The Lead

Pa. Democrat proposes statewide protections for pregnant workers, building on federal PWFA

By: - July 11, 2023 10:11 am
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act closed a loophole in workplace discrimination laws, but a Pennsylvania Democrat wants to strengthen the protection for pregnant people at work.

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, plans to reintroduce legislation prohibiting an employer from refusing an employee’s request for a “reasonable accommodation” unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer.

“Reasonable accommodations include providing periodic rest or a chair for an employee who stands for a long period of time, assistance with heavy lifting, access to drinking water, uncompensated break time, and temporary job restructuring,” Cappelletti wrote in a memo seeking legislative support. “Additionally, the legislation will forbid employers from denying employment opportunities to employees based on their request for accommodations.”

Cappelletti said the proposal is a “commonsense” bill that protects pregnant people without creating “a significant burden” on employers.

The federal PWFA, which took effect at the end of June, requires certain employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers, such as closer parking, flexible work hours, additional break time to use rest, eat, or use the bathroom, as well as take leave or time off to recover from childbirth or the loss of a pregnancy. 

Pennsylvania lawmakers and advocates celebrated the federal law’s enactment, noting that stricter state or local protections would supersede the federal law’s language. That means a Pennsylvania-based act “would cover more people and provide more remedies,” as Amal Bass, policy director and interim co-executive director for the Women’s Law Project, said.

As of December 2020, more than 30 states and cities have laws related to accommodations for pregnant employees, according to Better Balance, a national nonprofit advocacy organization.

“It is time Pennsylvania is added to this list,” Cappelletti said. “No one should have to choose between their job and a healthy and safe pregnancy.”

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