- Covid-19 has made it more difficult for women to juggle work and motherhood, and even prompted some to delay having children, according to one study.
- Legislation to require employers to provide "simple and reasonable" accommodations for expectant mothers on the job, which has bipartisan support in the Senate, could help to address that problem.
- "No pregnant worker should be treated adversely with respect to their employment simply because they're pregnant," said Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced women out of the workforce as they struggle with the demands of motherhood, and even prompted some to delay having children, according to separate studies.
Now there's a bipartisan push in Congress that aims to alleviate some of the hurdles pregnant women face so that they can stay in their jobs.
On Wednesday, Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., urged their fellow lawmakers to pass the legislation that has been introduced in every Congress since 2011, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.
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The bill, called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, was passed by the House of Representatives 315 to 101 last May.
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It was subsequently advanced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in August, with a 19-to-2 vote.
"We're working with colleagues to get it passed and signed into law this year," Cassidy said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
The bill would require employers to make reasonable accommodations so that pregnant women can continue to work.
"At its heart, this bill is about supporting pregnant women and their families," Casey said. "It's also about basic economic security, along with dignity and compassion for pregnant workers."
The bill would require employers to provide "simple and reasonable accommodations" for pregnant workers such as a water bottle, a stool to sit on or a better-fitting uniform, Casey said.
Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978. That law prevents women from being denied jobs or getting fired for being pregnant. But it does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodations so that expectant mothers can continue working.
While a 2015 Supreme Court decision recognized the need for temporary accommodations for pregnant workers, the ruling came with a complicated test to prove discrimination, lawmakers who support the bill argue.
Currently, about 30 states have enacted legislation addressing this issue. But that still leaves millions of female workers without protection, Cassidy said.
"The premise of the bill is very simple," the Pennsylvania senator said. "No pregnant worker should be treated adversely with respect to their employment simply because they're pregnant."
The bill's Republican co-sponsors include Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine. Among the Democrats are Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
The bipartisan push comes as Democrats have struggled to get the Build Back Better bill, which includes provisions for child care and paid family leave, passed by the Senate through a simple majority called reconciliation.
At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the difficulties many women face in juggling work and motherhood.
Around 10 million mothers living with school-age children were not actively working as of January 2021, according to data from the Census Bureau, a 1.4 million increase over the same month in 2020. Between March and April 2020, 3.5 million mothers living with school-age children left work.
What's more, a study from McKinsey and Leanin.org that was released in September found that one in three mothers had considered leaving the workforce or scaling back their careers due to the pandemic.
Additionally, the pandemic has prompted a drop in U.S. birth rates as many women opt to delay having children, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has found.
Such a negative impact on the birth rate is not new, however. Even before the pandemic, women in increasing numbers were choosing to delay having children in part because of what is known as the "motherhood penalty," in which earnings are reduced with each child they have.