Thursday, October 4, 2012

New pregnancy discrimination legislation is unneeded, redux

On September 19, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act [pdf] was introduced in the Senate. It is identical to the bill by the same name introduced in the House back in May. The bill would amend Title VII to to require an employer to make a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. At the time, I critiqued the bill as unnecessary:

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act [already] requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same (no better and no worse) as other employees based on their ability or inability to work. In other words, the law already requires that employers provide the same accommodations for an expectant worker that you do for any un-pregnant employee unable to perform his or her regular job duties.

Have you ever offered light duty to an employee returning from an injury? Have you ever reassigned job functions to assist an injured worker? Unless you are among the tiniest minority of employers that provides no accommodations for any employees’ medical issues or injuries, then the PDA already requires you to accommodate your employees’ pregnancies.

Last Friday, HuffPost Live ran a story on the re-introduction of this legislation. The host, Nancy Redd, cited my May blog post as support for the argument that this bill is unneeded. Some on the panel took issue with those that argue against the need for this legislation.

So that my position is crystal clear, I am not saying that pregnant women should be discriminated against. What I am saying, however, is that because the law requires employers to accommodate pregnant women at least at the same level as they accommodate any other employee with a similarly disabling short-term medical condition, Title VII already guarantees the rights laid out in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

In other words, we do not need legislation to duplicate rights that already exist. If employers are not granting these rights, and pregnant workers are not receiving the accommodations they need and are requesting, then pregnant workers should be filing discrimination lawsuits. The answer lies in educating employers on their obligations under existing laws, not passing new, duplicative ones.