Alejandra Duarte (left) listens to Linda O'Connell (right) from the group MotherWoman.

Alejandra Duarte (left) listens to Linda O'Connell (right) from the group MotherWoman at a hearing on the bill.

Credit: Mike Deehan

House Unanimously Adopts Protections For Pregnant Workers

May 10, 2017

The Massachusetts House of Representatives Wednesday voted unanimously to add pregnant women to the list of those protected by the state's anti-discrimination laws.

If the Senate also passes and Gov. Charlie Baker signs the bill into law, the Pregnant Worker's Fairness Act would make it illegal for to terminate, or refuse to hire an individual because she's pregnant.

The bill details "reasonable accommodations" that must be provided to pregnant workers, like more frequent and longer breaks, less physically strenuous assignments and seating.

Speaking to reporters before the House action, Speaker Robert DeLeo explained why such a seemingly common-sense idea needs to be enacted as a law.

"Probably 95 percent of the folks, businesses, you know, know the proper treatment that women should have during this time. But there's always that five percent that require us to make sure that we have a law to enforce to make sure that they comply and provide a safe environment," DeLeo said.

Employers would have recourse to contest accommodations as unreasonable based on the size and type of the company, available resources and the cost incurred.

It would also become illegal to refuse to reinstate an employee in the original or equivalent position after the mother returns from leave.

Nineteen states have put in place similar laws or workplace protections.

The bill's swift passage through the House comes after several years of stalled negotiations. The legislation passed the Senate last session, but never come to the House floor for a vote.

Instead, the bill died a quiet death in the House's budget-writing committee amidst opposition from the powerful business group Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Now, AIM is backing a rewritten version of the protections bill it can support. "It wasn't so much that they had an objection to it but with many bills of this type, they just want to make sure that they can go to businesses that they represent and let them know what they have to do to be in compliance with the law," DeLeo said.

Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and former Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) shepherded the bill through the Legislature last session.

Lovely told WGBH News the pair got the bill "right to the goal line" in December of last year as the Legislature's session ended. "It got stuck in the funnel," Lovely said.

DeLeo said Wednesday that lawmakers "ran out of time," last session before they could finish work on the bill. Lovely said she's confident the Senate will again give the legislation it's blessing soon and pass the bill on to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.

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