Employers rally behind proposed legislation protecting pregnant workers

Adobe, Microsoft, XPO Logistics and other employers say proposed legislation that aims to protect pregnant workers from workplace discrimination is a necessary step to accommodating such employees.

On Tuesday, a group of eight private-sector employers — Spotify, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Adobe, L’Oréal USA, ICM Partners, U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Amalgamated Bank — penned an open letter to Congress in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to make reasonable accommodations — such as a minor job modification — that would allow pregnant workers to continue working and prevent them from being forced out on leave or out of their jobs. The bill also prohibits employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

The legislation was first introduced by Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in 2012, but opponents claimed it would place an unfair burden on companies. The legislation was reintroduced Tuesday by Nadler and House co-sponsors John Katko, R-N.Y., Lucy McBath, D-Ga., Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., and Bobby Scott, D-Va.

“This past weekend, families across the nation honored the extraordinary mothers in their lives,” the employers wrote. “As a business community, we strive to better support working mothers and mothers-to-be every day. We urge the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as an important step toward ensuring the health, safety and productivity of our modern workforce — and the workforce of tomorrow that they will help raise.”

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The United States Capitol stands at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Senate leaders are poised to reach an agreement as early as today to bring a halt to the fiscal standoff, and now must race the clock to sell the plan to lawmakers before U.S. borrowing authority runs out this week. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 made it illegal to discriminate against most working people on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, employers, experts argue employers are not legally required to accommodate pregnant workers. For instance, employers may put pregnant workers on unpaid leave if they require accommodations.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would be modeled after existing language and framework used in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Nadler says.

Meanwhile, transportation and logistics company XPO Logistics composed a letter to Nadler in support of the proposed legislation. In the letter, reviewed by Employee Benefit News, Meghan Henson, chief human resources officer at XPO Logistics says “pregnancy accommodation is an essential component of a fair and safe workplace.”

The company this year instituted a new pregnancy care policy along with an updated paid parental leave offering. XPO has granted 600 pregnancy related accommodations to approximately 250 employees since January, Henson says.

“We continue to learn more about the most effective manner of ongoing education and engagement, but our early experiences over the past several months demonstrate that adopting a stand-alone pregnancy accommodations policy is an achievable standard of practice for U.S. companies, particularly those with a significant hourly workforce,” she says.

Employer support for the legislation comes as more companies are making strides in supporting new and expectant parents in the workplace through benefits including paid parental leave, breast milk shipping, on-site childcare programs and fertility benefits.

For example, Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently added a new six month paid parental leave policy in following the birth or adoption of a child — an increase from its previous offering of roughly 12 weeks of time off. The tech giant also now allows new parents to work part time for up to three years as they transition back to work.

In a statement, HP Enterprise says it isn't familiar with the legislation, but it "strongly supports the goal of protecting employees as they start and raise families. [HP Enterprise] offers six months of paid leave for both parents following the birth or adoption of a child, and a transition period of up to three years in which new parents can choose to work part time, to ensure our employees have the support they need to build long term careers with us.”

Although 25 states and five cities already have pregnancy accommodation laws, discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is still common. Data from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission indicates there were 2,790 charges of pregnancy discrimination filed to the commission in 2018, a decrease from 3,174 the year prior. It is not immediately clear what kind of impact federal legislation could have on cases of discrimination.

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