The New York City Council has passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which states that employers cannot penalize a pregnant woman who needs a minor job modification to continue working during pregnancy or requires time off to recover from childbirth. Employers with four or more employees must provide a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions — something many women working in retail and service jobs have found their employers to be reluctant to do.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, has introduced similar legislation at the federal level. The Women’s Equality Act, a much broader law that included similar protections for pregnant workers across New York State, stalled in the Legislature last year.
Why are additional laws protecting pregnant women needed when they should already be protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act? Because the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require accommodation. An employer’s refusal to allow a pregnant woman to stay off ladders during her third trimester or keep a bottle of water nearby might not qualify as discrimination if all workers are subject to the same restrictions.
No one benefits from effectively forcing a pregnant woman to choose between protecting her baby’s health and looking out for that child’s future economic interests, and employers who are glad to see the back of a pregnant employee are shortsighted. As Dina Bakst, founder and president of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, wrote in an Op-Ed article that inspired Councilman James Vacca to introduce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act:
Employers might consider that providing accommodations to pregnant workers would even be good for the bottom line, in the form of reduced turnover, increased loyalty and productivity and healthier workers. With minor job modifications, a woman might be able to work up until the delivery of her child and return to work fairly soon after giving birth. If she were forced out instead, her employer would waste time and money finding a replacement. In the worst-case scenario, employers could be responsible for much higher medical costs if their workers were afraid to ask for accommodations and instead continued doing work that endangered their pregnancies.
Three-quarters of women now entering the work force will become pregnant while still working. In New York City, those women will be able to ask for the job modifications they need and plan a return to the work that supports them and their families. That is an outcome that benefits the city’s women, families, employers and taxpayers. The rest of the country should expect no less.