NYT Column: City's Pregnant Workers Fairness Act 'A Big Step Forward,' But Issues Remain

October 20, 2014 — New York City's Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (Int 0974-2012), signed into law one year ago, "represents a big step forward for working women," but "pregnant women are still being pushed out of jobs they desperately need," New York Times columnist Rachel Swarns writes.

The law, which took effect in January, "requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers -- such as providing rest and water breaks, modified schedules and light duty -- so long as the accommodations don't cause undue hardship for the employer," Swarns explains. Such accommodations are "critical, particularly for low-income women who sometimes get pushed out of their jobs -- and into poverty -- when they become pregnant," she writes.

During the law's first year, city officials and women's advocates have been working with business groups, health care providers and other relevant parties "to ensure that women know their rights and employers know their obligations under the statute," Swarn continues.

Continued Challenges

However, not all women have been made aware of their rights, and others continue to face barriers to working during pregnancy. Swarns details the story of Angelica Valencia, who had previously experienced a miscarriage and was told by her physician when she became pregnant again to work a maximum of eight hours per day. Valencia, whose employer wanted her to work overtime, "had no idea that the law existed" and "said her company never informed her of her rights, even though that is required," according to Swarns.

Valencia provided a doctor's note and co-workers agreed to help with tasks like lifting that she could not safely perform. However, her supervisors informed her that "she could not work without a full-duty medical clearance," and she left the job, Swarns writes.

Swarns notes that Valencia is now being represented by A Better Balance, a legal advocacy group, to help her "recoup the wages she lost." Further, like other women who have successfully received pregnancy-related accommodations or regained their jobs as a result of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Valencia "knows now that the law is on her side," Swarns adds (Swarns, New York Times, 10/19).