For a more stable US workforce, pregnant workers need stronger protections

In recent decades, women have become the engine of our economy, entering the workforce in record numbers and remaining solely responsible for creating the next generation of workers. While these socioeconomic changes have been underway, public policies have failed to provide the support needed to protect our working mothers.

Women are nowMain breadwinner in about half of American households. on top of that,an estimated 72 percent of female employees become pregnant during their careers. And yet, pregnant women in this country still lack adequate legal protections in the workplace, leading to deep economic instability.

Far too many pregnant women continue to be fired or denied reasonable workplace accommodations, often as simple as a stool or an extra bathroom break, leaving them physically stressed and economically vulnerable.

Time has never been more critical than it is todayMaternal mortality is reaching new heightsin the wake of a viral pandemic that has made pregnant workers even more vulnerable to health risks. More than 850 pregnant women died in 2020, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, with black women nearly three times as likely to die from maternal causes as white women. This is clear and devastating evidence that our health and workplace laws do not provide adequate protection for our nation’s mothers.

To get straight to the point, one need only refer to the volume of pregnancy discrimination litigation and complaints to the Equal Opportunities Commission – which hit nearly 40,000over the last decade – to conclude that we need to strengthen and expand our current laws. More than 30 states have enacted expanded protections for pregnant workers, including Maryland, which passed the bipartisan agreement Reasonable Accommodation for Disabilities due to the Pregnancy Act in 2013. This law has helped countless Maryland workers get the kind of changes that kept their pregnancies and jobs safe.

This government regulation protects the entire spectrum of pregnancy disabilities and creates the pathway for employees to have a meaningful dialogue with their employers about workplace accommodation. However,many advocateshave argued that the law needs crucial updating and strengthening.

“Existing laws would be improved if [pregnant] Women didn’t have to prove a disability before they could get housing,” he saidGlendora HughesGeneral Counsel of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, which oversees pregnancy discrimination complaints and litigation for the state, in a March interview with me.

The law should be clarified to ensure that healthy pregnancies and not just those with a “disability that contributed to or caused a pregnancy” enjoy full legal protection. As we all know, pregnancy creates physical limitations and should be protected in the normal course of progression to ensure these disabilities do not occur. In addition, updated legislation should specifically prevent an employer from forcing a pregnant worker on unpaid leave where accommodation is available. These provisions have been considered, but state senators have so far failed to do soGet these updated protectionsover the finish line.

It’s time our country stood up for all working mothers.

It is time for our nation’s legislature to Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would create a federal standard of protection for pregnant workers across the country and fill in the gaps in existing Maryland law. This bicameral bicameral bill has sat in the Senate for far too long, after being passed overwhelmingly by the US House of Representatives multiple times. Last month, billing sponsorsSens Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) challenged their colleagues to address the issue in a webinar hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

There are many ways we can come together to protect our new parents, including introducing paid parental leave, reducing the cost of child and infant care, and ensuring all new parents have the means to support their children and protect. But we can start with this simple protection, which has the support of a majority of MEPs, would incur minimal costs and bureaucracy, and ensure that the next generation has a chance.

As Cassidy observed this so aptlyThey help pregnant women “contribute to our today and support our future”.

The health of our future is at stake.

Maggie Cordish most recently served as policy advisor to White House Counsel Ivanka Trump on paid leave and family policy. She is a Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC

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