Protections for pregnant workers is a small change with big rewards

Just last week, the new jobs report, released by the Labor Department showed that without schools and child care, women are dropping out of the workforce in record numbers.

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by Arielle Kane, Director of Health Care at PPI

The House of Representatives recently passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which would require that most employers provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees — similar to what is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This bill is a sliver of good news for women who have disproportionately born the brunt of this pandemic. Not only do women work in industries more likely to be affected by Covid-19 (health care, direct care, and a slew of service industries) they are also bearing the brunt of the economic implications of the pandemic.

Just last week, the new jobs report, released by the Labor Department showed that without schools and child care, women are dropping out of the workforce in record numbers. Of the 1.1 million adults who reported leaving the workforce (not working or looking for work) between August and September, over than 800,000 were women. For comparison, 216,000 men left the job market over same time period.

Without safely opening schools and child care centers, or closing the gender wage gap, it’s hard to see what other options women have.

But the good news is, that if this law passes the Senate, pregnant women may get better accommodation which could protect them and their babies.

Current federal law protects pregnant employees from discrimination but there is no law that requires pregnant workers to receive reasonable accommodation to continue working without jeopardizing their pregnancy. Reasonable accommodation could be reassigning tasks or maybe more flexible work schedules, allowing more work from home hours when appropriate. We’ve learned from Covid-19, that working from home does not necessarily mean less productivity.

While it’s premature to fully understand the effects of Covid-19 on pregnancy, a few trends have emerged:

  • Covid-19 infection is associated with premature birth: While the data is premature and limited, some studies are linking preterm with Covid-19. If this trend continues, it will be even more important to provide working pregnant women with accommodations to reduce their likelihood of contracting the virus.
  • Sheltering in place, reduced premature birth: There is some good news for pregnant women: Across countries with strict lockdowns or shelter-in-place orders from the pandemic, premature births fell. In Denmark, premature births fell by 90 percent and in Ireland, babies with very low birth weight fell by 73 percent. Coctors are still trying to understand why — less pollution, travel, infection or hustle and bustle could all help explain the decline.

These two points illustrate that reasonable accommodation to either avoid infections or reduce unnecessary stress could have a dramatic impact on working women and their babies. If it signed into law, the PWFA would:

  • Require public employers and private employers with 15+ employees make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and job applicants as long as it does not create undue hardship on the employer
  • Allow pregnant employees to request accommodation without retaliation

The bill has the support of the business community, civil rights groups, and labor advocacy organizations.

At a time when women are disproportionately impacted from this virus, this bill is a small victory to families across the country and the Senate should pass it expediently.

Radically Pragmatic. We seek to advance progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth, and wider opportunity.

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