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By Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates

Two stories. Two radically different endings. Maria and Angie work for different employers in different states.  Both were thrilled when they became pregnant. They were confident that they could continue to perform their jobs during their pregnancies. Like many pregnant women, Maria and Angie eventually sought minor accommodations for pregnancy-related restrictions. Maria was given a stool and worked late into pregnancy.  Angie was refused occasional lifting assistance and was forced from work just a few months into her pregnancy.

The reason?  The law.  Maria lives in California, a state which requires employers to provide pregnant workers reasonable accommodations.  Angie lives in Mississippi, a state which does not.  Unfortunately, federal law does not require the reasonable accommodation of pregnant workers in all circumstances.

Thankfully, fairness for all pregnant workers is on the way.  Earlier this month, U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA), and other legislators introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). HR 5467 would require employers to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations to enable them to continue working during a financially crucial time in their lives.

Soon after the PWFA was introduced, Equal Rights Advocates released a report Expecting a Baby, Not a Lay-Off: Why Federal Law Should Require the Reasonable Accommodation of Pregnant Workers highlighting the importance of the proposed new federal law for working women and their families.  ERA’s Report traces 12 years of success of similar legislation in California.

The Report first examines why current federal law has not consistently ensured the minor accommodation of employees who are able to work during their pregnancies. It then tracks the development of state laws that require accommodations for pregnant workers, with a particular focus on the sweeping success of California’s pregnancy accommodation law, as support for change at the federal level.

The California data considered in ERA’s Report was gathered from calls to the ERA’s Hotline and its experience with clients, cases based on state pregnancy accommodation laws, and statistical data about complaints filed with California’s state administrative agency. All of these provide important insight into how California employees and business have fared since California’s pregnancy accommodation law went into effect in 2000.

Key findings include:

(1)  The number of court and administrative decisions involving California’s pregnancy accommodation law is very low, suggesting that the law has not prompted a flood of litigation.

(2)  The pregnancy accommodations sought are generally modest, reasonable, and easily met by employers.

(3)  Pregnancy accommodation laws are particularly important for protecting low-wage hourly workers.

(4)  Pregnancy accommodations often involve practices helpful to all employees and can benefit the employer’s bottom line.

(5)  California’s pregnancy accommodation law has not prompted more pregnancy discrimination.  In contrast to federal law discrimination charges, which have risen by 54 percent since 1997, the number of pregnancy discrimination charges filed with California’s state agency has decreased since 1997.

Working families need and want to keep working. ERA strongly supports the PWFA because similar protections under California law make the case for federal change. Pregnant women are working with accommodations.  Businesses are benefitting from happy and productive long-term employees.  It is a win-win.

The Report was written by Noreen Farrell, Jamie Dolkas, and Mia Munro.  Download a copy at:  http://www.equalrights.org/media/2012/ERA-PregAccomReport.pdf.

Noreen Farrell is the Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, a national non-profit law firm dedicated to representing the rights of women and girls at work and at school.  For more information, see www.equalrights.org.  Equal Rights Advocates Advice & Counseling Hotline: 1-800-839-4372.


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