Sometimes when a pregnant woman in the workplace asks for an extra bathroom break, her employer comes back with negative retaliation. That’s why state legislatures started stepping up to the plate and putting some protections in place.
Recently, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are voting on bills to strengthen workplace protections for pregnant women. All of these bills are similar in that each bill requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their pregnant employees and to halt practices which segregate pregnant employees from their coworkers or force employees to make unnecessary accommodations.
A supporter of the bill, Rep. Linehan (D-Cheshire/Southington/Wallingford, CT), explained that the bill goes to protect against discrimination and unfair treatment while aiding economic growth of families and the state overall.
“No woman should face discrimination at work because she chooses to start a family, yet in 2017 the way we treat pregnancy continues to be a barrier to women’s advancement,” said Rep. Linehan. “It’s not just women who are affected by the loss of wages or missed opportunities – it’s their families, the children they support, and our economy. A strong economy requires the full workforce participation of women, and we all lose when women are left behind or sidelined in the workplace because of a pregnancy.”
Vermont’s Attorney General, TJ Donovan, echoes Rep. Linehan’s statements. “Everyone benefits from laws that support a fair work-family balance,” said Donovan. “For decades, Vermont employers have been doing a great job accommodating workers with disabilities. Applying that same positive mindset to helping out expectant or new mothers makes sense and is the right thing to do.”
Currently, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects pregnant women in the workplace against pregnancy-related harassment and firings. However, it says nothing about providing pregnant employees extra or longer bathroom breaks, a chance to sit down during the workday, or a glass of water every now and again should the employee ask for one. The lack of these protections has lead to unchecked employer retaliation.
Sponsor of Vermont’s version of the bill and OB/GYN Rep. George Till (D-Jericho, VT) said, “In providing prenatal care to thousands of Vermont women over the years, I have seen far too many pregnant women for whom an employer would not make a reasonable accommodation. I’ve seen people fired for asking for a completely reasonable accommodation. I’ve seen people too afraid to ask for an accommodation because they feared losing their job just for asking.”
The new bills in each state will offer women the choice of being able to start a family while they continue their careers. Cary Brown, Executive Director of the Vermont Commission on
Women, mentioned, “Sometimes a simple accommodation can make the difference between being able to continue working and having to take time off.”
Rep. Porter (D-Hamden/New Haven, CT) had similar thoughts on the matter, saying “No woman should ever have to choose between pursuing a career and having a family.”
Last week, Vermont signed their bill into law and the Massachusetts’ House of Representatives unanimously passed their respective bill. State Senate votes for Massachusetts and Connecticut are still pending, but with the overwhelming support of the bills thus far, it seems safe to be optimistic.
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