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37 Years Later, the Fight for Pregnant Workers Continues

37 Years Later, the Fight for Pregnant Workers Continues

This blog originally appeard on the WRJ blog

This Saturday, October 31, we celebrate the 37th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which was passed by Congress in 1978. The PDA guarantees the (seemingly straightforward) right not to be treated adversely because of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. It also requires employers to treat pregnant employees at least as well as other employees that are unable to perform their typical job functions because of a temporary condition. Accommodations can be provided in a variety of ways, including modified tasks, modified schedules, alternative assignments or disability leave.

There is no doubt that the PDA furthered the protections for women in the workplace. However, unfortunately, there is still a long way to go until pregnant women are completely free of discrimination in the workplace. This year’s Supreme Court decision in Young v. United Parcel Service reminds us that existing laws such as the PDA is not enough to guarantee complete protections for pregnant workers. Without the protection of pregnancy accommodations, pregnant women face unpaid leave, lost benefits or even job loss.

This puts women in the position to have to choose between their health and their family’s financial security, a decision they should never have to face. Three quarters of women will be pregnant and employed over the course of their life, and 90 percent of them work into their last month of pregnancy. Further, women are the primary breadwinners in over 40% of families. Now more than ever before, families rely on women for financial support.

As we celebrate this important anniversary for the PDA, we know that there is still work left to be done to protect pregnant women in the workplace. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2654/S. 1512), or PWFA, would require employees to provide reasonable, temporary accommodations to pregnant workers so that they can remain in the workforce throughout their pregnancy. PWFA is legislation that is long overdue and would allow women and their families to stay healthy and financially stable during such an important life-cycle event.

Judaism stresses the importance and sacred nature of work—an opportunity to be co-creators with God. Maimonides, a renowned Jewish sage, listed health care first on his list of the ten most important communal services that a city had to offer to its residents (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot IV: 23). From this teaching, we learn that protecting health is not just an obligation for a patient and a doctor, but is instead a key service for a community to provide to its residents.

PWFA is gaining traction in Congress, and now more than ever, it is important that everyone does their part to ensure workplace protections for pregnant women. Take action and urge your Members of Congress to end discrimination against pregnant workers.

To learn more about the PDA and PWFA, visit the National Women’s Law Center’s page on Pregnancy, Parenting, and the Workplace and the RAC’s Women’s Issues page.

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf

Published: 10/27/2015