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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)

Keeping Pregnant Workers on the Job Unanimously Carries the Day in Delaware

Earlier this month I was thrilled to be present as the Delaware Senate unanimously voted in favor of S.B. 212 — the state’s version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). And yesterday the state House of Representatives followed suit in another unanimous vote on the bill. Once the Governor signs this landmark piece of legislation, Delaware will become the 13th state to provide for workplace accommodations for at least some pregnant workers.

Many women can continue working safely throughout their pregnancies, but some women find that at some point during pregnancy certain job activities — things like lifting, bending, or standing for long periods — can begin to pose a challenge. Many of these women could continue to work without risk to themselves or their pregnancies with slight job modifications. But too often employers deny pregnant workers such modifications, even if they would provide similar accommodations to workers with temporary disabilities — and force women to make an impossible choice between the health of their pregnancies and their jobs.

That is where Delaware’s PWFA bill comes in. It will ensure that pregnant women can continue to do their jobs and support their families by making it unmistakably clear that employers have to grant reasonable accommodations to women who are experiencing medical limitations as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions, unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship for the employer. Read more »

President Obama Stands Up for Pregnant Workers

It’s a pretty special day when you get a shout-out from the President. And yesterday, at the White House Summit on Working Families, pregnant workers got that shout-out. Twenty-first century families need 21st century workplaces, the President said:

That means treating pregnant workers fairly, because too many are forced to choose between their health and their job. Right now, if you’re pregnant you could potentially get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks—clearly from a boss who has never been pregnant—or forced [onto] unpaid leave. That makes no sense.

Of course, the President is right. (And as someone who was lucky enough to be there in person, I can attest that these remarks got a huge cheer inside the standing-room-only event.) Right now, when pregnant workers have a medical need for a temporary accommodation, too often bosses say no, even when they provide accommodations to workers who need them because of disabilities or injuries. Pregnant workers are then faced with a choice no one should have to make, between ignoring their doctor’s advice and putting their jobs at risk. But luckily there’s a solution at hand, as the President made clear, when he urged, “Congress should pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act without delay.” Read more »

Can We All Agree? Pregnant Workers Deserve Fair Treatment

There is a short list of things we can all agree on — summer vacations are the best; sequels are never as good as the original movie; Diet Dr. Pepper tastes close to the real thing. After the last year, I'd like to think we can add "fair treatment for pregnant workers" to the list. But while states around the country seem to agree that this is an utterly noncontroversial statement, Congress just can't seem to get on board. 

While many women can work through pregnancy without needing any changes in their daily work, some women have a medical need for temporary modifications in job policies or duties in order to continue working safely through their pregnancies. Women like Hilda Guzzman. Hilda stood on her feet for eight to ten hours at a time in her job as a cashier and started to experience premature labor pains as a result. She asked her employer if she could sit on a stool while working the cash register. Her employer refused to accommodate her pregnancy-related impairment and she was forced out of her job. Without an accommodation, Hilda was unable to work for the remainder of her pregnancy. She lost her income at the very moment her financial needs were increasing. 

Unfortunately, Hilda's story is not unique. All too often, when pregnant women request a temporary change in the workplace — such as a reprieve from heavy lifting or the right to drink water during a shift — their employers are denying the request and pushing pregnant women out of their jobs. Read more »

A Mother's Day Event to Remember

While pregnant, a primary concern for a mom-to-be is the health of her pregnancy.  The instant that baby arrives, her list of concerns grows from one to many – and it’s about way more than all the diapers and late-night feedings.  Moms worry about giving their kids the best possible education, keeping them safe, raising them to be good people, getting them set up for the future, and on and on. 

So with all that on her plate, the last thing a mom or mom-to-be needs to worry about is losing her job, being mistreated at work, or being perceived as a less productive employee – just because she’s a mom or mom-to-be.

This week we honored moms and moms-to-be with an event on Capitol Hill to bring awareness to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  If it becomes law, PWFA would explicitly require employers to make the same sorts of accommodations for limitations arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that they are already required to make for limitations arising out of disabilities.  The highlights of our pre-Mother’s Day gathering were a giant cake, cute kids, beautiful bellies, and some special guests.  Take a look: Read more »

Fair Treatment One Step Closer for Pregnant Workers in West Virginia

Today the West Virginia legislature took an important step forward in ensuring that no pregnant woman in that state is forced to make an untenable choice between keeping her job and protecting the health of her pregnancy. The state’s House of Delegates unanimously passed the West Virginia Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA). This is the latest in a string of state and local unanimous and near unanimous votes in support of strengthening protections against pregnancy discrimination – including in New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Although many women can work throughout their pregnancies without any changes in their job, some women find at some point during a pregnancy that their job activities begin to pose a challenge – especially in physically demanding low-wage jobs and jobs that are traditionally held by men. Many of these women could continue to work without risk to themselves or their pregnancies with slight job modifications. However, too often their employers deny pregnant workers’ requests for simple accommodations like a stool that would allow a pregnant cashier to sit instead of stand, or an exception from a rule against drinking water while working – which can have disastrous consequences for the woman, her pregnancy, and her family.

The West Virginia Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act addresses this problem by making it unmistakably clear that employers must provide reasonable accommoda­tions for workers’ limitations that arise from pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions unless this would create an undue hardship for the employer – just as they must already do for workers who have temporary disabilities. Read more »

Five Years After the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - Honoring a Law That Has Worked

Five years ago today, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill that President Obama ever signed.  The Act restored critical protections against pay discrimination that the Supreme Court stripped away in its disastrous decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.  It made clear that the time limit for pursuing pay discrimination claims under federal law on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability re-starts each time an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck – reversing the Supreme Court’s holding that the stop-watch on bringing pay discrimination claims runs only from the time of an initial pay-setting decision. This common-sense law kept the courthouse doors from being slammed shut on countless women who, like Lilly Ledbetter, only discover years after an initial discriminatory decision was made that they are being paid less than their male counterparts.

The Ledbetter Act has resulted in real, concrete gains for victims of pay discrimination. Wage disparities often go undetected because employers threaten to punish employees who voluntarily share salary information with their coworkers.  Because of the Ledbetter Act, workers who learn that they have been paid unfairly have been able to challenge and remedy pay discrimination that otherwise would have gone unchecked. Read more »

He Signed It! New Jersey Expands Protection for Pregnant Workers

Great news out of New Jersey! Yesterday, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law that protects and supports pregnant women in the workplace. The new law bans pregnancy discrimination and requires employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers so that they can continue working safely through their pregnancies. By signing the bill, Gov. Christie joins the unanimous New Jersey Senate and 77-1 New Jersey Assembly that support reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. As a result, fewer pregnant workers will be forced off the job at the moment they can least afford it. Read more »

Fairness for Pregnant Workers: A Review of 2013

2013 was quite a year in the fight for fair treatment for pregnant workers! The issue of providing workplace accommodations for pregnant workers has gotten national attention in the media, and has helped to build momentum for progress on legislation at the federal, state and city level. In a national poll, over 90% of likely voters polled supported workplace protections for pregnant women.

In 2013, the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act gained 113 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, and 20 cosponsors in the Senate. The bills, which are led by Rep. Nadler in the House of Representatives and Sens. Casey and Shaheen in the Senate, would make unmistakably clear that employers have a duty to accommodate pregnant workers who need minor job accommodations to continue safely working and providing for their families while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Bills providing protections for pregnant workers were passed in Maryland and New York City. Read more »

Pregnant Worker Seeks Justice in Court

Asia Myers’ story is all too common. After suffering a threatened miscarriage, Asia brought her employer a doctor’s note with a lifting and pushing restriction. If Asia had been injured at her job, as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Hope Healthcare Center in Michigan, or if she had a medical condition other than pregnancy, this would have been no problem. With a doctor’s note, these other categories of employees were routinely given light duty assignments such as hair and nail care for residents, shaving residents, paperwork, feeding residents, and performing showering tasks that don’t require lifting.

But Asia was pregnant and Hope Healthcare Center maintains a discriminatory policy that denies pregnant employees reasonable accommodations that it permits for non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions. So when Asia asked for light duty, she was refused. Hope Healthcare Center forced Asia to choose between a steady paycheck and a healthy pregnancy. When she chose her pregnancy she was required to take unpaid leave. She lost her health benefits and struggled to make ends meet at a time when she most needed healthcare and a steady paycheck.

Luckily, the National Women’s Law Center helped connect Asia with the ACLU, and last week, the ACLU filed a complaint in federal district court in Michigan on Asia’s behalf. Read more »

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 35: The Need to Restore and Reinvigorate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

This blog post originally appeared on ACSBlog.

Thirty-five years ago, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) was signed into law, remedying the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in General Electric Company v. Gilbert holding that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was not sex discrimination, but rather discrimination between pregnant and non-pregnant persons. Congress acted quickly to rebuke this analysis by passing the PDA, which recognizes what is obvious to most--that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. The PDA also makes clear that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions must be treated at least as well as other employees “not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” As a result of the PDA, once common policies such as forcing pregnant women off the job regardless of their ability to work are no longer permissible.

Yet, pregnancy discrimination still persists more than a generation after the PDA’s passage. This is in part because stereotypes about pregnant women persist in the workplace, despite the law’s protection. But, even more troublingly, pregnancy discrimination also persists because some courts have read the language of the PDA narrowly, ignoring both its plain language and its intent and limiting its protections for pregnant workers. Read more »