Congress could provide protections for pregnant workers


WASHINGTON — Accommodations for pregnant workers is now in the hands of the United States Senate.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Indiana tried to pass something similar last session but ended up pushing for the topic to be studied instead.

Ashley Irby Phillips testified about her experience at the Statehouse earlier this year. She said she used to work in a lab, and when she was pregnant with twins, her boss was less than accommodating.

“I wasn’t asking for big things, I was asking to be able to take a drink of water,” said Phillips.

Getting snacks and taking quick breaks are the kinds of accommodations this law would provide for pregnant workers. Phillips rarely got them when she was expecting twins, and when she did, she said she felt harassed by management.

“I did feel like I could be fired if I said something,” said Phillips.

She ended up leaving her job as a result of the way they treated her and later tragically lost her babies due to an unrelated diagnosis.

Phillips then geared her career toward advocating for women and infant health. After testifying in favor of pregnancy accommodations in the workplace in Indiana, she went on to testify in Washington D.C. too.

“I was already kind of like, if it didn’t work in Indiana, what’s going to happen in D.C?”

The bill didn’t pass in Indiana because lawmakers wanted to study how it could impact businesses. That study never happened. The Indiana Institute for Working Families said there’s a provision to make sure businesses aren’t hurt by this law.

“If the accommodation is an undue hardship for the employer, they don’t have to provide it,” said Senior Policy Analyst Erin Macey. “This is really about getting employers and employees to work together to keep people on the job.”

Thirty states already have this law.

“And businesses aren’t shutting down in those states as a result,” said Macey.

Phillips argues businesses would be better off if they gave accommodations to pregnant workers.

“They spend money training us so that we can work there,” said Phillips. “I don’t even think pregnancy makes us less productive, if anything, it’s very motivational. A lot of times when women have children, they advance more in their careers because they know they have to support this child now.”

The proposal passed 329-73 in the U.S. House on Thursday.

“I’m super excited,” said Phillips. “I was like screaming through my house when I found out that this bill was passed because I absolutely without a shadow of a doubt know that this will save the lives of mothers and babies.”

We reached out to Indiana’s two U.S. senators on this topic but have yet to hear back from U.S. Sen. Mike Braun’s office. U.S. Sen. Todd Young’s spokesperson said there is no companion bill in the Senate at this point, so if one comes up for a vote, Senator Young will study the proposal at that time. He didn’t comment on how Young feels about the House’s proposal.

Whether it passes federally or not— there are plans to bring this bill back for consideration during Indiana’s upcoming session in January.

Macey said it is needed now more than ever.

“We’re at a time of high unemployment. That means that people are going to be afraid to lose their jobs, and one of the things we know about this issue, it is more often the case that women are afraid to ask for accommodations on the job, and that puts both the worker and the employer at risk,” said Macey.

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