October 27, 2021 6:28am
Op-Ed: Employers, working women will benefit from Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
This article first appeared in Louisville Business First on October 22, 2021
It has never been more challenging to run a business than it is today. Aside from making up for months of shutdowns and economic restrictions due to the pandemic, business owners are now facing a critical workforce shortage that is once again forcing many to make difficult decisions to reduce capacities or shutdown altogether.
Staff is overworked. Positions are vacant for months. And employers are seeing astronomical turnover.
While the workforce challenges we see today are multifaceted and existed in our region prior to the pandemic, data illustrates that the pandemic forced a disproportionate number of women out of the workforce.
Although some women have trickled back in, a large number are still waiting on the sidelines due to family obligations and childcare shortages. As these underlying issues are addressed through government and community action, we must also do more to empower women to rejoin and stay in the workforce in the long-term.
That’s why it is more critical than ever that we set clear, national guidelines to keep pregnant workers healthy and on the job. Right now, there is no federal law providing an explicit right to accommodations, like restroom breaks and a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting to pregnant workers.
While Kentucky passed state legislation to lay out required accommodations for pregnant workers in 2019, Indiana and many of our surrounding states have not. That means individuals who live in Kentucky and commute to Southern Indiana for work are not afforded the same protections as those who live in Southern Indiana and commute to Kentucky.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is critical so that all women have the same right to pregnancy accommodations, regardless of where they live or work.
The legislation will also streamline requirements and expectations for companies who operate in multiple states by utilizing a tried-and-true framework that is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act. This will ensure availability of reasonable accommodations to prevent undue hardship.
Rather than having to navigate a confusing patchwork of policies, this legislation would set a clear national standard for businesses providing an affirmative right to pregnancy accommodations absent undue hardship to the employer.
Individual states have already enacted these policies and data shows that there are clear benefits for employers. In Kentucky, there have been far fewer civil lawsuits against employers since the law was enacted in 2019.
The same benefits have been realized in the 29 other states that
have enacted similar legislation. It also has the potential to keep and bring women into the workforce which can mitigate labor shortages.
The reality is three quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at some point in their careers. While not all women will have children, we must ensure women feel supported and empowered to continue working when and if
they become pregnant.
Women should not feel fearful that their career, finances, or well-being are in jeopardy when the time comes to start a family.
Given that females make up over 50% of the population and a majority of the workforce, it is critical to set a national precedent for the kinds of accommodations that should be standard across the board. This will increase certainty for women that they will be able to maintain their job during and after pregnancy and it will send a message that our national economy needs pregnant workers and working mothers.
This is about retaining an essential part of our workforce, reducing unnecessary legal burdens on employers, and making continued progress in female workforce participation.
Whether you are a worker or a business leader, we can all agree that the PWFA is a commonsense piece of legislation that will support working women and create a general understanding between employers and employees.
This legislation is a win-win and will help mitigate some of our current and long-term workforce obstacles.
Join me in urging the Senate to bring this bill to a vote without delay and urging our senators in Kentucky and Indiana to vote yes for this bill when it comes up for a vote.
— Shelby Williams Somervell is the vice president of Government Affairs and Communications at Greater Louisville Inc.