New government funding package includes ‘historic step forward’ for pregnant workers, new mothers

New government funding package includes ‘historic step forward’ for pregnant workers, new mothers


By:  Lorie Konish
  • Two bills to provide additional protections for pregnant workers and breastfeeding people were included in the $1.7 trillion federal government spending package passed by Congress this week.
  • The changes are a "monumental and historic step forward" that will make a huge difference for low-income workers, particularly women of color, one advocate says.

Mothers and moms-to-be are poised to get new workplace protections, thanks to two amendments included in the $1.7 trillion federal government spending package that Congress on Friday sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

That includes the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which will require employers to make temporary and reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.

"Pregnancy should never be a barrier for women who want to stay in the workplace," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., one of the leaders behind the proposal, said in a statement.

"This legislation would provide commonsense protections for pregnant workers, like extra bathroom breaks or a stool for workers who stand, so they can continue working while not putting extra strain on their pregnancies," Casey said.

Casey first introduced the proposal in 2012. The bipartisan bill was also led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

The Senate amendment to add the bill to the spending package passed on Thursday with a 73-24 vote. The proposal was passed by the House of Representatives in May 2021. The House passed the larger package to fund the federal government on Friday.

"The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is one of the biggest pieces of civil rights and workplace protection legislation to pass in over a decade," said Sarah Brafman, national policy director at A Better Balance, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on workers' rights.

"It is a monumental and historic step forward for pregnant and post-partum workers," she said.

New protections for working women 'in the shadows'

The change would provide protections for many women "in the shadows" who would share with advocates stories of what happened to them, Brafman said. That includes pregnant workers who asked for light duty who were then pushed out of their jobs, women who asked for schedule accommodations due to morning sickness who were refused their requests and female cashiers who asked for a chair to sit on who were told instead to come back after they gave birth and later found their positions had been filled.

The issue disproportionately affects low-income workers - particularly women of color - in low-wage, physically demanding jobs, Brafman said.

The Senate also on Thursday passed an amendment with a 92-5 vote to include the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act in the government funding bill.

That proposal, which would protect a worker's right to breastfeed in the workplace, also had bipartisan backing in the chamber through leaders including Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Bipartisan effort looks to require companies to provide accommodation for pregnant women at work

The bill expands on a 2010 law that requires employers to allow for time and space for mothers to pump and store breast milk at work.

"We must make it possible for every new mom returning to the workplace to have the option to continue breastfeeding," Merkley said in a statement.

That 2010 law excluded protections for nearly 9 million women of child-bearing age, according to Brafman. That forced breastfeeding women to pump in their cars or stop pumping altogether because their employers did not give them time and space, she said.

Both bills had strong backing from the business community, which wanted clarity on the gaps in the law and to clear confusion for business owners, she noted.

"This is really an economic justice victory, a gender justice victory, a racial justice victory, because these issues often so disproportionately affect women of color and especially Black women," Brafman said.

"These are really strides forward for Black maternal health, in particular," she said.