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September 14, 2020 10:14am

Op-Ed: We need to have stronger support for pregnant workers to help strengthen the economy

This article was published in the Courier Journal on September 14, 2020. 

As employers weather this public health and economic crisis, we are trying to do more than simply stay afloat — we are also dedicated to doing whatever we can to help our employees remain in the workforce. This means many things during a global pandemic, but one thing that remains a no-brainer is supporting accommodations for pregnant employees so they can maintain their health and their paycheck.

Unfortunately, businesses have long been confused about their legal obligations when an employee becomes pregnant and what they’re required to do to accommodate pregnant workers. This has led to the unfortunate reality that pregnant workers across the country are often forced to leave their jobs when denied medically necessary accommodations like a stool, short breaks to drink water or temporary light-duty assignments. In recent months, it has added additional layers of stress for employers trying to interpret laws on top of everything else going on.

That’s why last fall, I testified in Congress on behalf of Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce, in support of the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act before the House Committee on Education and Labor. This bipartisan legislation would benefit both businesses and their employees by clarifying when employers are and are not obligated to provide accommodations for pregnancy during the pandemic and beyond. Like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would clarify for employers their obligations to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ for pregnant workers and establish fair protections for businesses from undue hardships in providing these accommodations.

When employers are unsure whether they are obliged to provide accommodations, it can lead to the loss of valuable employees and lengthy legal disputes. While many large companies have their own policies around pregnancy accommodations that encourage employee retention, small and midsize businesses often lack the human resources departments and in-house counsel needed to traverse the complexities of these situations. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will provide clarity to all parties, ensuring any disputes can be resolved quickly and fairly while helping businesses avoid costly litigation. The law clearly lays out the path for dialogue between employer and employee in which both are working towards the same goal: ensuring an employee can continue working safely during pregnancy.

Besides improving employee retention and morale, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would also boost the economy overall. That’s why national business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support this legislation as well. We need to make sure that anyone who wants to work is able to participate in the workforce. Studies show that when more women participate in the workforce, the economy benefits with increases in GDP and businesses experiencing more organizational effectiveness as well as growth. This has historically been true and remains even more important as we work to climb out of a continued economic slump.

Kentucky recently passed its own Pregnant Workers Act with GLI leading the charge, joining 29 other states that have set clearer standards around pregnancy accommodations. So far, the law is working well, and doomsayer predictions of runaway litigation have not come to pass. Based on what we’ve seen here in Kentucky, we’re confident that the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will be good for businesses, workers, and the economy as a whole.

As the U.S. House of Representatives considers a vote later this month, we urge our regional delegation, including Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie and Trey Hollingsworth, to support this pro-business, pro-workforce legislation. GLI also thanks Congressman John Yarmuth for his support and co-sponsorship.

It’s time for Congress to follow our lead and pass this crucial legislation to provide uniformity for businesses nationwide.