WELA Press Release: New Pregnant Workers Law

On May 17, 2017 Governor Inslee signed the pregnant workers accommodations act that Washington Employment Lawyers Association (WELA) worked so hard to get passed. WELA member Katherine Chamberlain prepared this press release from WELA and sent it out Wednesday:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Law Requires Washington Employers to Help Pregnant Workers Remain Part of the Workforce During Their Pregnancies

Gov. Inslee on Tuesday signed into law strong new protections for pregnant workers in Washington. The Healthy Starts Act (Senate Bill 5835) requires Washington employers to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant workers who need them. The law prohibits employers from firing a pregnant worker because she needs an accommodation, or from forcing a pregnant employee to take leave from work if another reasonable accommodation can be provided. The Washington Employment Lawyers Association strongly supports the law.

Until now, Washington law only required employers to accommodate a pregnant worker in the workplace when she had a “disability,” or to the same extent the employers accommodated non-pregnant workers.

As a result, most pregnant workers who needed accommodation for their pregnancies previously had no right to an accommodation, such as for the nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and back pain that accompany a large number of typical pregnancies. Although healthcare providers regularly recommend limits on heavy lifting, sitting or standing for long periods of time, or travel, especially in the final trimester of a woman’s pregnancy, too often employers refused to accommodate, fired pregnant women with these restrictions, or forced them onto unpaid leave—during a time when they needed income, and healthcare benefits, the most.

Now, “Washington has a straightforward law that supports pregnant workers and promotes healthy pregnancies by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women,” explained employment lawyer Katie Chamberlain, a member of WELA’s legislative committee who testified in favor of the new law. “Reasonable accommodations include: more frequent restroom breaks; modification of no food or drink policy; job restructuring; modified work schedule; reassignment to a vacant position; modification of equipment, seating, or work station; temporary transfer; assistance with manual labor and limits on lifting; and schedule flexibility for pre-natal visits, and may include other changes to the job or work environment.”

An employee who is denied a reasonable accommodation for her pregnancy, or who is fired or otherwise retaliated against by her employer for requesting an accommodation, can seek to vindicate her rights, get her job back, or obtain compensation, through a lawsuit.

Under the new law, an employer need not provide an accommodation if doing so would impose an undue hardship, which means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense. The new law applies to employers with 15 or more employees and will take effect in 90 days.

The Washington Employment Lawyers Association’s Legislative Committee is proud to have advocated for this bill with Representative Jessyn Farrell, Senator Karen Keiser, and many other allies.

Labor & Employment Law Developments Under the Trump Administration

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): On January 25, 2017, Philip A. Miscimarra (R) appointed as acting chair to the NLRB. People’s World website reports that prior to 2013, Miscimarra worked for several law firms with a reputation for union-busting and as an NLRB Board member, he “consistently dissented from rulings favoring working people that have been handed down by the (pro-union Democrat) Board majority.”

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): On January 25, 2017, Victoria Lipnic appointed to serve as acting chair of the EEOC. According to a Law360 article, Lipnic voted against the EEOC’s 2015 decision finding that sexual orientation discrimination is gender discrimination under Title VII. She also voted against the EEOC’s 2014 pregnancy discrimination guidance.

U.S. Supreme Court: On January 31, 2017, Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the open seat. According to an AFL-CIO blog article, Gorsuch “has ruled against protecting the health and safety of workers, made it harder to have discrimination-free workplaces and argued for corporations’ misconduct to be protected from correction by investors and consumers.”

Federal Right-to-Work/Right-to-Shirk Law: On February 1, 2017, Republicans in Congress announce plan to introduce Right-to-Work/ Right-to-Shirk Law and implement it nationwide. This would be a blow to the labor movement and the communities in which union members reside because unions would be required to provide representation to all employees in the unit regardless of whether they pay union dues. For more information from the AFL-CIO: Deceptive Right to Work Laws Hurt Everyone

U.S. Secretary of Labor: Trump initially nominated Andrew Puzder as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Mr. Puzder has repeatedly violated labor laws and is a vocal opponent of workers’ rights, describing the ideal worker as a machine: “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” But, as of February 15, 2017, Puzder withdrew his nomination. Luckily, in his place, Trump picked former US Attorney Acosta as a nominee for U.S. Secretary of Labor on February 16, 2017. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, has stated “in one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food chain C.E.O. [Puzder] who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.” View Article