Pregnant Workers Fairness Act clears House for second time in eight months

Photo: MaxRiesgo/iStockphoto

Washington — The House passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for the second time in less than a year, with a 315-101 vote on May 14.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the bill’s sponsor, has introduced five other versions of the legislation since May 2012. The previous version was the first to pass the House – on Sept. 17 – but wasn’t taken up by the Senate before the 116th Congress ended Jan. 3.

This version (H.R. 1065) appears to have a better chance at passing because the Senate has authored its own version with bipartisan support. That bill (S. 1486) was introduced April 29 by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) before being sent to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Both bills 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.

During a markup before the Education and Labor Committee on March 24, Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID) noted some differences in the new House bill versus the previous versions. Among them are the legislation’s applicability only to 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.

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