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New Federal Legislation May Offer Pregnant Workers More Protection

Becoming pregnant is a life-changing experience. For many workers, it’s also a career-ending change. Despite multiple laws on the books intended to protect pregnant people from discrimination and allow them to continue working, pregnant people around the country struggle to receive the job accommodations they need.

That’s why the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is being considered by Congress. It’s already been passed by the House with strong bipartisan support, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has approved it. Should the bill be signed into law, it could grant workers significantly more rights to pursue accommodations during pregnancy around the country. Here’s how the bill works, how it compares to extant state laws, and what it may mean for California workers like you. 

What You Need to Know About the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The PWFA would update the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). The PDA made it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers because of pregnancies, childbirth, or related health conditions. It specifies that pregnant people have the right to receive equal treatment “not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” 

The problem is that this leaves some holes when the law is interpreted narrowly. If an employer would not provide accommodation for a non-disabled person to perform a job because they need it, the PDA allows them to refuse pregnant people similarly. This is because an “ordinary” pregnancy, or a normal pregnancy without significant medical complications, is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Therefore, under the PDA, companies may not discriminate against workers for undergoing labor or significant medical complications of their pregnancy. However, if those conditions impede their ability to work but do not fall under the ADA, companies can refuse accommodations just as they could a non-disabled person. As it stands, workers need to demonstrate that they are actively being discriminated against because of their gender or that their pregnancy meets ADA standards to receive accommodations for pregnancies. This forces many people out of the workforce with little justification. 

The PWFA would close this loophole. It would require companies to provide workers with the accommodations they need to continue working regardless of whether their pregnancy meets ADA standards. This would allow workers in many states to continue working by requiring companies to provide simple aids such as stools for retail workers or schedule changes to avoid morning sickness. 

How Does the PWFA Compare to State Laws?

Thirty states already have laws similar to the PWFA. These states require companies to provide accommodations to pregnant workers, but they differ in each state. Furthermore, twenty states do not have any law requiring these accommodations, forcing people to choose between a healthy pregnancy and keeping their jobs. 

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) covers some of the same considerations as the PWFA. Under FEHA, a person is considered “disabled by pregnancy” if something they experience because of their pregnancy prevents them from performing essential duties or puts themselves or their unborn child at undue risk. Under FEHA, pregnant people are considered disabled and must be granted the same accommodations as disabled persons with similar restrictions. 

This means that in California, workers can already pursue reasonable accommodations at their jobs if they demonstrate that they would otherwise be at risk or unable to perform their duties. However, they may need to provide a doctor’s note explaining why they cannot perform their current responsibilities. Should the PWFA pass, it may remove this requirement, allowing workers to request reasonable accommodations and work with their employers to find solutions without needing to attend an additional appointment. 

Pursuing Fair Treatment as a Pregnant Worker in California

Until the PWFA passes, California workers must rely on the state’s existing pregnancy protections. These laws are generally strong, though the requirement for a doctor’s note may still be an imposition on some employees. If you’re a pregnant worker in California, you have the right to leave and accommodations throughout your pregnancy, childbirth, and after your child is born. If you aren’t granted these, you may be suffering from discrimination. 

Examples of discrimination against pregnant workers under FEHA include:

  • Refusing to allow schedule or shift changes to help the worker continue to do their best work
  • Failing to provide seating for pregnant workers when possible
  • Requiring pregnant workers to continue doing significant physical labor instead of granting light duty
  • Ordering workers to take paid or unpaid time off instead of providing accommodations for their pregnancy

Your rights may have been violated if any of these issues sound familiar. You can start the process of fighting back by taking the following steps:

  • Document your request and condition: You need to inform your employer that you would like an accommodation before they must grant it. Keep records of any messages you’ve sent to Human Resources or your supervisor regarding your request to show you’ve made an effort.
  • Save communications: Keep copies of anything your employer sends you regarding your requested accommodations and employment status. This can help you prove your request was unfairly denied or that you were discriminated against because of your pregnancy. 

Most importantly, you should reach out to an experienced employment law attorney if you’ve suffered pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. 

Legal Assistance for People Facing Pregnancy-Based Discrimination in the Workplace

As an expectant parent, you have enough to worry about. Don’t let workplace discrimination become another problem. If your employer is refusing to grant you accommodations for your pregnancy or has fired, demoted, or cut your hours because of your pregnancy, you need legal help.At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we’re ready to help. We have years of experience advocating for clients who have suffered pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and we understand how to help you resolve your claim. Schedule your consultation today to learn how we can help you take a stand against discriminatory practices and remain in the workforce today.

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