TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Fred Madden intended to counter an increase in discriminatory practices and treatment for the growing number of pregnant women in the workplace was approved by the Senate on Monday.
The bill, S-2995, would add clear and definitive language to the existing Law Against Discrimination to include pregnancy to help prevent the mistreatment of pregnant women and to ensure that reasonable accommodations are available in the workplace.
The Senate’s action comes a few weeks after the 35th anniversary of the landmark federal law to protect pregnant women from employment discrimination.
“The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act was an important step forward for workplace equality because it outlawed overt and blatant discrimination of pregnant women who were regularly fired or refused employment,” said Senator Weinberg. “However, pregnancy discrimination persists. In fact, complaints about unfair treatment due to pregnancy have increased substantially with more women in the workforce.”
The federal law bans employers from firing or refusing to hire a pregnant woman but it doesn’t regulate treatment of women who become pregnant while on the job. The proposed state law would require employers to make reasonable accommodations when requested by a pregnant employee with the advice of her physician so the woman could continue to work. The accommodations could include permission to carry water bottles, to take frequent bathroom breaks or to transfer to positions that are less hazardous or less physically demanding. The accommodations would have to be “feasible,” according to the bill.
“When pregnant women are denied reasonable accommodations, they often have no choice but to continue in their jobs under unhealthy conditions, risking their own health as well as that of their babies,” said Senator Madden. “If they lose their jobs, they lose critical income for themselves and their families and they can later struggle to re-enter a job market that is especially brutal for mothers with infants.”
The bill is modeled after the “Americans with Disabilities Act,” Senator Weinberg noted.
“Unfortunately, pregnant women continue to be subjected to discriminatory treatment on the job in ways that are blatant or subtle,” said Senator Weinberg. “Low-wage workers are especially susceptible to on-the-job conditions that are unfair and unhealthy because they are more likely to have physically demanding jobs and less obliging employers. They are frequently denied basic accommodations in work environments that can be hostile to employee flexibility and they are more likely to lose income, insurance coverage and even their jobs.”
According to 2010 data, 64 percent of women in New Jersey who gave birth were employed during that year. A large proportion of the women were the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. Nationally, 75 percent of women will become pregnant at some point while employed.
Conversely, businesses benefit when their pregnant workers can continue in their jobs through employee retention, improved morale, increased productivity and reduced training costs. Turnover alone can cost an employer between 50 percent to 150 percent of an employee’s annual pay.