Pregnant Worker Bill Backed By Businesses, Opposed By Advocates Will Appear In Senate

Mar 30, 2021

Although federal laws require employers to provide pregnant workers in some cases, there are no laws requiring employers to accommodate pregnancy in Indiana workplaces.
Credit (Flickr)

Legislation that tells pregnant workers they can ask employers for workplace accommodations in writing and without retaliation will be heard in the Senate this week. But advocates for women say they'll oppose it, because it doesn’t require employers to provide them. 

Proponents of accommodations want to see legislation passed that goes beyond existing protections in federal discrimination and disability laws. Several bills this session that would’ve done that died without a hearing.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturer’s Association weighed in on the draft of the only remaining pregnancy accommodations bill, House Bill 1309, with Republicans. It was crafted around their concerns with bills in previous years that would have required employers to provide accommodations.

Mike Ripley from the Indiana Chamber said they worried pregnant workers would be able to dictate to employers what they need without a two-way conversation.

“Our folks who are involved in the labor world [and] HR folks, thought it still had created problems and put more onus on the individual,” he said. “This does just the opposite. This makes the balance even on both sides.”

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The proposed legislation says employers must respond to a written request for accommodations “within a reasonable time,” but does not define how long that might be.

“It doesn’t mean they have to [grant] the accommodation, but you gotta sit down and listen and talk to your employee," Ripley said. "That’s what really is done at the federal level, there’s an interaction between employee and employer.”

Ripley notes many large manufacturing companies already provide accommodations to pregnant employees and support bills that require other companies to do so. It's the smaller companies he thinks may have a harder time with it.

Meanwhile, advocates for pregnant workers like Samantha Kern said they'll actively oppose HB 1309 unless it's significantly amended.

The fight is personal for Kern, who said she began bleeding while working at a hospital – which she later learned was a symptom of a miscarriage. She said she wasn’t allowed to leave to seek help until she found a replacement. Years later, she's now a member of community group Hoosier Action, which has a working group dedicated to advocating for issues that affect mothers.

“That bill has a really good name, it sounds wonderful, but it’s not what we all think that it is,” Kern said. “I truly believe that it’s more detrimental in the long run.” 

Although legislators on both sides of the aisle have said passing the bill would be a “step in the right direction” toward required accommodations, Kern said she and others don’t trust additional steps will be taken.

“I don’t think that our legislators are going to build off of it,” Kern says. “I think that they’re going to use it to say 'Look I did this great thing! I voted in favor of pregnancy accommodation!' and I don’t see it going in the right direction.”

Ripley said if the bill is passed, the Indiana Chamber believes it should “check the box” to include Indiana on a list of about 30 other states that have pregnancy accommodation laws. However, he acknowledged many of those state laws differ from the bill in question. Almost all require “reasonable accommodations” actually be granted.

Hoosier Action said if the bill isn't amended to come more in line with versions that require reasonable accommodations, they'll turn their attention instead to advocate for federal legislation that has promising chances in Congress this year. 

HB 1309 is scheduled for discussion at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Senate Pensions and Labor committee.

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.