The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) just turned 35 years old but many feel it’s not being utilized properly. Too many loopholes allow employers to minimize a pregnant woman’s position in the workforce in spite of the protections supposedly provided in the PDA. One governor - Eric Genrich of Wisconsin - is on a mission to strengthen the PDA in his state by introducing the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act” into state legislation.

According to Genrich, the federal law (PDA) makes it illegal for an employer to fire or refuse to hire a pregnant woman. What it does not do is protect a woman, already hired and working, when she becomes pregnant.

The Genrich proposal would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for a woman’s pregnancy while keeping her employment status secure. Temporary accommodations for pregnancy are especially important for women who do physically demanding jobs that are difficult or impossible to do safely while pregnant.

Legal action, within reason, against employers who discriminate against pregnant women is another provision in the Genrich proposal. Currently, the federal law allows an employer exemption from prosecution if the employer can prove the temporary pregnancy accommodations in question present an undue hardship for the employer. The Wisconsin bill would allow this same exemption. Genrich says, “that mirrors provisions incurrent federal law on pregnancy discrimination, and also mirrors state law on some discrimination statutes."

Also included in the Wisconsin Pregnant Workers Fairness Act are protections for nursing mothers who want to return to work.

Dana Schultz describes the current situation as “extremely archaic.” Schultz is director of 9to5 Wisconsin, the state’s chapter of the 9to5, National Association of Working Women, established in 1973 to improve and protect the rights of working women and their families. The organization boasts the largest membership of all US organizations of working women.

According to Schultz, many working women are forced into unpaid leave when pregnancy makes it difficult or impossible to continue work as usual. The problem has become a growing issue as the economic downturn continues nationwide. Schultz says that the number of pregnancy-related cases of discrimination in the workplace has grown by an estimated 35 percent in the last couple of years.

The federal PDA was enacted in 1976 to counter the ruling of a Supreme Court decision that denies pregnancy discrimination as a form of sex discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled it is discrimination between a pregnant person versus a non-pregnant person, a situation not covered under federal discrimination laws. The PDA remedied that ruling by confirming that workplace discrimination against pregnant women is indeed a form of federally outlawed sex discrimination.

Source: Kenney, Courtelyou, and Martin, Emily. “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 35: The Need to Restore and Reinvigorate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.” National Women’s Law Center. Nov 1, 2013. Web. Dec 4, 2013.