This Thursday, the full House of Representatives will vote on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), critical legislation that will ensure no pregnant worker should have to choose between the health of their pregnancy or their livelihood. This bill – sponsored by Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and John Katko (R-NY) and drawing from existing legal requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.
Federal disability law may cover pregnant workers with complications, but many pregnant workers have little legal recourse if their employer denies workplace modifications – even simple accommodations such as a stool to sit on, relief from heavy lifting, or extra bathroom breaks. In many cases, the lack of legal standard has led employers to choose more drastic actions, such as unpaid leave or termination. By creating a uniform national standard, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would create clarity for employers while ensuring that pregnant workers have the legal protections they need to obtain reasonable workplace accommodations.
For years, NWA and WIC providers across the country have been advocating for the bill as it promotes positive maternal health outcomes and reduces risk of adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes. WIC staff from three states joined a national advocacy day in January 2020 to build support for this legislation, helping raise awareness in congressional offices. Robin McRoberts, Director of Community Programs at the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey, noted that many offices were unaware that the bill was not already law, as it was a “no-brainer” policy.
Paired with a woman impacted by the lack of workplace accommodations protections, Robin met with legislative staff from the offices of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). Robin met personally with Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), who personally agreed to cosponsor the bill in the middle of their meeting! At the end of the day, Robin and the other advocates were personally thanked by Rep. Jerry Nadler for their outspoken advocacy on behalf of pregnant workers. Even though Robin took time off from work to participate in Hill visits that rose to the level of lobbying, Robin states that it was the “best experience.”
WIC providers are well positioned to speak to the impact of a broad range of policies that affect both WIC families and WIC staff. It is critical that WIC providers share their experiences and lift up the voices and experiences of the families they serve to legislators. Even if legislative meetings remain purely educational, sharing the experience of WIC clinics and WIC families is critical to making sure that members of Congress are informed about services available in the communities that they represent.
The final vote takes place on Thursday of this week, leaving several days for the WIC community to make their voice is heard and that legislators hear about how employers can keep pregnancies safe and healthy. Please use this advocacy tookit to find different ways to lift support for pregnant workers. Please note that this may constitute a lobbying activity.