No Kentucky mother should be forced to choose between work or a healthy, safe pregnancy and baby. But without a law requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to expectant and new mothers, that’s exactly what can happen.
Senate Bill 18 would extend the same accommodations already provided to workers with disabilities in state statute “to employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Examples include more frequent bathroom breaks, the ability to carry a water bottle, temporary light duty, and the space and time to express breast milk – simple changes that help keep moms healthy and employed.
Pregnancy accommodations support healthy, financially secure families.
National data show that more than four out of five working women become mothers at some point in their lives. Yet it is estimated that each year across the U.S. more than a quarter-million workers are denied requested pregnancy accommodations, and many more never ask out of fear of retaliation. As gender roles have changed over time – and it has become more economically necessary for women to work given the lack of wage growth for many families – women’s participation in the workforce has grown as has the need for pregnancy-friendly workplaces.
In Kentucky, 64 percent of women who have given birth in the last 12 months are in the labor force. That’s 25,473 working women and their babies who would have benefitted from reasonable accommodation requests that have the force of law behind them.
Accommodations can support women’s and children’s health and economic security by:
- Reducing risks to the mother and fetus of undue strain (risk of pre-term birth and low birth-weight), dehydration and lack of adequate nutrition, for example;
- Preventing disruptions in health coverage and care that result from job loss during this critical time in a woman’s life;
- Making it easier for women to breastfeed, which has important immediate and long-term benefits for the baby and mother;
- Preventing housing insecurity – often caused by job insecurity – that leads to poorer health, lower weight and developmental risks in young children;
- Reducing poverty, economic insecurity and the stress associated with hardship, which also affect babies’ health.
Because women in higher-paid professional fields are more likely to have pregnancy and child-related accommodations as a matter of course by their employers, the Pregnant Workers Rights Act is especially important for lower-income women and their families. Research shows that higher family incomes often lead to better outcomes for children. A woman who keeps working during pregnancy not only continues to make a paycheck, but also continues gaining experience and opportunities for advancement, improving her lifetime potential earnings and that of her children.
And because mothers, more than fathers, experience hiring discrimination, remaining employed is especially crucial for women’s and their families’ economic security.
Pregnant workers’ rights are good for business.
By supporting mothers’ attachment to the labor force, the Pregnant Workers Rights Act would not only improve maternal and infant health and familial economic security, but support a productive workforce for Kentucky businesses and our economy. Healthy workers with healthy children are more productive and have lower healthcare costs and rates of absenteeism. In addition, supporting mothers through reasonable accommodations can also help employers improve workplace morale and employee retention and reduce costs associated with litigation and unemployment insurance.
23 states and D.C., including our neighbor states Illinois and West Virginia, have passed Pregnant Workers Rights legislation. There is support across political and ideological lines for Kentucky to provide these basic protections as well.