Lawmakers promote bill to encourage mothers to stay in the workforce

Concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic reportedly prompted many women to quit their jobs or delay having children has led to a push for legislation that could make it easier for pregnant women to continue working.  

As CNBC reported, Sens. Bob Casey and Bill Cassidy are urging their fellow lawmakers to pass the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act, a piece of legislation that has been introduced in every Congress since 2011. Last May, the bill was passed by the House of Representatives in a vote of 315 to 101 and was advanced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in August, with a 19-to-2 vote.

According to data from the Census Bureau, as of January 2021, around 10 million mothers with school-aged children were not actively working, a 1.4 million increase from the previous year. In addition, between March and April 2020, 3.5 million mothers with school-aged children left work. 

Another study from McKinsey and from September found that, due to the pandemic, one in three mothers had considered limiting their career prospects or leaving the workforce. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College also found evidence that COVID is related to a drop in the U.S. birth rate, as many women have opted to delay having children. The outlet speculated the reason for this is these women wish to avoid the “motherhood penalty” — a reduction in earnings for each child they have. 

While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects pregnant women from being fired or denied employment based on their condition, it does not require employers to provide accommodations that would enable them to keep working. As the outlet noted, a 2015 Supreme Court ruling recognized that pregnant workers require temporary accommodations. But lawmakers who support the bill argue the ruling’s criteria for proving discrimination is too complicated, and they feel now is the ideal time to pass something like the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act.

READ: Two studies find significant impact of workplace pregnancy discrimination on moms and babies

“We’re working with colleagues to get it passed and signed into law this year,” Cassidy said.

The bill would require employers to provide “simple and reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers, such as a place to sit, uniforms that accommodate a pregnant body, or water to drink. 

“At its heart, this bill is about supporting pregnant women and their families,” Casey said. “It’s also about basic economic security, along with dignity and compassion for pregnant workers.”

Even if 30 states have enacted legislation to support pregnant workers, Cassidy argued that millions of women are still in need of protection while on the job.

“The premise of the bill is very simple,” he said. “No pregnant worker should be treated adversely with respect to their employment simply because they’re pregnant.”

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