Too often women are forced to make an impossible choice between a healthy pregnancy and providing for their families. Louisiana lawmakers have an opportunity to support women, their families and businesses through Senate Bill 215 by Sen. Regina Barrow. This bill requires companies with 25 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum workers unless it causes undue hardship for the business. 

This common-sense policy, which has been widely adopted around the country, helps ensure pregnant workers are treated fairly on the job, provides employers with clear guidance and provides a boost to local economies as women and their employers have greater clarity and peace of mind. 

Gaps in current law leave Louisiana workers vulnerable. Louisiana has been a leader in protecting the rights of pregnant workers. Louisiana was ahead of most states when it passed the current pregnancy-related anti-discrimination law in 1997. However, best practices have evolved, and our state has now fallen behind. Current law only provides for job transfers, not accommodations.

Existing federal law provides limited protections. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, employers only need to accommodate pregnant workers if they already provide accommodations to other workers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires accommodations for pregnancy-related disabilities, but not pregnancy itself. 

Senate Bill 215 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum workers with medical needs – such as a stool to sit on, a water bottle to stay hydrated or temporary relief from heavy lifting – unless it creates an undue hardship for the employer as defined by established law under the ADA.

This legislation is an important component of addressing Louisiana’s maternal and infant health crisis. Louisiana has among the highest maternal death rates in the nation, with Black and Brown women experiencing pregnancy- related death at three times the rate of White women. Our state has the second highest infant mortality rate in the nation accounting for 468 babies in 2019.

Louisiana also is one of eight states to receive an “F” grade on the 2020 March of Dimes Report Card, with 13.1% of babies born preterm. The number of preterm births and infant deaths has increased in recent years despite earlier progress. Maternal health is a key factor in preventing infant mortality. In Louisiana, 45% of infant deaths are linked to perinatal conditions.

A Health Impact Assessment of a similar Kentucky law showed that “accommodating pregnant workers, upon their request, is critical for reducing poor health outcomes including miscarriage; low birth weight; preterm births; birth defects” and more. 

Louisiana relies on women and mothers to help keep the economy strong. Women make up nearly half of Louisiana’s labor force and more than one-quarter of its business owners. Nearly 70% of Louisiana women of childbearing age are working. 

Women are key breadwinners in over half of Louisiana households, including 81% of Black, 45% of white and 44% of Latina mothers serving as key family breadwinners. Keeping women employed and healthy while pregnant and nursing helps keep families on stronger financial ground. 

Employers and workers benefit from providing reasonable accommodations. Providing accommodations in the workplace leads to greater employee retention and morale while reducing turnover and training costs.

It also reduces healthcare costs. Physically demanding work, where accommodations are more often necessary, but too often unavailable, and where workers of color are more heavily represented, has been associated with an increased risk for preterm birth and low birth weight. On average, each premature/low birth weight baby costs employers and employees an additional $58,917 in newborn and maternal health care costs.

It prevents costly litigation by providing clear guidelines so employers can anticipate their responsibilities.  At least two states with pregnant worker fairness laws have reported a reduction in litigation since the laws went into effect, and other states have seen no increase.

More than half of states have already taken action to address this issue. Thirty states and the District of Columbia, including five Southern states – Tennessee (2020), Kentucky (2019), South Carolina (2018), Virginia (2020) and West Virginia (2014) – now require employers to provide these reasonable accommodations.

Most of these laws – including in Southern states – passed with bipartisan support and backing from the business community. Tennessee’s four largest chambers of commerce actively supported legislation in their state. A prominent Kentucky chamber called their legislation “pro-business, pro-workforce legislation that will be good for our state’s economy.” A South Carolina human resources firm praised their law for creating “clearer expectations” for businesses.  

Businesses and trade associations support similar federal legislation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, in an open letter in support of the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, private employers such as the National Association of Manufacturers, Microsoft Corporation and BASF Corporation among others. 

Louisiana can build on its past leadership and commitment to women, families and businesses by passing Senate Bill 215. Our state has shown a strong commitment to supporting pregnant mothers in the past. We are taking steps to address our maternal and infant mortality crisis through medical and community interventions. It is time to take the next step and provide reasonable accommodations at work that help women stay connected to the workforce while they take care of themselves and their babies.  

June 2021