New labor protections for pregnant and new mothers set for enactment
Senators overwhelmingly voted in favor Thursday to attach sweeping protections for pregnant women in the workplace onto the $1.7 trillion spending bill, teeing it up for passage and enactment.
Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Bob Casey’s (D-PA) Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations, passed in a 73 to 24 vote. Another bipartisan amendment from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would expand workplace protections for nursing mothers was also added onto the omnibus in a 92 to 5 vote.
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“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act should have and could have passed overwhelmingly long ago with an up or down vote. Regardless, this amendment ensured pregnant mothers will have the workplace accommodations they need. This is pro-mother, pro-life, and pro-family,” Cassidy tweeted.
The measure would protect pregnant workers from workplace discrimination, ensuring they are provided with accommodations such as additional bathroom breaks without fear of losing their jobs. It also would prohibit employers from denying employment opportunities to pregnant women because of their need for accommodations due to childbirth or other related medical conditions.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was first introduced in Congress in 2012, though it had stalled in previous legislative sessions after Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about religious liberty exemptions. Previous concerns surrounded the bill specifying that workers with “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” would receive the accommodations, as some lawmakers suggested it could force employers to provide accommodations for employees getting abortions.
The bipartisan Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act was also added onto the spending bill, which would provide salaried employees with the space and time to pump and store breast milk at work. It expands on a previous version of the legislation from 2010 authored by Merkley and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), which gives the same protections to hourly workers.
“We must make it possible for every new mom returning to the workplace to have the option to continue breastfeeding. That option is also really good for business. With this bill, parents will be empowered to make their own choices on breastfeeding, and businesses can improve retention of valuable employees. It’s a win-win-win,” Merkley said in a statement.
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Lawmakers are on a time crunch to pass the spending legislation before a midnight deadline on Friday to avert a government shutdown. With the Senate passing the bill on Thursday, the House could take it up the same day.