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“We Don’t Pay You to Pee” and Other Reasons Why We Need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Amanda Roller was a call center employee in Kansas. After Amanda became pregnant she started experiencing morning sickness. Amanda’s supervisor repeatedly refused her requests to go the bathroom and instead told her that she would get Amanda a larger trash can so that she could vomit at her desk. Amanda asked again, and her supervisor again denied her request, saying, “We don’t pay you to pee.” Amanda was then demoted and eventually fired.

Unfortunately, Amanda is not alone. Across the country, pregnant women face discrimination in the workplace when their employers refuse to make adjustments to their job duties such as honoring lifting restrictions, allowing them to stay off high ladders, or even just letting them go to the bathroom to vomit.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) outlawed this type of discrimination in 1978 with its requirement that employers treat pregnant workers the same as those who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” But too many lower courts have misinterpreted the PDA, holding incorrectly that it permits employers to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities or on-the-job injuries but deny those accommodations to pregnant workers.

Of course, many pregnant workers will be able to continue working throughout their pregnancies without any changes to their jobs. But some other pregnant workers—particularly those in physically demanding and low-wage jobs— need these accommodations to have healthy pregnancies and to continue to provide for their families.

That is where the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act comes in. This commonsense legislation was reintroduced in Congress today by lead co-sponsors, Senators Casey and Shaheen and Representative Nadler. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. California has had legislation requiring employers to accommodate pregnant workers for more than a decade, and during that time the number of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits has decreased in that state even while the number of such suits rose nationwide. It’s time for Congress to set the record straight: a temporary physical impairment that can easily be accommodated should not cost a pregnant worker her job. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would do just that.