The New York City Council unanimously passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last week. The bill extends current protections against employer discrimination to pregnant workers and expands the city's Human Rights Law to include pregnant workers.
Employers will now be required to provide reasonable accommodations for a worker's needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Those accommodations can include rest breaks, a period of recovery from childbirth, and help with manual labor. Employers must also give pregnant workers written information about their rights.
These protections for pregnant women are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy, reports ThinkProgress. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by this kind of discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) reports, "When women face a physical conflict between work and childbearing, they will often lose their job, and their families will lose income at the very moment their financial needs increase." For example, one pregnant woman who was a Wal-Mart sales associate started experiencing urinary and bladder infections, so she started to carry a water bottle at work under her doctor's advice to stay hydrated. She was fired because of a Wal-Mart rule that only cashiers could have water bottles. She challenged her termination in court and lost.
According to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a fifth of discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are related to pregnancy. Last year alone, over 3,700 were filed. Under the new bill, if employers fail to follow the new bill's requirements, employees can bring actions in civil court or bring a complaint to the city's Human Rights Commission. Employers could be fined up to $250,000, face jail time, or be required to change their practices, provide compensation, or re-hire employees, among other remedies.
Currently only a handful of states provide protections for pregnant workers. A federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was reintroduced in Congress last May.
Media Resources: Gotham Gazette 9/24/13; ThinkProgress 5/14/13, 9/30/13; National Women's Law Center