“Workers’ Voices” is a series on A Better Balance’s blog highlighting the firsthand experiences of workers from across the country. For some workers we are in touch with, they are covered by federal, state, or local workplace protections that make a world of difference in their ability to care for themselves and their loved ones. For others, their experiences highlight the glaring gaps that remain in our laws.
This week, we are recognizing the 45 year anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by celebrating new federal rights for pregnant and postpartum workers under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which took effect this year! The below stories are from A Better Balance’s free and confidential legal helpline, and detail how the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is already serving as a lifeline for pregnant and postpartum workers across the country. Click here to learn more about your rights under the PWFA.
Angela, a telecommunications specialist from New York, was able to successfully request the ability to work remotely per her doctor’s advice. She had performed her job remotely during the pandemic, but upon being recalled to the office she faced a five-hour daily commute that was becoming increasingly difficult as she progressed in her pregnancy. After submitting her doctor’s note, it took two weeks for Angela to receive a response from management who indicated that they did not intend to accommodate her.
At that point, Angela reached out to A Better Balance and we provided her with information on the PWFA, which had taken effect a few weeks prior. Not long after that, Angela’s employers legal counsel had advised that they must comply with her accommodation request immediately.
“This news came at an especially reassuring time,” Angela told us, “as my bloodwork results from my last doctor’s appointment returned flagged the same afternoon. Now I will be better able to manage my and my baby’s needs for the remainder of the pregnancy. Thank you, again, for your work championing women’s health rights.”
Beca, a certified nursing assistant from Massachusetts, was able to switch to lighter duty and receive back pay for days she’d had taken off her schedule after asserting her rights under the PWFA. When she contacted us, she was in her first trimester of pregnancy after suffering a miscarriage earlier this year, which she attributes to lifting at work. When she became pregnant again, she was determined to do her research and assert any rights she had to make sure she would not have another miscarriage.
After initially being brushed off by her employer, she told her office administrator to google the PWFA. When management tried to send her home without pay and make her apply for unemployment because of the lifting restriction advised by her doctor, she forcefully asserted that that was illegal. As a result of her self-advocacy, the company called her back a couple days later to tell her they’d be paying her for the days they had taken her off the schedule and that when she returned to work the next day, she would be provided with the accommodation of lighter duty.
“I found the new law that took effect June 27th and did my research. I dug deep, not just to get myself help, but to spread the word to every pregnant person I meet,” Beca told us. “Having these laws in place means pregnant women can have a happy and healthy pregnancy and keep their job. When I found out about the law, I felt strongly that I was going to use this to my advantage and have that beside me. When I went into work, I wasn’t afraid to request reasonable accommodations because I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have a person with me, but I had a federal law with me to help me. Suddenly they agreed to accommodate me after being completely resistant before.”
Emily, an independent living specialist from South Carolina, used A Better Balance’s sample accommodation request letter to request a temporary work-from-home accommodation while experiencing morning sickness and vomiting as well as other pregnancy-related symptoms such as dizziness and fatigue.
“My job is one that can be done from home, so I wanted to ask my employer for permission to work remotely until these symptoms resolve,” she told us. “I originally found out about PWFA through a friend sharing a TikTok video about it. However, I was unsure about how to access the accommodations under this law. After a quick Google search, I found A Better Balance and was able to obtain not only more information about PWFA but a sample letter with suggestions on how to request my accommodation. My request was approved about one week later with no further information requested by my employer.”
Hannah* (*name changed to protect anonymity), a pregnant hospital worker, requested light duty, on her doctor’s advice, for her pregnancy. Her employer immediately forced her onto an unwanted leave without pay, despite the availability of alternate accommodations — and then made her endure months of silence as she waited to learn if and how she could return to her job. Hannah then called our free and confidential legal helpline, where she learned about her rights under the PWFA and was able to access the accommodation she needed.
“Getting sent home early from work in front of all my colleagues felt so demeaning. It made me feel inadequate to do a job that I had worked hard to master all those years… I was in a constant state of anguish; I started to regret my pregnancy, one that I had wholeheartedly prayed for,” Hannah told us. “When I received the call that my accommodation had been approved I burst into tears. It felt like a load of bricks had been lifted off my chest… I am able to contribute financially again, giving me back my sense of self-worth. I no longer felt ostracized or incapable because I was pregnant.”
We are thrilled to see the real-world impact the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is already making in the lives of workers, and look forward to continuing to assist workers across the country in exercising their new rights under the law.