Philadelphia Tightens Pregnancy Discrimination Laws

Philadelphia has enacted a law that would improve workplace conditions for pregnant workers, on the heels of a new national report revealing that pregnant women face significant barriers in the workplace.

Following the amendment of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, city employers are now required to provide “reasonable” workplace accommodations for pregnant employees, such as access to water and bathroom breaks. Though the title addresses only pregnant women, the amendment covers pregnancy, childbirth, and “related medical conditions.”

The Women’s Law Project, PathWays, and the Maternity Care Coalition testified to the city council in support of the bill, as did Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the agency responsible for enforcing the ordinance.

Landau noted that the majority of Philadelphia children—53 percent—are raised by one parent, most often a woman.

“Very simply put,” she said, “women cannot afford to lose their jobs or income due to pregnancy or childbirth.” She told the council about some women she has met through her agency that could have benefited from this amendment, among them a waitress dealing with morning sickness who was fired for frequent trips to the bathroom and a nurse who was fired after requesting an extended leave of absence in the wake of a diagnosis of a condition that required rest.

In the state legislature, the new Women’s Health Caucus recently announced bills that would provide similar protections in both the house and senate. Pennsylvania is one of the top ten worst states for pregnancy discrimination, according to a 2008 report by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

“The experiences of pregnant women and new moms across the country demonstrate that not enough is being done to ensure that the nation’s workplaces have the basic policy standards necessary to prevent discrimination and promote the cultural changes America’s women and families need and deserve,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, in a statement announcing the release of a new brief published in conjunction with its program the Childbirth Connection. Among other things, the brief found that more than one in four women surveyed said they’ve experienced “bias from their employers due to perceptions of their desire, ability or commitment” to perform their work. 

The brief suggests that policies like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would improve workplace conditions for pregnant women.

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