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The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: What It Means for Low-Wage Working Women

Yesterday, the 100th co-sponsor in the House of Representatives, Grace Napolitano (D-CA), signed on in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure that employers provide pregnant workers with simple accommodations if they need them to safely continue working during pregnancy.

The National Women’s Law Center is grateful to all of the bill’s co-sponsors for supporting this important piece of legislation.

So why is it so important?

To answer that question, today I asked Dr. Maureen Perry-Jenkins what happens to low-wage working women when they can’t get simple accommodations that they need during their pregnancies. Dr. Perry-Jenkins is a researcher at the University of Massachusetts conducting a federally-funded study of low-wage working families across the transition to parenthood.

Here’s her answer: All too often, pregnant low-wage workers wind up out of a job.

It is common for women in Dr. Perry-Jenkins’ studies to report they felt they had no choice other than to quit their physically demanding jobs in those instances when their pregnancies no longer permitted them to stand for long periods of time, lift heavy objects or work very long shifts with no break.

“They have no expectations that their employers would accommodate them at work and so they quit in their 6th, 7th or 8th month of pregnancy.”

I can see why these women are not hopeful that their employers will provide the accommodations they need. Reported cases demonstrate that when workers do ask, time and again they are denied simple accommodations that would allow them to continue working during their pregnancies.

Pregnant women should not be forced out of the workplace when very small adjustments to workplace policies and procedures – like providing a stool for a cashier to sit rather than stand, or help lifting heavy objects or break time - would enable them to continue working.

The consequences of failing to provide accommodations for pregnant workers are devastating: without a job and a new baby on the way, out-of-work pregnant workers have no income. Low-wage working women may also lose their housing and their child care subsidies that are tied to employment (for the lucky few that have those).

Dr. Perry-Jenkins told me that those women who are fortunate enough to find a new job (and affordable child care) soon after their children are born are usually in a probationary period during the first six months of work. Any time off for a sick day, or any minor infractions like being late, and they are bounced out of that new job too. It is just about inevitable that a new baby will get sick a few times during the first six months. For low-wage working women with infants, being new on the job sounds like a recipe for disaster.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a critical step toward fairer treatment for pregnant workers. It would provide clear protections to working women so that they can get accommodations that they need to continue working during their pregnancies.

So why is this bill so important?

 It’s important because it would ensure that women workers can continue to earn a living during pregnancy and their children’s infancy.

That’s why we urge you to tell your Representatives to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act!

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