Pregnant Workers Fairness Act clears House committee

Photo: MaxRiesgo/iStockphoto

Washington — The House Education and Labor Committee approved the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for the second time in six months on March 24.

The bill would require private-sector employers with 15 or more workers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees (i.e., workers and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions). Those accommodations include an extra bathroom break, a stool, limiting contact with certain chemicals and a reduction in lifting requirements.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has introduced six versions of the House bill since May 2012. The previous version was the first to pass the House – by a 329-73 vote Sept. 17, nine days after receiving approval from the Education and Labor Committee. The Senate, however, didn’t take up that bill before the 116th Congress ended.

Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID) noted some differences in the current bill (H.R. 1065) during a markup before the committee vote. Among them are the law’s applicability to only employers with 15 or more employees and:

  • The requirement that a pregnant worker be able to perform the essential functions of a job with a reasonable accommodation.
  • A clarification that accommodations will be determined through a balanced and interactive dialogue between employers and workers.
  • Protection of employers from liability if they make “good faith” efforts to provide reasonable accommodations.

Republicans on the committee sought to add protections for religious organizations “from being forced to make employment decisions that conflict with their faith,” Fulcher said. An amendment in the nature of a substitute that would have added that protection was voted down. Committee Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) noted that religious exemptions for employers are available under the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

He added the Congressional Research Service looked at similar state laws, and religious exemptions weren’t added to many of them.

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