Pittsburgh City Council Considers Bill to Protect Pregnant Workers

Sep 23, 2014

In the state of Pennsylvania, it’s technically legal for employers to refuse pregnant workers accommodations like a place to sit, access to water and more frequent breaks.

State lawmakers in March attempted to change that by introducing a bill to require such accommodations, but that bill has languished in the Senate Labor and Industry committee ever since.

Now, city of Pittsburgh lawmakers are moving to codify such protections for pregnant city workers.

City Councilman Dan Gilman and Councilwoman Deb Gross introduced a bill Tuesday morning that requires “reasonable accommodation” for pregnant workers.

Those accommodations include providing a chair, assistance with heavy lifting, access to drinking water and uncompensated break time. The bill would also provide for temporary job restructuring and modified work schedules. Allowable accommodations should not interfere with “essential job functions” or present “undue hardship” for the employer.

“There are examples in Pennsylvania where women have needed to either have a stool to sit down more during pregnancy, keep a water bottle to make sure they’re hydrating during pregnancy, take more regular breaks, and they’re being fired for these actions,” Gilman said.

The bill would also apply to companies with city contracts worth $250,000 or more.

“If you’re a large contractor and doing business with the city where you’re getting paid with tax dollars, you’re going to respect your workers who are pregnant as well and make these accommodations for them,” Gilman said.

A related bill updates the city’s non-discrimination policy to include pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions as protected classes.

A growing number of states and municipalities have passed similar legislation, including Philadelphia, New York City, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota and New Jersey.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in May 2013 introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in Congress. That bill has gotten little traction, however, and remains in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension.

President Obama in June voiced his support for such federal legislation at the White House Summit on Working Families.

“Right now, if you’re pregnant you could potentially get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks … or forced [onto] unpaid leave,” Obama said. “That makes no sense.”

Gilman said the municipal measures are part of this growing trend of pregnancy protection legislation, rather than a reaction to any alleged discrimination within city government.

“We don’t know of any specific examples involving city employees or city contracts, but we want to make sure we’re being pre-emptive in protecting rights and not waiting until there is an incident,” Gilman said.