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AAUW: Pregnancy discrimination issues remain

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POTSDAM - Oct. 31st marked the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). That act protects a pregnant employee from discriminatory actions that are based on her pregnant status. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Which is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough, in too many cases. There is, for example, no requirement that someone be provided light duty, even if her doctor orders it. This would be an accommodation to meet the needs of a pregnancy worker for a limited amount of time during her pregnancy. At least 10 states have passed similar laws to require employers to provide some form of pregnancy accommodation, as have some cities.

Cities like New York, where the City Council recently passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by unanimous vote. That act that ensures current protections against employer discrimination extends to pregnant workers, including the right to reasonable accommodations so that they can continue to work through their pregnancies. The bill expands the city’s Human Rights Law, which applies to all employers with four or more employees, to prevent discrimination against pregnant workers.

Ending pregnancy discrimination is also one of the planks in Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda announced last January in his State of the State address. The WEA provision recognizes that pregnant workers sometimes need minor adjustments to their workplace: a place to sit, access to water, more frequent bathroom breaks.

Right now, employers in New York can deny those common-sense accommodations, jeopardizing women’s health. The WEA measure would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. And since 75 percent of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and working at some point in their lives, passing WEA will have a major impact on many of New York’s 10 millions women.

No New York woman should be put in the position of losing her job or endangering her pregnancy. It makes good economic sense to help women keep their jobs and their paychecks. Women make up almost half of the workforce and families rely on women’s salaries to make ends meet. Women are the primary or co-breadwinners in almost two-thirds of families. And losing your job often means being thrown into local assistance programs, costly for the counties and the state.

The New York City law that strengthens pregnancy discrimination protections helps four out of ten women in New York. The NYS Assembly and Senate needs to follow suit and pass the WEA measure to give all women in the state these simple, basic health accommodation protections on the job.

The cost to business is small: According to a survey of employers, the benefits of providing reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities include employee retention, increasing morale and productivity, and reducing training costs. The study concluded that the benefits far outweighed the costs of accommodation. These benefits would be even more pronounced for pregnant workers because needed accommodations are only temporary.

The Women’s Equality Agenda would also provide clearer guidelines for employers so they can anticipate their responsibilities and avoid costly litigation. After California passed similar legislation, litigation of pregnancy cases actually decreased, even as pregnancy discrimination cases around the country were increasing. Similar results were reported in Hawaii after that state’s law went into effect.

And the agency that investigates and punishes employers that engage in labor discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has identified pregnancy discrimination as one of its national priorities.

AAUW-St. Lawrence County is a member of the Women’s Equality Coalition. AAUW believes this provision of the Women’s Equality Act is a public health and economic necessity for women. It is good for women, good for business, and good for New York.

Membership in the St. Lawrence County Branch, founded in 1927, is open to anyone who supports the mission of AAUW: Advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.

For more information about AAUW in St. Lawrence County, contact President Jennifer Ball at 268- 4208 or jball@clarkson.edu or Public Policy Chair Kathleen Stein at 386-3812, kstein1@twcny.rr.com, or visit the branch website, http://www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/index.html.

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