. However, since Congress passed the law over 40 years ago, pregnancy discrimination has persisted. Between 2015 and 2021, there were over 20,000 pregnancy discrimination charges reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Moreover, racism exacerbates workplace discrimination that targets pregnant workers. Women’s experiences are not uniform; this is also the reality for pregnant workers who, based on their race and ethnicity, have heightened experiences of workplace discrimination. IWPR reports that women of color are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs and have few, if any, health benefits. This is particularly concerning because only six percent of people working low-wage jobs have access to family leave. Additionally, women who receive no prenatal care are 3 to 4 times more likely to have a pregnancy-related death than women who do. These statistics are especially harrowing for Black and Native American women, who are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women.
Pregnancy should not mean a choice between health and employment; getting pregnant shouldn’t mean that workers are subject to workplace discrimination, career setbacks, and termination. Discrimination against pregnant workers has economic, social, and even fatal consequences, and it’s critical that the Senate take action. IWPR strongly supports the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and urges Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer to prioritize this bill and bring it to the Senate floor, before the end of the year, so it can pass into law.