Advocating workplace accommodations for pregnant employees

Professor Deborah Widiss’s research helps make workplaces welcoming for pregnant women. Some pregnant employees can work up until their due date without any changes at work, but some may need accommodations from their employers—like being able to sit on a stool rather than stand behind a cash register, or being excused from heavy lifting. In a recent article, Professor Widiss argued that such accommodations are often required under a 1978 law known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). She advocated that the PDA should be understood to require employers provide the same level of support to pregnant employees as they do to employees with disabilities.

Professor Widiss’s article has had a significant impact. Her article spurred lawyers at the U.S. Department of Labor to seek Widiss’s input on proposed regulatory revisions addressing pregnancy discrimination. In July 2014, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released new guidance largely endorsing the interpretation of the PDA that Widiss articulated.  Her article was cited and commended in a public written statement by EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum issued in conjunction with the new guidance. And her article was selected for republication in Women and the Law, an annual publication that reprints new and noteworthy articles that address women’s issues.

The U.S. Supreme Court then took up the issue of pregnancy accommodations in a case called Young v. UPS. Professor Widiss helped write an amicus brief in the case, and her article was cited in the briefs submitted by Peggy Young and by the United States. The Supreme Court’s decision, issued in March 2015, was a victory for pregnant women. Although the Supreme Court didn’t resolve the precise question of how the PDA interacts with disability law in this context, it held that lower courts had interpreted the PDA too narrowly and that employers are often required to provide as much support for pregnant employees as they provide for employees with similar limitations.  

Professor Widiss has been involved in ongoing efforts to ensure that the decision in Young is implemented properly. She has also supported efforts to enact new state and federal laws explicitly providing pregnant women a right to reasonable accommodations. Based on her advocacy, more women are able to work safely and productively through a pregnancy.