Protecting pregnant workers aim of new legislation

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- Legislation to ensure pregnant workers are given fair treatment on the job was filed for the upcoming General Assembly.

Bill sponsor Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, was joined by a bipartisan group of women and several organizations on Wednesday in support of the Pregnant Workers’ Rights Act.

Kerr said the bill would establish modest accommodations for expectant mothers, such as temporarily providing more frequent breaks and a place to sit down and a place to express milk.

"With this in place, we can ensure pregnant Kentuckians are healthy," said Kerr. "Healthy moms make for healthy babies.”

The bill should not be burdensome to employers, she said, and it lays out protections for both employees and employers.

“Kentucky ranks near the bottom when it comes to female labor participation rates," Kerr said. "This undermines Kentucky’s competitiveness in a global marketplace.”

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said a quarter of a million women nationwide are not receiving the accommodation they need during pregnancy.

“This is a piece of legislation that came out of the House 98-0," said Grimes. "There is no reason why 2019 should not be the year that it comes out of the Kentucky Senate and signed into law by the governor.”

Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said she was very proud to stand behind the bill.

“As a mother of five boys, I know what it’s like to try to balance work and family. It’s really important to ensure that we have some mechanisms in place to support moms in the workplace,” said Moser.

One of the incidents that brought the issue of workplace rights for pregnant women involved Lyndi Trischler, a patrol officer for the Florence Police Department. When she was five months pregnant in 2014, Trischler said her doctor advised light duty because the gun belt was causing abdominal pain and her vest was so tight she could hardly breathe.

“The city of Florence would not accommodate me,” Trischler said. “Instead of letting me serve my community and earn a paycheck, I was pushed onto unpaid leave.

"Human Resources actually told me it was poor planning on my part," she continued. "They weren’t willing to work with me because of a discriminatory city-wide policy that said we could not have modified duty unless we were injured on the job.”

Trischler contacted A Better Balance, a national work and family legal center. “Soon after, the city changed their tune and I was able to keep my health benefits."

A Better Balance also filed a charge of discrimination on her behalf with the Equal Opportunity Commission.

“It took two and a half years to get justice," Trischler said. "All I wanted was a reasonable accommodation so I could keep working.”

Elizabeth Gedmark, director of the Nashville office of A Better Balance, said the legal center hears from women like Trischler too often, and they are struggling with a question "that no one should ever have to ask: Which do I choose, my pregnancy or my job?”

“Kentucky must join the 23 states and five other cities that have protections on the books like this for pregnant workers," said Gedmark. "The Pregnant Workers Rights Act will prevent problems before they start. Employers will have clarity about their obligations and employees won’t be afraid to ask for a simple accommodation on the job.”

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