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March 6, 2023 12:08pm

Op-Ed: Congress takes important step to support employers and women in the workforce

This article originally appeared in Louisville Business First on March 1, 2023

In the tight race for top talent, a strong company culture that supports employees has never been more important. As the costs of maintaining and recruiting talent continue to rise, removing barriers to work is critical for any company looking to maximize their efficiency and efficacy. With so many barriers out there from childcare to transportation, pregnancy or nursing should be one that can be easily overcome. Thankfully, Congress took an important step to creating standards for minimum accommodations that will provide more protections for employers and workers while helping streamline requirements for companies.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act which have been long time priorities for Greater Louisville Inc., were recently signed into law. This is a huge step for the U.S.  towards creating a framework to help employers institute reasonable accommodations that will support their workforce and provide protections against costly litigation.

Breaks for breastfeeding are now a must

Under the PWFA, all businesses with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. This is an extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which previously stated that businesses should not discriminate against pregnant workers in job policies or opportunities. The PUMP Act requires employers to provide break time for all workers who need to pump breast milk, regardless of their employment status, and also provide a private space for workers to pump.

While Kentucky passed legislation to lay out required accommodations for pregnant workers in 2019, Indiana and many of our surrounding states had not. It created a confusing patchwork of requirements for companies with operations in multiple states. And it also meant that individuals who lived in Kentucky and commuted to Southern Indiana for work were not afforded the same protections as those who live in Southern Indiana and commute to Kentucky.

As a business organization, we know that this will directly benefit employers. When employers are unsure whether they are obligated 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 counsel needed to institute their own accommodations.

Kentucky and surrounding states must be compliant

Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and the Bureau for Labor Statistics estimates that 80% will be pregnant at some point in their working life. By providing this basic framework and minimum standards, women will feel supported to stay in the workforce. The PWFA and PUMP Acts provide a national tried-and-true framework to companies operating in multiple states to streamline requirements and expectations that are modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Most Kentucky businesses are likely already in compliance with the PWFA. And while the PUMP Act will require additional compliance, the costs of these accommodations will pale in comparison to the estimated costs of potential litigation previously facing employers without a framework for pregnancy and nursing accommodations.

The Greater Louisville business community applauds Congress for passing this simple step to provide clear standards and clarity for pregnant workers, those who have recently given birth, and their employers. There is more work to do to remove barriers for women and all individuals to stay in and rejoin our workforce, and GLI will continue to pursue policy solutions to address those challenges.

Shelby Somervell

– Shelby Somervell is the vice president of government affairs and communications for Greater Louisville Inc.