Bustos Helps Pass Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act

Bustos: “Today’s vote is personal to me – like many women, I have seen the impact that it can have on a career when an employer refuses to consider accommodations for a pregnancy.”

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) helped pass the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant workers through reasonable workplace accommodations.

In response to today’s vote, Congresswoman Bustos shared a personal story about her experiences in the workplace:

“Today’s vote is personal to me – like many women, I have seen the impact that it can have on a career when an employer refuses to consider accommodations for a pregnancy.”

“Years ago, when I was still early in my career, I was up for a promotion. At the time, I had two children at home. During my interview, I was asked if I had child care and if I planned to have more children. I replied that I had everything in my personal life in the right place.

“Despite having more experience, an excellent track record and having been with my employer longer, weeks later it was announced that I did not get the promotion. The person who did was single, with no children at home.

“We’ve come a long way since then, but even today pregnant workers are denied basic, reasonable accommodations. I’m proud to have helped pass the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act, to secure pregnant workers’ rights to reasonable accommodations and to make sure no one has to choose between their financial security and a healthy pregnancy.”

Today’s vote comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten workers’ health and safety. Women comprise 64 percent of frontline workers and pregnant workers may be at an increased risk of the virus.

Despite the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act almost 40 years ago, pregnant women continue to face significant barriers to workplace protections or accommodations, particularly in jobs that require physical activity like running, lifting, moving, standing or repetitive motion.

Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act:

  • Private sector employers with more than 15 employees as well as public sector employers must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers (employees and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions).
  • Similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are not required to make an accommodation if it imposes an undue hardship on an employer’s business.
  • Pregnant workers cannot be denied employment opportunities, retaliated against for requesting a reasonable accommodation, or forced take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation is available.
  • Workers denied a reasonable accommodation under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will have the same rights and remedies as those established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These include lost pay, compensatory damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • Public sector employees have similar relief available under the Congressional Accountability Act, Title V of the United States Code and the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991.

With temporary and reasonable modifications, many pregnant workers would be able to continue work without risk to themselves or their pregnancies. When an employer refuses to implement those changes, many pregnant workers are forced to choose between their personal health and health of their pregnancy and their financial security.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to make reasonable accommodations which could include examples such as:

  • Modifying a no-food-or-drink policy for a pregnant employee who experiences painful or contractions when she does not regularly drink water.
  • Providing a stool for a pregnant cashier who experiences swelling from standing for a long period of time.
  • Providing additional personal protective equipment, staggered workplace schedules or telework during COVID-19.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has broad support from more than 200 worker advocates, civil rights groups and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, University of Illinois and YWCA of Northwestern Illinois. In a recent survey of voters across the country, 89 percent said they support the proposal, including 81 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of Independents and 96 percent of Democrats.