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Bill Advances in General Assembly to Protect Pregnant Employees, Recent Mothers

Several people listen to a speaker in a committee chamber.

*VPM Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story.

Additional protections for pregnant employees could soon be added to the Virginia Human Rights Act if a bill in the General Assembly continues to get support.  

The House of Delegates approved the legislation Thursday.  It would amend the current law to more clearly define protections for pregnant women and recent mothers. Similar legislation is still being worked on in Senate committees. 

While current law protects women from being discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy. The proposed changes would require employers to provide special accommodations, such as longer bathroom breaks, modified work equipment and time off to recover from childbirth.

Jessica Lee, a staff attorney at the Center for WorkLife Law, says current federal and state law regarding protections for pregnant employees is convoluted. She says this bill would help clear things up.

“Many don’t understand which employees are covered,” Lee said during a senate committee meeting Thursday. “It’s incredibly confusing and it’s the workers that are falling through the cracks. In that confusion, the workers have to make a choice between their work and their health.”

A diverse coalition of groups are supporting these changes, including the pro-life group Virginia Society for Human Life.

“For pregnant women to ever feel that they could possibly be in jeopardy of losing their jobs because of the continuation of their pregnancy is something that disturbs us greatly,”  VSHL President Olivia Gans Turner said in the committee meeting.

Amendments were made to the Senate version of the bill Thursday. The Senate Education and Health Committee imposed limitations on the repercussions small business owners could face in court. Nicole Riley is the Virginia State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business. She says this amendment lessens the burden for small business owners.

“We just think that this limits the playing field a little bit better and would allow a business owner to reasonably defend themselves in court,” Riley said. 

The Senate proposal still needs to be worked on before heading to a vote on the floor. The bill on the house side passed on a 61 to 33 vote Thursday.