- The U.S. Senate voted 73 to 24 Thursday to include the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as part of a broader omnibus spending bill that will be voted on ahead of the holiday weekend. The news indicates that the PWFA — which would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for job applicants and employees with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions — has cleared a key hurdle in gaining bipartisan support.
- Lawmakers also included the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (known as the PUMP Act) to expand workplace pumping protections.
- The Senate approved the full bill Thursday afternoon; it now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, where a vote on the bill may occur as soon as Thursday night, Politico reported.
The PWFA saw relatively bipartisan support in recent years; the bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., who stated near the beginning of 2022 their intention to get it passed before the end of the year.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act should have and could have passed overwhelmingly long ago with an up or down vote. Regardless, this amendment ensured pregnant mothers will have the workplace accommodations they need. This is pro-mother, pro-life, and pro-family. #PWFA
— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@SenBillCassidy) December 22, 2022
However, the PWFA’s passage had been prevented due to objections regarding its lack of an exemption for religious employers. Those concerns were addressed in an edit to the proposal to include language similar to that of Section 702 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, according to Adrienne Schweer, fellow at the think tank Bipartisan Policy Center.
Should the PWFA pass as part of Congress’ larger spending bill, Schweer said the provisions would create a “good national standard” for employers while addressing concerns held by many pregnant workers. A joint survey published in February by BPC and Morning Consult found that nearly 1 in 4 U.S. mothers had considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of reasonable accommodations or fear of discrimination during pregnancy. One in 5 said they experienced such discrimination at work.
“Employers want for there to be a clear requirement that they can point to and talk to their employees about so that the standards match their values,” Schweer said. “[The PWFA] will be a helpful tool for companies and HR directors.”
News of the PUMP Act’s passage is the latest development in lawmakers’ efforts to add protections for employees who breastfeed. Just weeks ago, New York enacted a law that will require employers in the state to meet new lactation room requirements and breastfeeding policy requirements.
“No one should have to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy, and now — finally — they won’t,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement on the PWFA’s passage emailed to HR Dive. “For far too long, too many workers excited about welcoming a new baby had to worry about losing their jobs — all because their employers could deny them basic, low-cost accommodations like a bathroom break or a stool to sit on. But now the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will finally close gaps in our federal law to ensure pregnant workers can stay on the job with the reasonable accommodations they need.”