Senate passes protections for pregnant workers and new mothers

Advocates, legislators and pregnant workers will rally on the Capitol in support of the Pregnant Workers Justice Act on December 1 in Washington, DC. Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for A Better Balance

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP for Lactating Mothers Act passed the Senate on Thursday as amendments to the omnibus spending package with bipartisan support.

Important reasons: This is a major milestone for civil rights in the workplace for women. Advocates have been calling for protection for pregnant workers for more than a decade. Thousands of women lose their jobs each year through dismissal or unpaid leave, they argue, because employers are not obliged to provide reasonable accommodation for pregnant workers.

  • This includes things like extra potty breaks, the ability to sit while working at the cash register, and limits on how much weight you can lift.

What they say: “When employers find that a pregnant worker is expecting a child, or need modest accommodation to prevent serious health complications, they no longer consider it expendable. We can’t handle it,” said Dina Bakst, co-founder of A Better Balance, the advocacy group that led the effort. She has spent the past decade making statements to pass legislation.

detail: The Maternity Workers Fairness Act passed House 315-101 in August 2021. After being introduced into the Senate, it stalled.

  • Bakst’s group was leading the final push to get it past in the lame duck.
  • The Breast Pump Act, passed at 92-5, guarantees workers the right to rest while pumping. This is another big problem. This is especially true for hourly workers, who may not always be available overtime to pump milk.

What’s next: The amendments, part of a nearly $1.7 trillion government funding bill, have passed the Senate and are expected to head to the House for speedy passage before Friday’s deadline.

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