Legislation

Amended version of Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passes House Committee

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Washington — The House Education and Labor Committee approved an amended version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694) in a markup Jan. 14.

Legislators approved the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute, put forth by committee Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), by voice vote. The bill now moves to the full House for a vote.

The act is intended to close loopholes to provide reasonable accommodations needed by employees “whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition,” supporters of the legislation contended during an Oct. 22 hearing before the committee’s Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee. Examples of reasonable accommodations include an extra bathroom break, a stool, limiting contact with certain chemicals or a reduction in lifting requirements.

Scott highlighted the significant changes that came out of bipartisan negotiations. They are:

  • Clarification that an employer cannot require a qualified employee to accept an accommodation other than one established through the “employer-employee interaction process,” a process also used under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to arrive at a reasonable accommodation.
  • Employers are not liable if they demonstrate “good faith efforts” during negotiations with an employee over reasonable accommodations, which cannot create “undue hardship” on the organization’s operation.
  • More clearly defining some “key terms,” including a provision that the bill would apply to only organizations with 15 or more employees. It also defines “qualified employee” – by using language from the ADA – and “known limitations.”
  • The addition of a “severability clause” that if any provision of the bill is judged invalid or unconstitutional, the remainder of the bill is not affected.

“Encouraged to see Pregnant Workers Fairness Act pass by @EdLaborCmte,” National Safety Council President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin tweeted Jan. 15. “Supporting women means ensuring a #safe and sustainable workforce for years to come.”

 

The committee’s ranking member, Virginia Foxx (R-NC), was unsuccessful in passing an amendment that included a “narrow but longstanding provision” from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protects religious organizations from accommodations or employment decisions that “conflict with their faith.”

In his rebuttal, Scott pointed out that employers can make a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 “if a required accommodation is a substantial undue burden to their exercise of religion.”

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