With all the recent talk about access to contraception and state legislation requiring transvaginal ultrasounds, pregnancy and the rights of women are getting a lot of air time. Unfortunately, most of those policy battles have focused on taking women’s rights away.
Now, Democrats are flipping the script — offering up legislation that would actually increase the rights of working women and their families.
Today, Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Susan Davis (D-CA) introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), new legislation that would require an employer to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. It also ensures that those workers can’t be pushed out on leave or terminated when they ask their employers for minor workplace accommodations, and prohibits employers from forcing a pregnant worker to take leave when another reasonable accommodation would allow her to stay in her job.
While various protections currently exist for pregnant workers, including protections offered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), PWFA addresses existing gaps.
You see, the way courts interpret these existing laws often leave pregnant women vulnerable. Under PDA, your boss can’t fire you just because you’re pregnant. However, many pregnant workers require temporary modifications such as relief from lifting requirements.
Plenty of employers happily make such accommodations, but not all do, and right now, the government doesn’t compel employers to do the right thing. In some cases, a woman is forced to choose between following the advice of her doctor and the requirements set forth by her employer. In other cases, employers force women into leave rather than making basic accommodations. From a retail worker who was fired because she needed to carry bottled water in order to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections to a delivery truck driver who was forced into unpaid leave because she had a lifting restriction, some pregnant workers and their families continue to slip through the cracks.
In addition to being common-sense, smart legislation, PWFA positively expands the boundaries of the ongoing national conversation around women’s rights. As I’ve written before, this year’s early fireworks around contraceptives had a galvanizing effect on White, college-educated women, but failed to have the same effect on non-college educated and minority women. Democrats’ focus on Equal Pay legislation and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) began to expand that conversation, and PWFA likely continues that positive trend.
Beyond women, the focus on workers also fits neatly into Democrats’ larger economic messaging framework.
“When American families are struggling to make ends meet, we must do everything we can to keep people in their jobs. This is especially true for pregnant women who are about to have another mouth to feed,” said Congressman Nadler. “Ensuring that a woman who needs minor and reasonable job adjustments to maintain a healthy pregnancy gets that accommodation should be central to our society’s support for strong and stable families.”
Nadler is right. With women constituting almost half of the U.S. workforce, and middle-class families requiring dual incomes just to stay afloat, a woman’s right to work is more important than ever. And at a time when Democrats are forced to play defense on women’s rights, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a great reminder of what could be accomplished if they were also playing offense.