Bill aims to improve working conditions for pregnant women

Associated Press
Published: 4/4/2017 9:30:13 PM

BOSTON — When Alejandra Duarte learned she was pregnant, she asked her supervisor at an industrial laundry in Massachusetts if she could be given slightly less strenuous duty, but instead, she recalled, she was given longer shifts and more responsibilities.

As an immigrant who could not speak English at the time, Duarte, whose job involved loading and pushing laundry carts that weighed up to 600 pounds, had few options but to continue working.

One day, she felt a sharp pain in her womb and the next day realized she was bleeding.

“I became pregnant and lost my baby at 19 weeks after my employer denied me accommodations,” said the Framingham woman, who on Tuesday related her story from a decade ago to a legislative committee considering a bill that would require employers to offer reasonable accommodations for pregnant or nursing workers.

Those accommodations could include modified work schedules or temporary transfers to less strenuous positions, or simpler things such as a stool to sit on or more frequent bathroom breaks.

The bill, which fell short of final passage in the last legislative session, received a major boost earlier this year when MotherWoman, a Hadley-based advocacy group for working mothers, negotiated compromise language with Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an organization that represents thousands of employers.

Supporters said 18 states and the District of Columbia provide similar protections.

“I am very angry and hurt by how I was treated,” said Duarte, who at age 41 remains childless. “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to any other woman.”

Advocates say her story, while an extreme case, points to a lack of protection for pregnant workers. Labor law experts told the committee the bill was needed because most normal pregnancies do not rise to the definition of a disability under state law, so pregnant workers are generally not entitled to the same protections as legally disabled ones.

“In Massachusetts, a woman may be forced to choose between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy or the choice may be made for them,” said Linda O’Connell, acting executive director of MotherWoman.

O’Connell related other cases, including a pregnant waitress forced to work 12 hour shifts and a nanny who was fired by her employer after being told she was “too pregnant” to care for children.

The compromise includes more business-friendly language that would exempt employers who can demonstrate that compliance would create “undue hardship” for their businesses, defined as a significant difficulty or expense.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts said earlier versions of the bill did not include enough flexibility for businesses, even those that made what they considered to be multiple reasonable efforts to accommodate workers.

The bill would also require that nursing mothers be given time and a private space to pump breast milk.


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