Legislation

House passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

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Photo: MaxRiesgo/iStockphoto

Washington — After numerous attempts over the past eight years, the House on Sept. 17 passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by a 329-73 vote.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has introduced five versions of the bill (H.R. 2694) since May 2012.

“This victory belongs to the hundreds of pregnant workers who’ve tirelessly fought for their rights, demanded the accommodations they need and continued supporting their families,” Nadler wrote in a Twitter post.

The act is intended to close loopholes and provide reasonable accommodations for 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 House Education and Labor 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.

The bill, however, faces a likely unsurmountable hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate and a small window to be signed into law. A new congressional session – the 117th – is scheduled to begin Jan. 3, and any remaining bills not signed into law before then will expire. The act then would have to return to the initial legislative process – a reintroduction.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), again tried to add an amendment that provides exemptions for religious organizations, but the amendment was voted down 226-177.

 

“While well-intentioned, this legislation unfortunately does not include a long-standing provision from the Civil Rights Act, which protects religious organizations from being forced to make employment decisions that conflict with their faith,” Foxx said in a Sept. 17 press release, in which she highlights a similar law in Kentucky that includes a protection for religious organizations.

During a hearing in January, committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) 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.”

The bill now moves to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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