The New York City Council unanimously passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last week. The bill extends current protections against employer discrimination to pregnant workers and expands the city's Human Rights Law to include pregnant workers.
Employers will now be required to provide reasonable accommodations for a worker's needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Those accommodations can include rest breaks, a period of recovery from childbirth, and help with manual labor. Employers must also give pregnant workers written information about their rights.
These protections for pregnant women are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy, reports ThinkProgress. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by this kind of discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) reports, "When women face a physical conflict between work and childbearing, they will often lose their job, and their families will lose income at the very moment their financial needs increase." For example, one pregnant woman who was a Wal-Mart sales associate started experiencing urinary and bladder infections, so she started to carry a water bottle at work under her doctor's advice to stay hydrated. She was fired because of a Wal-Mart rule that only cashiers could have water bottles. She challenged her termination in court and lost.
According to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a fifth of discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are related to pregnancy. Last year alone, over 3,700 were filed. Under the new bill, if employers fail to follow the new bill's requirements, employees can bring actions in civil court or bring a complaint to the city's Human Rights Commission. Employers could be fined up to $250,000, face jail time, or be required to change their practices, provide compensation, or re-hire employees, among other remedies.
Currently only a handful of states provide protections for pregnant workers. A federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was reintroduced in Congress last May.
Media Resources: Gotham Gazette 9/24/13; ThinkProgress 5/14/13, 9/30/13; National Women's Law Center
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .