Landmark legislation will ensure more babies are healthy and safe | Prevent Child Abuse NC

By Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC President & CEO
Posted: February 14, 2023

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) celebrates the passage of The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). When pregnant workers don’t have accommodations, it can lead to economic stress and poor maternal and child health, which are all risk factors for child maltreatment. Many of these stressors are now avoidable thanks to the PWFA, helping to prevent the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect from impacting children, their family and our society.

When parents are provided with support – beginning in pregnancy – they are more likely to give birth to a healthy baby and families experience less stress. Pregnancy accommodations for pregnant workers improve maternal and child health by reducing infant mortality and reducing doctor and hospital visits. When children have good health in utero and good birth outcomes, they are more likely to have good physical health and on-track development during childhood and throughout life.

That is why we are thrilled that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was passed by Congress in December 2022. This landmark civil rights law will ensure that pregnant and postpartum workers are not forced off the job and receive needed accommodations without facing discrimination or retaliation in the workplace. It also means more babies will be born healthy and thriving.

By guaranteeing a right to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, the PWFA closes a gap in federal law that left pregnant and postpartum workers without an option if they needed accommodations to prevent health complications and keep working. Prior to the PWFA, existing laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only provided workers the right to receive accommodations if they could identify other similarly-situated people in their workplace who received accommodations — an insurmountable hurdle for most workers. Likewise, the Americans with Disabilities Act only provided the right to reasonable accommodations if the worker had a pregnancy-related disability. Before the PWFA’s passage, many workers who had a medical need for accommodations related to pregnancy had no legal protections and were often forced off the job and into financial insecurity.

Economic stress and the stress from raising children born with health complications are, sadly, risk factors for child maltreatment. These stressors are now more preventable for more parents and families, thanks to the PWFA and other policies that provide new parents with accommodations and rights like paid leave.

Women are an essential part of our labor force and mothers’ wages are critical to family economic security and keeping families out of poverty. Many women continue working into their second and third trimesters of pregnancy and return to work within days or weeks of giving birth.

  • 85% of women will be pregnant and employed simultaneously over the course of their lives.
  • In North Carolina, 62% of pregnant and new moms are in the labor force.

The new law will ensure pregnant workers receive fair treatment at work. This law guarantees pregnant workers the right to receive reasonable accommodations for limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless such accommodation would be difficult or expensive for the employer to provide. Pregnancy accommodations have also been shown to improve workplace retention, increase employee productivity, reduce absenteeism, and improve job satisfaction, in addition to saving money for employers.

Physically demanding, stressful, or exhausting work increases the risk for preterm birth and low birth weight, which increases the likelihood that babies will have disabilities or challenging health conditions – a leading risk factor for child abuse. The reasonable accommodations that are required in the new law include:

  • Light duty or help with manual labor and lifting
  • Additional, longer or more flexible breaks to drink water, eat, rest, or use the bathroom
  • Changing food or drink policies to allow a worker to have a water bottle or food
  • Changing equipment, devices, or workstation, such as providing a stool to sit on or adding a lock to a clean meeting room to turn it into a temporary lactation space
  • Making existing facilities easier to use, such as relocating a workstation closer to the restroom
  • Changing a uniform or dress code, like allowing wearing maternity pants
  • Changing a work schedule, like having shorter work hours or a later start time to accommodate morning sickness
  • Breaks, private space (not in a bathroom), and other accommodations for lactation needs
  • Flexible scheduling for prenatal or postnatal appointments
  • Time off for bedrest, recovery from childbirth, mastitis, and more

All these minor and temporary accommodations can add up to a big improvement in the health outcomes for babies and their mothers by reducing the overload of stress.

The passage of the PWFA is one of the biggest advances in civil rights laws in decades and goes into effect on June 27, 2023. Along with the passage of the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, which will support new moms who need to pump breastmilk while at their jobs, this is a major victory for maternal and infant health.

Being a new parent is hard even when you are financially stable and have family and community support. The PWFA makes parenting a bit easier when it is most stressful. We are grateful for the bipartisan support from NC’s Congressional delegation for the passage of the PWFA, particularly the leadership of former Senator Richard Burr. The PWFA is legislation that will nurture positive childhoods for generations to come– and that is worth celebrating!

Learn more about PCANC’s Policy Priorities here.

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