Statehouse dome

The Massachusetts Statehouse. (AP file photo)

BOSTON — Massachusetts legislators are working to join a small but growing number of states in ensuring that pregnant workers receive reasonable accommodations through the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The bill, which would prevent discrimination and require employers to provide arrangements such as more frequent or longer breaks, modified work schedules and temporary transfers to a job with less strenuous work, is aimed at protecting pregnant and nursing mothers in the workforce.

Sponsored by Rep. David Rogers, D-Cambridge, and Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, it has 167 co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

“It is unacceptable for pregnant workers to choose between healthy pregnancies and keeping jobs when there are low cost, reasonable accommodations available,” Lovely said.

Only 18 states require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees, but several other states are considering similar bills.

Currently, disability protections do not cover an employee with a healthy pregnancy. The proposed legislation would extend the same protections that now apply to disability to pregnancy, requiring employers to make reasonable and appropriate accommodations, if needed.

Lawmakers heard testimony from pregnant women denied reasonable accommodations, one who worked at a gas station that required her to handle heavy boxes and shovel snow.

When she became pregnant and requested lighter duty, she was denied any accommodations by her manager, creating what she said was an unsafe and stressful work environment.

Under the legislation, employers would not be able to terminate, deny a job to, or demote a pregnant worker. The bill also states that employers cannot force pregnant workers to accept particular accommodations or take a leave of absence.

The bill did not pass the Legislature last session. But it has a much better chance this session after gaining bipartisan and House leadership support.

“Under this law, pregnant women will be protected from discrimination when it comes to commonsense accommodations like nursing needs and food, water and restroom breaks,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. “And businesses will engage in a collaborative process with their employees to determine effective and reasonable accommodations.”

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employer association and lobbying organization, expressed concern with the bill last year, but changed its position after collaborating with women’s rights groups.

The bill, which aims to prevent women from having to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy, has also gained support from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Commissioners wrote in a letter to the legislative committee that the legislation “increases the likelihood that women will be able to stay on the job throughout their pregnancy and return to work, resulting in a more productive workforce with less employee turnover.”

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