July 4, 2023

This New Law Could Make Pregnancy Safer For Black Workers – Here’s How

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) went into effect this week and should help Black pregnant or postpartum workers get the accommodations they need to stay healthy and working. 

What is PWFA?

PWFA explicitly gives pregnant and postpartum workers the right to temporary accommodations at work to keep them in their jobs during and after pregnancy.

After being in the works for over ten years, the law has finally been passed, allowing millions of pregnant women to ask for what they need to help them in their position.

Bipartisan Policy Center poll last year found that nearly one in four mothers have considered leaving their jobs due to lack of pregnancy accommodations or fear of 

discrimination during their pregnancy.

“This law could spell the difference between someone continuing to feed their family and not,” Sarah Brafman, National Policy Director of A Better Balance, told Vox.

Black Mothers In The Workplace

Black mothers have the country’s highest labor force participation rates at 76% and are often their families’ primary breadwinners. 

However, they often occupy jobs that require a lot of standing, movement, long hours, or inconsistent work schedules, which can negatively affect pregnancy.

On top of this, Black women face a nine times higher risk of maternal death than their white counterparts, and even the wealthiest Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts. 

When pregnant and postpartum workers ask for workplace adjustments to support their pregnancies, many, particularly those of color, face barriers to accessing them. Nearly 30%of Black women filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pregnancy discrimination complaints between 2011 and 2015.

This is not a new issue for Black women as their reproductive oppression and labor exploitation in the United States can be seen from their treatment under slavery to continued racism and discrimination centuries later.

Some of these conditions have carried through today as Black pregnant and postpartum workers face the threat of termination, loss of health insurance, or other benefits, which left them with no choice but to keep working to the detriment of their health and safety.

What are the experiences in the workplace?

Black Mamas Matter Alliance and A Better Balance conducted a listening session with Black birth workers and organizational leaders across nine states in America, discussing how they directly support Black pregnant and postpartum workers as they navigate pregnancy accommodations in the workplace.

Southern Birth Justice Network worker Tiffany Burks described a time when one of their doula clients was fired from her job at a gas station.

“Her feet were getting swollen because she was standing on her feet at the station. She asked for a stool, and they told her she had to go,” she said.

“She was fired and lost out on resources to save up for her child before the child was born.”

Experiences such as this highlight why the PWFA is essential for Black pregnant and postpartum workers to thrive and secure their jobs. 

“The act will positively impact Black birthing people’s health and economic security,” said Rev. Deneen Robinson, member of The Afyia Center Texas.

“It has the potential to be a viable avenue to improve the experience of Black pregnant people in the workplace. Furthermore, it will help remove one of the many barriers Black pregnant people face at work by ensuring they are afforded immediate relief under the law and not thrown into dire financial straits for needing pregnant accommodation.”

What will change?

Now, the Act ensures women can ask for what they need to continue working during and after pregnancy.

If your employer doesn’t work with you to devise a solution, you can complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although the law doesn’t state how long the accommodations can apply after birth, things will be more precise when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Regulation comes out at the end of this year.

PWFA protects employees who work at public or private sector companies with at least 15 people, which means contract workers and people who work at small firms aren’t covered.

What are the accommodations?

“It’s not just a specific list of accommodations,” said Emily Martin, VP of Education and Workplace Justice at The National Women’s Law Center.

“It’s a case-by-case determination. It is meant to be flexible rather than assuming lawmakers can predict the universe of potential problems.”

However, accommodation examples are giving pregnant waitstaff more bathroom breaks and allowing work from home if workers feel nauseated or their commute is unmanageable.

It also ensures you can get more time for doctor’s appointments or extended leave to recuperate from delivery. 

You may only get some of what you ask for. However, your employer must work with you to devise a solution.

The grounds on which they may say no is if it places an “undue hardship” on the business, meaning accommodations may be too difficult or expensive to provide.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.