Fighting for Women's Equality

Just in Time for Mother’s Day: Groundbreaking ERA Report Shows that California Law Protecting Pregnant Workers is a Win-Win

May 10, 2012 | by

Equal Rights Advocates, a national non-profit law firm dedicated to representing the rights of women and girls at work and at school, released a ground-breaking report today that highlights the importance of a proposed new federal law for working women and their families: Expecting a Baby, Not a Lay-Off: Why Federal Law Should Require the Reasonable Accommodation of Pregnant Workers. The report traces 12 years of success of similar legislation in California. On May 8, 2012, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was introduced by U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA), and other legislators. HR 5467 would require employers to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations to enable them to continue working during a financially crucial time in their lives. “Working families need and want to keep working. ERA strongly supports the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act because similar protections under California law make the case for federal change,” said Noreen Farrell, ERA’s Executive Director. “Pregnant women are working with accommodations. Businesses are benefiting from happy and productive long-term employees. It is a win-win.” The Report first examines why current federal law has not consistently ensured the minor accommodation of employees who are able to work during their pregnancies. It then tracks the development of state laws that require accommodations for pregnant workers, with a particular focus on the sweeping success of California’s pregnancy accommodation law, as support for change at the federal level. The California data considered in ERA’s Report – ERA’s Hotline and experience with clients, cases based on state pregnancy accommodation laws, and statistical data about complaints filed with California’s state administrative agency – provide important insight into how California employees and business have fared since California’s pregnancy accommodation law went into effect in 2000. Key findings of include:

  • The number of court and administrative decisions involving California’s pregnancy accommodation law is very low, suggesting that the law has not prompted a flood of litigation.
  • The accommodations sought are generally modest, reasonable, and easily met by employers
  •  Accommodation laws are particularly important for protecting low-wage hourly workers.
  •  Pregnancy accommodations often involve practices helpful to all employees and can benefit the employer’s bottom line.
  •  California’s pregnancy accommodation law has not prompted more pregnancy discrimination.  In contrast to federal law discrimination charges, which have risen by 54 percent since 1997, the number of pregnancy discrimination charges filed with California’s state agency has decreased since 1997.

The Report contains a number of case studies that show the need for the new federal law. The story of Maria is a case in point. Maria handles security duties for a California employer. When Maria discovered that she was pregnant, she requested a stool to sit on and more frequent duty rotation so she could move more throughout the day. Her employer refused to accommodate her pregnancy limitations and placed her on involuntary early leave. ERA intervened on Maria’s behalf and informed the employer about the requirements of California’s pregnancy accommodation law. After a productive brainstorming session exploring possible solutions, the matter was quickly resolved without undue stress to Maria and without litigation. Rather than sit home without pay, Maria continued to be a productive employee for months. She preserved her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for when she needed it most. Women in other states who are profiled in the report were not so lucky. Angie, a train conductor in Mississippi, was forced to take three extra months of unpaid leave instead of allowing her to work with the occasional assistance of willing co-workers. The stress and financial strain was immense for Angie, who was already anxious about becoming the sole support for her new family. Equal Rights Advocates was limited by federal and Mississippi law in its ability to assist Angie. Celebrate Mother’s Day by supporting the PWFA at

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