We <3 NYC for Protecting Pregnant Workers

The Ms. Blog gives a standing ovation to New York City for passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which went into effect January 30 and will help combat pregnancy discrimination.

We <3 NYC for Protecting Pregnant Workers
(Andreas Komodromos / Flickr)

In 1978, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act made such discrimination illegal in the workplace, comparing pregnant women to “temporarily disabled” employees. But by viewing a woman’s pregnancy as a “disability,” employers and the public may presume that pregnancy is debilitating or makes them unable to perform their work. That act hasn’t been entirely effective either: Pregnancy discrimination claims have risen by 35 percent over the last 10 years.

New York City’s new law is more specific about what employers (with more than four employees) must do for pregnant workers. The requirements include:

  • Allowing more frequent bathroom breaks
  • Providing time off to recover from childbirth
  • Allowing more frequent breaks for those employees whose job entails standing for long periods of time
  • Enlisting help for employees whose job requires manual labor

Also, an employer is not permitted to discriminate against a pregnant woman when it comes to hiring or promoting. Employers can’t choose to demote, fire, lower wages or deny benefits to a woman simply because of her pregnancy.

The law affects a huge amount of women. Three-quarters of working women will be pregnant at some point, and 80 percent of those women will continue to work through the last two months of their pregnancy.

New York City’s new law helps clarify and fill in the blanks of the federal act. It’s not the only locale to have done so: Alaska, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Hawaii, Louisiana and Texas have passed similar acts. And last month, Philadelphia enacted an amendment to its Fair Practices Ordinance that gives rights to pregnant women similar to those now delivered by New York City. 

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Lindsey O'Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.