House Holds Hearing on Pregnant Worker Accommodation Bill

October 25, 2019

A House Education and Labor subcommittee held a hearing on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), which would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees “whose ability to perform the functions of a job that [is] limited by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition,” and may tee up action by the full House later this year or early next year.

Despite the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Young v. United Parcel Service that held failing to accommodate pregnant workers with medical needs can violate the PDA, proponents of the bill believe EEOC claims data show pregnant women may not be protected enough and may face uncertainty about their rights.

The legislation would require employers to make reasonable accommodations, including minor job modifications, that would allow a pregnant worker to continue employment.  It would also prohibit employers from denying job opportunities to women who may need accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Broadly written bill could confuse employers about their obligations:  According to Ellen McLaughlin, partner at Seyfarth Shaw, “the legislation does not address key questions and issues that will certainly face employers as they seek to implement the requirements of the bill, nor does it provide a definition for the bill’s most fundamental term”—the phrase “known limitations.”

GOP member warns about “overzealous government intervention.”  Rep. James Comer (R-KY) went on to say Congress should “review and evaluate the federal laws already on the books that provide protections for pregnant workers, as well as the specific provisions in H.R. 2694, before advancing legislation that could have unexpected consequences.”

Twenty-seven states already require accommodations for pregnant workers, along with the District of Columbia and four cities.

Outlook:  The bipartisan House bill will likely be voted out of committee, but it is unclear if or when it may have enough support for the full House to vote on the measure.  The bill is also unlikely to be voted on in the GOP-controlled Senate if the House passes it.