Bill Would Offer More Protections for Pregnant Workers in Alabama

Alabama State House (Source: Alabama Daily News)

MONTGOMERY — A pre-filled bill in the Alabama Legislature seeks to offer more protections for pregnant workers by outlining accommodations that employers would be required to take supporting their health.

House Bill 1 from Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, titled the Alabama Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, would require employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” related to pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions.

Rafferty told Alabama Daily News that he has heard from various women in Alabama who have been too afraid to speak to their employers about policies that would support their pregnancy for fear of retaliation or being fired.

“They were having to be forced between choosing the dignity of earning a living and being able to provide for their family, their growing family nonetheless, and having a healthy pregnancy,” Rafferty said.

Some of the accommodations listed in the bill include:

  • More frequent or longer breaks;
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment;
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position;
  • Break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk;
  • Time off to recover from childbirth;
  • Assistance with manual labor;
  • Modified work schedules.

Under this bill, pregnant workers who feel that their employer has not afforded the required accommodations would be able to bring a cause of action. Employers would have to provide evidence of undue hardship if providing any of these accommodations would hurt their business.

The bill only applies to companies who employ 15 or more people.

Rafferty said his goal isn’t only to help protect pregnant worker’s job security, but also to help increase Alabama’s maternal and infant health, which has some of the poorest outcome rates in the country.

The 2020 report from March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of mothers and babies, gave Alabama an F grade for its level of preterm birth rate at 12.5%. That gets even worse when looking at Black women in the state whose preterm birth rate is 51% higher than all other women demographics.

A Better Balance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for workers’ rights, worked with Rafferty in drafting the bill.

Staff attorney Kameron Dawson told ADN that this bill is meant to fill in the gaps where the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the American Disabilities Act fall through in protecting pregnant workers.

“Becuase there’s not clear guidance on what pregnancy-related conditions are considered a disability, we know for sure we’ve had about two or three conditions, but there’s so many more that pregnant women face and that’s not being covered under the law,” Dawson said.

In their updated report from June 2021, A Better Balance found that over two-thirds of pregnant workers are losing their pregnancy accommodations cases under the PDA.

Dawson also said not protecting pregnant workers can cost the state and employers financially, with sometimes costing up to $58,000 in newborn and maternal healthcare costs that could have otherwise been avoided.

Dawson said 30 states have already passed similar legislation to HB1 with one of the most recent being Tennessee.

Providing more pregnancy worker protections could also help Gov. Kay Ivey reach her goal of obtaining 500,000 new credentialed workers by 2025 by encouraging more women to enter the workforce, Dawson said.

“We saw this even before the pandemic, but especially now where women have the primary caregiving responsibility and because they’re not able to stay healthy or take accommodation, you know they have to leave the workforce, or they’re put on unpaid leave,” Dawson said.

Rafferty said he doesn’t want the bill to be viewed as anti-business because the bill is also meant to protect employers.

“This is meant to help start those conversations between women and their employers who may not have felt empowered before and a kind of guide to those departments to work through to get reasonable accommodations, without any worry of retaliation,” Rafferty said.

The Business Council of Alabama, which advocates for business-friendly policies in the Alabama Legislature, has no position on the bill at the moment but will monitor its progress, a spokeswoman said.

The 2022 regular legislative session starts January 11 and Rafferty plans on using the time before that to reach out to the business community about the bill.