People Magazine, Pregnant Women, and the Massachusetts State House

Beyonce is expecting twins, as is human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Thanks to Serena’s Snapchat slip-up we know that she is truly the G.O.A.T. — winning the Australian Open while pregnant. Pregnancy is a hot topic of conversation these days, and not just in the pages of People. In Washington the conversation centers around whether a pregnancy with no significant complications should result in a 425% premium increase, or if maternity care is an essential service. Here in Boston, we’re debating whether pregnant workers should be accommodated in the workplace.

Last week in the State House, the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development gave a thumbs up to the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act”. What the bill does is simple: it makes sure that women don’t have to choose between having a healthy pregnancy and keeping their jobs. This bill clarifies existing law about an employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation to pregnancy and related conditions, and what constitutes such an accommodation. This allows pregnant women to sit down, be allowed extra bathroom breaks, or be accommodated in other reasonable ways. The bill also protects pregnant workers seeking accommodation from being retaliated against.

Why all the fuss? Because women’s participation in the workforce is essential to the success of our economy, and at some point most women are likely to be pregnant and working. Over half of all pregnant women and new mothers in the Commonwealth work, filling our state coffers with tax revenue and supporting their families. Nationally, three quarters of women will be pregnant and employed at some point in their lives. To keep women in the workforce — and to keep our economy thriving — we must accommodate pregnant women.

The good news: businesses benefit when they accommodate pregnant workers. A Job Accommodation Network study finds that providing simple accommodations allowed 90% of organizations to retain valued employees and 60% reported that it eliminated costs associated with training a new employee. A 2010 report issued by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors noted that accommodating workers led to employees with “higher levels of job satisfaction” and “more loyalty and commitment to their employers.”

Celebrity magazines may have plenty to report on with maternity fashions and the latest off-kilter baby name coming out of L.A., but the real pregnancy watch is happening in the world of public policy. In Massachusetts, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will be taken up for a vote in the House next week, and appears to have support from key State House leaders. This bill protects mothers-to-be, and saves businesses money by helping them retain talent. Serena would probably call it a grand slam.