THE BLOG
01/14/2015 09:22 am ET Updated Mar 15, 2015

The Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Because Getting Pregnant in MA Shouldn't Mean Losing Your Job

The Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), will be introduced into the House and the Senate on Wednesday, by Senator Lovely, Rep. Story and Rep. Rogers, to combat discrimination by ensuring that pregnant workers are not forced out of their jobs unnecessarily, or denied reasonable job modifications that would allow them to continue working and supporting their families. This bill promotes the health and economic security of pregnant women, their babies, and their families without harming the economy.

The MA PWFA is necessary to close legal loopholes that allow employers to treat pregnant workers worse than others who are not able to work for other reasons, such as those injured on the job. Danielle Bietz was working at a gas station in Westfield, MA, as an assistant manager in 2008 when she became pregnant and began experiencing dizzy spells. She requested light duty but instead was asked to fill the milk cooler, pump the gas amid exhaust fumes, and shovel the sidewalks. When she brought in a doctor's note to support her request for accommodations, Ms. Bietz's employer reduced her hours and she was forced to use her maternity leave before her baby was born.

Ms. Bietz said, "When I was forced to leave my job [at 30 weeks of gestation] to ensure my health while pregnant, I lost my health insurance just when I needed it the most. I lost my job when financial security was absolutely critical. I was in a crisis all because my boss wouldn't let me sit down on a stool, take a break, and not do heavy lifting. The worst part about this is that it all could have easily been prevented if they just let me take a break and work at the cash register."

Over half of all pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts are in the labor force and earning income to support their families. Three-quarters of women entering the workforce in our country will be pregnant and employed at some point in their lives. Some of these women -- especially those in physically strenuous jobs -- will face a conflict between their duties at work and the demands of pregnancy. One in five discrimination charges made by women in the United States are associated with pregnancy.

Pregnant workers in MA are routinely denied access to basic accommodations that they may need while on the job. Simple things like bathroom breaks, access to water, or a temporary shift in responsibilities can be the difference between a pregnant worker being able to continue working, being forced onto leave, losing her job, or being forced to make a choice that is no choice at all: to quit her job to ensure her health and that of her baby.

Massachusetts Needs Strong Measures to Support Women in the Workforce
The MA PWFA amends Section 4 of chapter 151B of the General Law, preventing discrimination based on pregnancy and requiring employers to accommodate conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including the need to express breast milk for a nursing child, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer.

"It is time Massachusetts protects pregnant workers from being pushed out of their jobs and make changes to current law to support our families," Representative Ellen Story said. "Benefits from enacting the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would extend not only to female employees but to their children, families, employers and the public in general.

"Accommodating pregnant workers is fair and just and it makes sense economically, socially, and healthwise," Senator Joan Lovely said. "We need to protect all of our workers."

Representative Dave Rogers said, "We must prioritize the health of our pregnant workers. This is not only a public health priority, but a commonsense fair employment standard, and smart employers will see that it makes good business sense as well."

MotherWoman, a Hadley-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of family policy issues, has been leading the way on this important issue with state and national organizations including Crittendon Women's Union, ACLU-MA, A Better Balance and many others.

Massachusetts Joining National Conversation on Pregnancy Discrimination
The Supreme Court is now weighing how much employers must do to accommodate pregnant workers under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The case of Young vs. United Parcel Service, argued on December 3, 2014, involves a former UPS employee, Peggy Young, who was placed on unpaid leave after she became pregnant in 2006 and was denied light duty despite a company-wide policy that offered similar accommodations to many other groups of workers.

By adopting the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Commonwealth would become a leader in addressing pregnancy discrimination and join a national movement including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia, Texas, and West Virginia by putting legislative protections in place for pregnant workers. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has also been introduced at the federal level.

Quotes from MotherWoman
"Pregnant workers in the Commonwealth are being denied basic, temporary accommodations when they need them the most. The impact on the health of mothers and children, on our labor force, as well as the burden on our health care system are enormous. We know that pregnant workers are pregnant for a limited time. We want to see MA do the right thing and protect pregnant workers so that they can have safe, healthy pregnancies," said MotherWoman Executive Director, Shannon Koehn.

"It's hard to believe it but employers are denying women these basic accommodations. Who denies a pregnant woman a stool? Isn't that what we were taught in basic civics classes back in elementary school? In MA its time to insist that all pregnant workers receive the basic accommodations that they need to stay healthy and safe. It's the human thing to do." said MotherWoman's Program Director, Liz Friedman.

Quote from A Better Balance
"The Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act can help prevent blatant discrimination and enable pregnant workers, especially women in low-wage and physically demanding jobs, to keep working and supporting their families when they need that income most," said Dina Bakst, Co-President of A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy organization dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace and helping workers across the economic spectrum to care for their families without risking their financial security.

"There is tangible momentum across the country to make sure pregnant women are not forced to choose between their health and their paycheck. Massachusetts should be next," Bakst stated.

Accommodations for pregnant workers provide women with a safety net that benefits more than just women. Offering pregnant women accommodations is a common-sense policy practice for employers.

Quote from Obstetrician
"Research demonstrates a connection between stress and premature birth. Failure to accommodate pregnant women in the workplace can put their health in danger, in addition to the health of their babies," said Dr. Tiffany A. Moore Simas, MD, MPH, MEd, FACOG, University of Massachusetts, Medical School/UMass Memorial Health Care

Quote from Small Business Owner
"When I started Dean's Beans Organic Coffee in 1993, I knew that the success of my business depended on the skills, health and happiness of my employees. I knew that employee loyalty translates to high-quality service and customer loyalty, and I knew that I want my businesses to contribute to vibrant, healthy communities," said Dean Cycon, owner of Dean's Beans in Orange. "That's why I provide my employees with reasonable accommodations that they need during their pregnancies and why I am so pleased to see the MA State Legislature introduce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which will allow pregnant workers to receive basic accommodations that they need to maintain a healthy pregnancy and continue to be productive while on the job.

"When a recent employee was pregnant we ensured that she had an opportunity to sit as needed, to have water and bathroom breaks and not to need to lift heavy packages during her last trimester. This was a no-brainer to us. She's our employee and we wanted to ensure her commitment and health while employed at Dean's Beans. This is the decent thing to do for our employees. It also makes good business sense," Cycon continued.

For more information, contact Liz Friedman (liz@motherwoman.org).