Will Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Lighten Women's Load?
7 months ago
Bill would outlaw firing women over reasonable accommodation requests
When Shelly from Indiana became pregnant, she was working two jobs. During the day, she packed items to ship for a medical supply company; overnight, she stocked shelves for a major national retail chain. When her doctor advised that she not lift more than 20 pounds, the retailer refused to modify her responsibilities. She miscarried shortly thereafter. When she became pregnant again months later and communicated the same restrictions, she was fired.
Stories like Shelly's have inspired the National Women’s Law Center to champion the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill that would make it illegal for employers to fire women who are unable to perform all their job duties due to their pregnancy, or who seek feasible workplace accommodations for the same reason.
In May, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., introduced the bill in the House. Last week, it reached the Senate floor, where it has stalled with a 3 percent chance of being passed. With more than 100 co-sponsors, it's clear the bill strikes a chord, but with the presidential election less than two months away, the bill's somewhat divisive nature may discourage any urgency in getting it passed.
Carrie Hoffman is a labor and employment lawyer for Gardere Wynne Sewell, who represents companies not individual workers. Hoffman believes the sensitive nature of the bill will have it being left in limbo until after the election—if ever.
"I don't think it's going to pass before the November election because nothing important ever does." Hoffman said. "But I don't feel like my clients are out there trying not to provide a safe work environment. If the job requires lifting, the questions that always arise are, 'How often are they really lifting 40 pounds? And, are they ever really doing that solo?' because most non-pregnant women aren't dead-lifting that weight without assistance either. So, the issue is, what's really required? And if they're eliminating that duty for an employee for whatever reason, be it pregnancy or disability, is that overburdening other workers?"
However, during a time when 53 percent of women are the primary income providers in their household, Cynthia Calvert, founder and CEO of Workforce 21C, a company that trains employers in preventing discrimination, believes that the passage of the bill could calm women's worries about being fired when their finances matter most.
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