September 20, 2012 — Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Wednesday introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (S 3565), which would better protect pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/19). In May, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced a similar bill (HR 5647) in the House (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/9).
The legislation would bar employers from refusing to "reasonably accommodate" workers' requests, such as providing a stool so a woman could sit during tasks or reassigning responsibilities involving heavy lifting. The bill also would prohibit firing pregnant women or forcing them to take unpaid leave for requesting accommodations.
"Pregnant workers face discrimination in the workplace every day, which is an inexcusable detriment to women and working families," Casey said in a statement, adding, "This legislation will finally extend fairness to pregnant women so that they can continue to contribute to a productive economy while progressing through pregnancy in good health."
The National Women's Law Center said the bill would strengthen the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which banned discrimination against pregnant women but has failed to sufficiently protect all women. NWLC cited instances of women being fired or disciplined for requests such as being allowed to carry a water bottle or being exempt from climbing tall ladders.
In a fact sheet, NWLC said the bill "relies on a reasonable accommodation framework already familiar to employers accustomed to the [Americans with Disabilities Act]'s requirements" and would "ensure that pregnant women are treated as well in the workplace as workers with disabilities" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/19).