New York City Passes Pregnant Worker Fairness Act

New York City has just given pregnant women additional protections by passing the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, a new law that will insure that pregnant women across New York do not have to fear losing their job because they need additional accommodations to ensure the health of their unborn child.

Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, an advocacy group that pushes for family-friendly work policies, said that  she recently spoke to an emergency room doctor in New York who had treated a pregnant retail worker after she collapsed and fainted from serious dehydration. The pregnant retail worker was not allowed to drink water while standing for hours behind the cash register.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act means, for example that women like this retail worker will, in the future, have the law on her side and the ability to push back against unreasonable demands.

It means that pregnant women can now request a seating accommodations while working at the register, ask to be reassigned when required to lift heavy objects as part of the  job, or take some time to safely recover from childbirth without risking their job for doing so.

New York City Councilmember James Vacca introduced this important piece of  legislation, which was pushed through the city council by  Speaker Christine Quinn, who made it part of her  platform. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act has been introduced at the State level, but has stalled in the state legislature in Albany and may expire if no further action is taken. New York City’s bold move may help garner state wide attention.
According to NPR, in 2011, Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced a similar federal bill called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). According to Bakst, Senator Bob Casey and Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced a Senate version last year and both versions were re-introduced earlier this year. In July, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi included it in her economic agenda for women and families.

Protecting pregnant workers makes for employers and employees alike. Employers need consistency and clarity in the labor laws so they do not risk costly litigation as a result of ambiguous laws. Employers also benefit from keeping valued workers with costs for accommodations that are modest at best.

New York currently ranks as one of the worst ten states for femal pverty. According to Bakst, “one way to improve that dismal showing in a hurry is to avoid needless discrimination in the workplace at the very moment they are starting or expanding their families.”

In sum, women need to stay healthy while earning a paycheck. New York shouldn’t lag behind the rest of the country on this very important issue. “As yesterday’s city council vote showed, with enough political will we can in fact point the way for everyone else,” said Bakst.