Pennsylvania Legislator Introduces Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

In the wake of similar protections recently passed in Philadelphia, Rep. Mark Painter (D-Montgomery) has introduced HB 1892, dubbed the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, in the state house.

The bill is one part of a coordinated campaign organized by Pennsylvania’s Women’s Health Caucus, which formed last spring. The caucus’ goal is to re-center women’s health in the arena of public health, rather than politics—a concept lead organizer Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) calls “foreign to the predominant policymakers” in Harrisburg.

If passed, the bill will require that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for employees experiencing limitations due to pregnancy, child birth, or related medical conditions. Reasonable accommodation is defined as “providing a chair, assistance with heavy lifting, access to drinking water, or uncompensated break time” and “temporary job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices.”

Rep. Painter told RH Reality Check that the post-partum disorder is included under related medical conditions.

The freshman lawmaker says he was inspired to introduce this legislation after reading a story about a Wal-Mart employee in Kansas who was fired when, despite her doctor’s orders to stay hydrated, her employer refused to allow her to carry a bottle of water with her as she stocked shelves. Dehydration while pregnant can lead to fainting and even miscarriage.

According to a report published by A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center, “Almost nine out of ten (88 percent) first-time mothers who worked while pregnant worked into their last two months of pregnancy in 2006-2008, and more than eight out of ten (82 percent) worked into their last month of pregnancy.”

State and local bills to protect pregnant employees are necessary to address discrimination not covered by the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. As RH Reality Check contributor Sheila Bapat wrote last year, “the law has been interpreted so narrowly by federal courts that it actually does not protect pregnant women who are fired, forced to take leave, or quit when they require temporary, often minor accommodations.”

In response, bills providing various levels of protection have been passed in New York City, New Jersey, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Texas, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Meanwhile, a federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY), has stalled in Congress.

The new Pennsylvania bill is currently in the labor and industry committee. It will have to pass out of committee and be voted on in the house and senate before it can head to the governor’s desk, where it has a decent chance of being signed given the profound gender gap hindering Gov. Corbett’s chances at re-election in the fall.

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  • PeninaD

    This is a “Right to Work” leaning state…they usually side with employers, not workers.

    • lady_black

      This isn’t about taking sides. Why should employers NOT be required to allow pregnant women to stay hydrated? It’s not like they’re buying the water. They just need to allow their workers to maintain their health… pregnant or not.

      • PeninaD

        I agree that they should, and when I was pregnant 19 years ago, I fought for many of these accommodations.
        I simply point out that the legislature in Pennsylvania usually agrees with business, and on this topic, business usually takes the position that any accommodations to workers infringes on their ability to run their businesses. It is crazy, and archaic, but it is the tendency in this state, and unfortunately, still many others.

        • lady_black

          To the contrary, accommodation is the law. I think it would be very difficult to explain to any judge (or legislator) why an employer should have the right to fire a worker for carrying a water bottle and drinking water on the job. In fact, I’ve never worked anywhere where that would be a violation of work rules. PA doesn’t run Chinese sweat shops.