Pre-tabled bill would require accommodation for pregnant workers

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By CAROLINE BECK, Daily News from Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – A pre-filled Alabama Legislature bill seeks to provide more protections for pregnant workers by outlining the accommodations employers would be required to make to support their health.

Bill 1 by Representative Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, titled Alabama Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, would require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” related to pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions.

Rafferty told the Alabama Daily News he had heard from various women in Alabama who were too afraid to tell their employers about policies that would support their pregnancies for fear of reprisal or being fired.

“They had to be forced between choosing the dignity of earning a living and being able to provide for their families, their growing family nonetheless, and having a healthy pregnancy,” Rafferty said.

Some of the accommodations listed in the bill include:

  • More frequent or longer breaks;
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment;
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or dangerous position;
  • Break time and private space outside the bathroom to express breast milk;
  • Free time to recover from childbirth;
  • Help with manual work;
  • Modified working hours.

Under this bill, pregnant workers who believe that their employer has not provided the required accommodations could take legal action. Employers would have to provide proof of undue hardship if any of these accommodations adversely affected their business.

The bill only applies to businesses that employ 15 or more people.

Rafferty said his goal was not only to help protect the job security of pregnant workers, but also to help improve maternal and child health in Alabama, which has some of the lowest outcome rates. weakest in the country.

the The 2020 report from March of Dimes, a nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies, gave Alabama an F rating for its premature birth rate of 12.5%. It gets even worse when you look at black women in the state whose preterm birth rate is 51% higher than all other female demographics.

A Better Balance, a nonprofit that defends workers’ rights, worked with Rafferty on drafting the bill.

Staff attorney Kameron Dawson told ADN the bill was intended to fill gaps in the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the U.S. Disability Act in protecting pregnant workers.

“Because there are no clear guidelines on what pregnancy-related conditions are considered a disability, we know for sure we’ve had about two or three conditions, but there are so many more. that pregnant women face that are not covered by the law, ”says Dawson.

In their Updated report from June 2021, A Better Balance found that more than two-thirds of pregnant workers lose their pregnancy accommodation cases under the PDA.

Dawson also said that failing to protect pregnant workers can cost the state and employers financially, sometimes costing up to $ 58,000 in neonatal and maternal health costs that could have been avoided otherwise.

Dawson said 30 states have already passed legislation similar to HB1, one of the most recent being Tennessee.

Providing more protections for pregnant workers could also help Governor Kay Ivey meet her goal of getting 500,000 new certified workers by 2025 by encouraging more women to enter the workforce, Dawson said.

“We saw it even before the pandemic, but especially now where women have the primary responsibility for care and because they are not able to stay healthy or take shelter, you know they have to leave the workforce, or they are put on unpaid leave, ”Dawson said.

Rafferty said he did not want the bill to be seen as anti-business because the bill also aims to protect employers.

“This is meant to help start these conversations between women and their employers who may not have felt empowered before and a kind of guide for these departments to work towards getting reasonable accommodations, without any concern for retaliation,” Rafferty said.

The Business Council of Alabama, which advocates for pro-business policies in the Alabama legislature, has no position on the bill at this time but will monitor its progress, a spokesperson said. .

The 2022 regular legislative session begins on January 11, and Rafferty plans to use the time leading up to it to contact the business community about the bill.


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