Accommodating Pregnant Workers is a Matter of Reproductive, Economic and Racial Justice

In 2020, no pregnant worker should be forced to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy. 

Accommodating Pregnant Workers is a Matter of Reproductive, Economic and Racial Justice
It’s still the case that too many women are fired or forced out when they request a modest workplace accommodation to protect their health. (Napoleon Cole / Flickr)

As a family services worker for the state of New Jersey, my job is to ensure the health and safety of young children in state custody. But during my own difficult pregnancy a couple of years ago, my employer didn’t look out for my health or the health of my pregnancy.

Instead of accommodating me with temporary light duty so I could follow my doctor’s orders and continue working, human resources told me I needed to take unpaid leave. (My manager initially wanted to work with me and reassigned me to a less strenuous position, but that changed when HR caught wind of the arrangement.) 

Desperate to keep my job, I even asked my doctor to lift my medical restriction, even though it could compromise my health and pregnancy.

Despite all the stress and worry this caused, my story had a better ending than most. A few weeks later, with the assistance of the national legal advocacy group A Better Balance, who wrote a simple letter on my behalf, I asserted my rights under the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act—a state law that says employers must accommodate pregnant workers with medical needs absent “undue hardship” to the employer. 

In a matter of days, I was able to get reinstated in my job and to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. Without this law, I would have been forced to risk my health, and when I could do that no longer, would have lost my income and health care when I needed it the most.

Unfortunately, I know this is not the reality for millions of pregnant women in America, especially women in low-wage, inflexible and physically demanding jobs. 


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Accommodating Pregnant Workers is a Matter of Reproductive, Economic and Racial Justice
Longer term, pregnancy discrimination pushes women deeper into poverty, jeopardizing the health and economic well-being of our families. (Pixy)

In 2020, women are half of all workers on U.S. payrolls and 80 percent of Black women are family breadwinners. Black women are the backbone of the American economy, we are rising to the highest ranks of government and making huge economic and educational strides, and yet we are still too often held back at work especially when it comes to pregnancy.

It’s still the case that too many women of color are fired or forced out when they request a modest workplace accommodation to protect their health.  Longer term, pregnancy discrimination pushes women deeper into poverty, jeopardizing the health and economic well-being of our families.

Pregnant women spend most of their waking hours at work; not being forced to risk one’s health at their job can also make a huge difference in health outcomes for both mother and baby. 

That’s why in February, I traveled from my home in New Jersey to Washington, D.C. to meet with my representatives and urge them to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Accommodating Pregnant Workers is a Matter of Reproductive, Economic and Racial Justice
ABB Community Advocate Takirah Woods and her family calling for the PWFA on Capitol Hill. (A Better Balance)

The trip remains vivid since it was one of the last big things I did before lockdown and before the country became devastated by COVID-19. I went to Capitol Hill to share my story so that what happened to me wouldn’t happen to other pregnant women and to tell Congress that depriving women like me the right to maintain a healthy pregnancy is bad for women, families and our entire economy. 

I was honored that my mother and teenage daughter joined me in visiting our nation’s capital. My mother inspires me and taught me to speak up for what is right. I brought along my daughter so that I can be a role model for her—my hope is that when she is ready to start a family that it won’t even cross her mind to worry about pregnancy discrimination at work, and that she will be respected and valued, not treated like she doesn’t matter.

In 2020, no pregnant worker should be forced to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy. 

Last month, in a huge step forward for this movement, the House passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Now, the Senate must take up this bill without delay, so that millions of pregnant women around the country can confidently ask for what they need to maintain their health and paycheck this year and for years to come. 

Take Action: Protect the Rights of Pregnant Workers

The case is clear: Congress must pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect the rights and livelihoods of pregnant workers and ensure a truly equal workplace.

Now is the time to collectively inform ourselves and each other about our reproductive rights.

Tell your legislators that no one should have to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy—not during a pandemic, not ever. 

And contact your senator to put the pressure on for a floor vote.

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About

Takirah Woods is a community advocate at A Better Balance, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization and a leader in the push for the PWFA.