Clarification of pregnancy accommodations advanced

Senators gave first-round approval March 12 to a bill that would update the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act to clarify workplace protections for pregnant workers.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, sponsor of LB627, said that while protections for pregnant workers currently exist, those protections lack specificity and definition. As a result, he said, courts have handed down increasingly narrow interpretations of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation for a pregnant employee.

“While the intent of Congress and the state was to protect pregnant workers … the specific language used to do so has proven inadequate and needs to be updated,” Mello said. “I believe that it’s a simple matter of fairness that women should not be denied a job or a promotion simply because they are pregnant.”

Reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers outlined in the bill include:
• periodic rest;
• equipment for sitting;
• more frequent or longer breaks;
• assistance with manual labor;
• job restructuring;
• light duty assignments;
• modified work schedules;
• temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work;
• time off to recover from childbirth; and
• appropriate facilities for breast-feeding.

The bill also would prohibit discrimination against a pregnant individual in regard to job application procedures or the hiring, compensation, job training, advancement or discharge of employees.

Mello said the bill would apply only to businesses subject to the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act, which does not include those with fewer than 15 employees.

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 26-0, amended the bill’s language to refer to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, rather than pregnancy.

Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, chairperson of the committee, said the change would clarify that the bill’s protections cover individuals who seek accommodation because of conditions or complications that are related to pregnancy in addition to those that arise from pregnancy itself.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Omaha spoke in support of the bill, saying she was fortunate to have had a supportive employer during her two pregnancies. Crawford said reasonable accommodations were made so that she could continue working during the pregnancy and while breast-feeding.

“But I am worried about my fellow women who may be in a situation where that is not the case,” she said.

Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner expressed concern that the bill may end up harming those it intends to protect.

“These protected classes can often backfire,” he said. “I think it causes employers to think twice and I think it could cause further discrimination.”

Mello said the bill creates no new protections or penalties, but simply clarifies existing law. LB627 generated no opposition at the committee hearing, he said, which is an indication that employers understand the bill’s purpose.

“I’ve yet to have a bill that impacts business where they don’t come in opposition when it affects their operations or their ability to conduct business,” Mello said.

The bill advanced to select file 31-0.

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