When Congress reconvenes next month, members will have a chance to show America's women and families that progress is possible. Rather than continuing a dismal record of inaction when it comes to supporting women, lawmakers should use this lame duck session to move the country forward. The common sense, bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a proposal that would do just that, and passing it before the end of the year should be a top priority.
A new analysis of charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families and released on the 38th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), demonstrates why doing so is critical. Despite the PDA banning pregnancy discrimination nearly four decades ago, we found that women filed nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination between October 2010 and September 2015 - the most recent data available. Clearly, more needs to be done to protect pregnant workers and to fully realize the promise of the PDA.
The fact that thousands of women continue to report pregnancy discrimination every year is troubling enough, but a closer look at the charges and recent demographic data on women's labor force participation is even more concerning. Nearly one-third of the charges were filed by women who said they were discharged from employment for becoming pregnant. This was the most common reason a charge of pregnancy discrimination was filed, and it means that women likely lost income, health insurance and other workplace supports at a time when their family budgets may have already been strained.
The data also show that pregnancy discrimination charges are widespread - spanning industries, states and races and ethnicities:
- Women in every industry reported on by the EEOC filed charges of pregnancy discrimination, including those that employ the most workers overall and the highest shares of women, such as health care and social assistance and educational services;
- Women in all 50 states and the District of Columbia filed charges of pregnancy discrimination, and the 10 jurisdictions with the highest share of charges relative to the number of women in the workforce span every region of the country; and
- Although women across races and ethnicities report pregnancy discrimination, more than 28 percent of the charges were filed by black women, even though they comprise only 14 percent of women in the workforce ages 16 to 54.
Also worth noting is that between October 2014 to September 2015 alone, more than 650 charges were filed by women who believed they were denied reasonable workplace accommodations they needed to continue working, such as taking more frequent bathroom breaks or carrying a water bottle. This form of pregnancy discrimination can be subtle, but it can have serious consequences. It can mean that pregnant women have to risk their health and the health of their pregnancies to continue working - and that's exactly what the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act seeks to eradicate.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would strengthen workplace protections for pregnant workers by making clear that employers must provide the same protections for women with pregnancy-related limitations as they do for workers with similar limitations, including minor job modifications that would allow a pregnant woman to continue working. The bill currently has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and polling shows that more than 90 percent of voters favor a policy like it. Eighteen states, the District of Columbia and four cities have already enacted similar measures.
It is shameful that women are still being fired, forced out of their jobs, and denied employment opportunities because they become pregnant. These new findings confirm what too many women know to be true, and they are especially striking given that discrimination too often goes unidentified and unreported. Congress should recognize the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as a chance to make a difference for America's women and families and waste no time in passing it this year. The sooner we take steps to stop discrimination against pregnant workers, the better off families, businesses and our country will be.