Laws protecting pregnant workers

Sharon Terman   Mia Munro     

Sharon Terman, Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center senior staff attorney, and Mia Munro, Equal Rights Advocates staff attorney

Laura, a program counselor for people with disabilities, was pregnant with her first child. Her doctor gave her a note recommending that she refrain from bending and twisting when tying down wheelchairs to a bus. Laura gave the note to her supervisor, who promptly forced Laura to take an early unpaid pregnancy leave, even though Laura was perfectly able to continue working for several more months with the modification her doctor advised. 

Thankfully, Laura works in California, where the law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. She contacted a lawyer, who informed her employer of its legal obligation, and Laura was returned to work and granted the accommodation she needed. 

California law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who are pregnant or who recently gave birth, such as allowing workers to sit on a chair or stool instead of standing, take frequent bathroom breaks, drink water or eat a snack during a shift, change their hours, or avoid lifting heavy objects or being exposed to toxic fumes. These accommodations allow women to continue working and supporting themselves and their families while maintaining healthy pregnancies. 

Unfortunately, most women in the United States lack this basic entitlement. Last year, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was introduced by both houses of the US Congress. The PWFA would require employers to grant pregnant workers the same accommodations that employers are already required to provide to workers with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Because pregnancy is not considered a disability, pregnant women from around the country are regularly denied the accommodations that employers provide to those with disabilities. The PWFA would close this gap in the law and enable pregnant women who need modest adjustments at work to continue in their jobs while remaining healthy. The bill is supported by women’s rights and health groups across the nation, including ACOG.

For free information or technical assistance regarding legal protections for pregnant women and new parents in the workplace—including pregnancy modifications, leaves of absence, and lactation accommodations—contact the Equal Rights Advocates’ Advice and Counseling Hotline at 800-839-4372 or the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center’s Work and Family Helpline at 800-880-8047.



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