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Bill aimed at protecting pregnant workers reaches gov's desk

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act offers reasonable accommodations like "more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks" and time off to recover from childbirth.
Massachusetts state house, voter petitions, transgender rights, transgender equality
Massachusetts lawmakers want to restrict voter petitions that could walk back equal rights. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After passing slightly different versions of the legislation earlier this year, the House and Senate reached a compromise this week on a bill mandating protections for pregnant workers and sent the legislation to the governor's desk Thursday.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act offers pregnant women reasonable accommodations, including "more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks, time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor, or modified work schedules." But the new responsibilities are required only as long as they "would not impose undue hardship on the employer."

The bill, which has an April 1, 2018 effective date, also bans employers from refusing to hire a pregnant woman solely because she requires a reasonable accommodation. Employers would not be permitted to force pregnant employees to accept an accommodation that she does not want or to take leave if another reasonable accommodation could be provided.

The House and Senate unanimously passed slightly different versions of the legislation in May and June, and the differences were worked out without sending the bill to a conference committee.

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"This is a proud day for Massachusetts and reinforces our dedication to protecting our residents - especially as events in Washington threaten the safety and security of women," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement released after the Senate vote on Thursday.

On Monday, the House accepted the Senate's version of the bill and offered a further amendment to it. The Senate on Wednesday accepted that House amendment and the House then enacted the final bill (H 3816). The Senate enacted the bill Thursday afternoon.

The final bill appears to closely follow the Senate's version, Linda Matys O'Connell, acting director of advocacy group MotherWoman, said Thursday morning. She said MotherWoman and Associated Industries of Massachusetts -- the groups that forged a bill both sides agreed would be workable — reviewed the changes Thursday morning. She said the Legislature has been "tremendously responsive in working with us and talking with us."

Though business groups had opposed a similar bill last session, AIM announced in March that it reached an agreement with MotherWoman on consensus legislation, which Lovely and Rep. David Rogers filed this session. Support for the legislation is bipartisan and no lawmaker voted in opposition.

"We love this bill, the bipartisan nature of it. We were unanimous in both chambers. It's time for this bill and we think the political climate -- there's a thirst for bipartisanship around an issue that's mom and apple pie," Matys O'Connell said Thursday morning. "We know in Massachusetts we can get behind that on both sides of the aisle."

There appears to be little in the way of the bill becoming law. Baker, who is sometimes reluctant to discuss pending legislation, indicated in May that he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk in a substantially similar form as the bill that first passed the House.

"We're hoping, of course, the governor will sign the bill. He has indicated an interest in it and he said if what passed the House got to his desk he would sign that," Matys O'Connell said. "We obviously think the bill has only gotten better."

According to MotherWoman, the advocacy group that has led the lobbying charge to enshrine these protections into law, 21 other states and the District of Columbia have taken legislative action to make sure employers provide accommodations for pregnant workers.

 
 
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