To mark the start of Black Maternal Health Week on April 11th, we joined the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and U.S. Department of Labor alongside our partners at Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the National Birth Equity Collaborative for “Black Mothers at Work: A Discussion on Workplace Challenges and Supports,” an in-depth virtual webinar discussing how workplace conditions impact Black maternal health and the legal protections that can support Black mothers during pregnancy, after giving birth, and when returning to work.
Participants highlighted the newly passed federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act as two key puzzle pieces in improving maternal health outcomes for working Black moms. “We often find that low-wage work can be physically demanding,” said ABB Senior Staff Attorney Kameron Dawson. “Inflexible and inconsistent work schedules can compound the adverse health effects Black moms face, including pregnancy complications.” Dawson also shared the story of Ceeadria, who called A Better Balance’s free and confidential legal helpline after suffering a miscarriage due to a lack of access to a lifting restriction on the job, to illustrate the impact these critical protections will have for countless working women of color in particular.
Pregnancy discrimination disproportionately impacts Black women in low-wage jobs, as we discussed in our March 2022 report with Black Mamas Matter Alliance, “Centering the Experiences of Black Mamas in the Workplace: How The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Can Support Black Maternal Health.” Being denied reasonable accommodations can have a devastating financial impact on working Black mothers throughout their career, as National Birth Equity Collaborative Policy Director Megan Simmons pointed out during the event, saying, “Discrimination impacts our career trajectories and wages.” A Better Balance is proud to have launched and led advocacy efforts to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act alongside national and state advocacy partners to ensure that pregnant and postpartum workers have the clear right to receive reasonable accommodations at work and maintain healthy pregnancies.
Black Mamas Matter Alliance Federal Policy Manager Clarke Wheeler also discussed the role of social determinants of health like workplace conditions, saying, “These conditions play an outsized role in determining health outcomes and contribute to health inequities.” Ending the Black Maternal Health crisis must include advancing policies that address the social, economic, and health care systems that reinforce inequity. Research has shown that Black mothers have the highest labor force participation rates in the country, yet disproportionately experience negative health outcomes such as increased maternal mortality, lower breastfeeding initiation and retention rates, and increased likelihoods of postpartum depression. Policies such as pregnancy and lactation accommodations, paid family and medical, paid sick time, and flexible scheduling can be critical measures to improve health outcomes for new parents and babies.
Similarly, Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman echoed the importance of ensuring workers can balance their health needs with their jobs, saying, “The worker brings themselves to work, and that means they bring their whole self to work.” Under these new laws, millions of working women will now have an affirmative legal right to the accommodations they need to stay healthy on the job while pregnant, recover from childbirth, and be supported in their breastfeeding journey.
In addition to celebrating the recent victories of the PWFA and PUMP Act, participants also discussed the importance of robust implementation and enforcement, as well as community outreach and education to ensure workers can exercise their rights under these new laws. “As a worker, you might become accustomed to experiencing discrimination so often that you sort of lose touch with what your rights may be,” said Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. A Better Balance is dedicated to ensuring that workers understand and feel equipped to exercise their rights under protections like paid family and medical leave, paid sick time, and pregnant worker fairness laws. Visit our Workplace Rights Hub or call our free and confidential legal helpline for more information about your rights under state, local, and federal laws.