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February 13, 2019 2:10am

Legislation would help Kentucky women in the workforce

Published by Louisville Business First on January 4, 2019.

*Note: Senator Kerr’s bill is Senate Bill 18. To voice your support Senate Bill 18, click here. (Updated on February 13, 2019)

Today, we live in a world where businesses need every person who can work participating in the labor force. As employers, we must do what is necessary to attract and retain employees, and sometimes that means working around their personal situations, particularly pregnancies.

Federal laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act have long been on the books but provide little or mixed guidance on what is actually allowed or required in the workplace. This is particularly true for the 58 percent of women in Kentucky’s labor force who are of childbearing age.

State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, has pre-filed a 2019 bill seeking to clarify the proper procedures for making reasonable workplace accommodations for workers experiencing pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Defining “reasonable accommodation” for pregnant and new mothers will provide clarity to both human resources departments and workers, thereby reducing the potential for litigation.

Most large company HR departments long ago enacted policies to retain their valuable female employees through their pregnancies, but many small-to-midsize businesses are forced to navigate complex circumstances like childbirth without the aid of a robust HR department or in-house counsel.

Employers must wade through a web of federal laws and court decisions to figure out what their obligations are when it comes to appropriately accommodating pregnant workers and new mothers. In 2019, GLI will be aiding in these efforts to clearly and concisely define what constitutes “reasonable accommodations” and when an employer is and is not obligated to provide them.

Beyond clarifying the rules, this legislation will help boost Kentucky’s female workforce participation rate, which ranks 44th in the nation. One contributor to this abysmal statistic is mothers or soon-to-be mothers quit their jobs due to a lack of reasonable workplace accommodations.

We can address such situations by clearly laying the groundwork for an informed employer-led dialogue on how these employees can continue working safely and productively throughout the course of a pregnancy and afterward.

Kerr’s legislative proposal also results in important health and safety benefits and should cut down on hiring and retraining costs for employers. Survey data shows that these sorts of policies have led to increased talent attraction and retention, improved productivity, and reduced absenteeism.

There’s a clear bottom line here: Kerr’s bill to support pregnant workers and new mothers is pro-business, pro-workforce legislation that will be good for our state’s economy.

Employers and pro-growth legislators across the state will need to rally together in the 2019 session to get this one done.

— Kent Oyler is president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce.