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House OKs protections for pregnant workers

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FILE - In this Thursday, May 7, 2020 file photo, a pregnant woman wearing a face mask and gloves holds her belly as she waits in line for groceries at St. Mary's Church in Waltham, Mass. 

A bill approved by the House of Representatives would provide protections for pregnant workers and ensure there are legal pathways to successfully challenging an employer's unwillingness to accommodate their needs. 

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act establishes a right to accommodation for pregnant workers and considers it an unlawful employment practice for an employer not to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. 

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and authored the legislation, explained that pregnant workers have either been fired or forced to take leave from their jobs. Women of color and low-wage workers have been disproportionately affected by the failure of employers to accommodate pregnant women. 

What Nadler's bill intends to fix is how pregnancy accommodation has been viewed by the courts. According to Nadler, courts mandate that employers must accommodate pregnant employees if they also provide accommodations to non-pregnant workers. 

"That means pregnant workers must have perfect knowledge of the medical and employment histories of every other employee in their workplace, which is nearly impossible," said Nadler, who cited a survey released by A Better Balance that found courts denied an accommodation for this reason in more than two-thirds of cases. 

Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Nadler said that it would shift from proving discrimination to creating an "affirmative right to accommodation" by requiring employers to "provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer." 

The House passed the bill by a 329-73 vote. It received bipartisan support, with every Democrat and 103 Republicans voting for passage. 

U.S. Rep. John Katko was among the Republican supporters of the bill. He was the lead GOP cosponsor — one of 18 Republicans who cosponsored the bill. 

In a House floor speech, Katko noted the bipartisan nature of the bill. Despite being a Republican, he joined with his Democratic colleagues to support the passage of the measure. 

"Simply put, no mother to be or mother in this country should have to choose between being a parent and keeping their job," he said. "Unfortunately current federal law lacks adequate protections to ensure pregnant workers are able to remain healthy in the workplace. With 30 states having already passed laws to provide these protections, the need and support for a federal standard is clear." 

The legislation has been referred to a committee in the Senate. There has been no indication that the Senate will vote on the legislation. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at

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