Senators renew effort to create state protections for pregnant workers

By: - January 25, 2022 1:31 pm
A woman holds a baby while working at a laptop.

A mother holds a baby while working at her laptop. (Photo by Getty Images)

A panel of Iowa senators unanimously advanced a bill Tuesday requiring employers to offer “reasonable accommodation” for workers who are pregnant or have recently given birth.

Senate File 485 would require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” related to pregnancy or recent childbirth for workers who ask for them with the recommendation of their health care provider.

“Reasonable accommodation” might include but isn’t limited to provision of an accessible worksite, modification of equipment, job restructuring or a modified work schedule, according to the bill.  The bill would not require accommodations that impose undue hardship on the employer. It imposes a penalty of $750 per violation.

“I think overall it’s a good bill. I see it as a pro-pregnant-women bill and a pro-life bill as well for the unborn baby,” Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, said. He chaired the subcommittee on the bill.

Chaney Yeast, director of government relations for Blank Children’s Hospital, spoke in favor of the bill. “We know that if women have those accommodations, they’re more likely to stay in the workforce,” she said.

Labor organizations were also among the groups supporting the bill.

Although the proposal has preliminary approval from the subcommittee, its fate is uncertain.

The legislation stalled in the Senate last year in the face of opposition from Iowa’s largest employers.

The Association of Business and Industry remains opposed, lobbyist J.D. Davis said during the subcommittee, noting that the federal Pregnancy Disability Act already addresses accommodations for pregnancy through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“So we’re really wondering, what is the issue that arises in Iowa that was beyond the scope of the federal act that protects women in these situations,” he asked.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said he wants to see enforcement moved from the Iowa Division of Labor to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which deals with other disability accommodations in the workplace.

Sen. Dawn Driscoll, R-Williamsburg, said she shared ABI’s questions about why the federal regulation wasn’t adequate, but she agreed to advance the bill with the expectation of amendments. Taylor said he would prefer, on principle, to see enforcement through state government rather than a federal agency. But he agreed he would like to see changes in the bill, which he didn’t specify.

The bill moves to the Labor and Business Relations Committee for consideration.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.