Women who are able to work longer into their pregnancies can take more time off after their babies are born, which allows them more time to breast-feed, recover and bond with their new baby.
THIS year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation that has opened the door to economic opportunity for millions of Americans, myself included.
Having lost my eyesight to childhood cancer, I benefit from the ADA’s guarantee of reasonable accommodations in the workplace, without which blind people like me would have no recourse when suspended or terminated for having a disability.
But today there remains a category of American workers who remain at risk of such arbitrary workplace discrimination — pregnant women.
Under federal law, a pregnant woman has no legal right to pregnancy-related accommodations, such as extra bathroom breaks, reassignment to less physically demanding tasks, or flexibility in shifts for prenatal care appointments.
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That is why I am urging my colleagues in the state Legislature to join 15 states, four cities and the District of Columbia in passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, so that pregnant women will be entitled to reasonable accommodations on the job. This common-sense proposal will allow women to remain productive, independent and economically secure instead of being forced to accept demotions, pay cuts or termination. As with the ADA, the accommodation would need to be “reasonable,” a term that courts have defined over the past couple of decades in order to prevent frivolous or impossible demands.
It’s also true that women who do not receive accommodations might have to work under conditions that endanger their own health and the health of their babies, increasing the risk of premature birth and other health conditions. In contrast, women who can work longer into their pregnancies can take more time off after their children are born, allowing them more time to breast-feed, recover and bond with their new babies.
We are likely to hear opponents of this legislation repeat similar objections as those put forward 25 years ago when the ADA was being debated. They will claim that making reasonable accommodations for pregnant women will cause businesses to lose profitability and close their doors. They may even argue that pregnant women will take advantage of the law to avoid doing their fair share of work. But our nation’s 25-year experiment with the ADA tells us otherwise.
I’ve never heard a business owner say that the ADA has hurt his or her bottom line, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a legislator from either party who would turn back the clock and repeal the ADA.
Women continue to make 78 cents to a man’s dollar for the same work. By standing with women and passing basic protections that keep pregnant women on an even economic playing field while they’re pregnant, the legislature can help close this gap.
I urge my fellow legislators to join me in working for the day when pregnancy, despite not being a disability like mine, is afforded similar legal protection under the law.