Requiring employers to make accommodations for breastfeeding and/or pregnant women could return next session

Two pieces of legislation that would require employers to make accommodations for breastfeeding and/or pregnant women failed to be acted on during the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session. Federal law already addresses making those accommodations.

The House Judiciary Committee listened April 28 to Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, explain HB352, but took no vote on the bill. The legislation would have made it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations for any condition of a job applicant or employee related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, including the need to express breast milk. It specifically forbid taking adverse action against, denying employment for applicants and requiring an employee to take leave related to conditions related to pregnancy. Rafferty told the committee that the American Disabilities Act or the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act protect pregnant women in the workplace, but those federal laws do not provide specifics of what are “reasonable accommodations”  for pregnant women. Under the bill, reasonable accommodations would have included: (1) More frequent or longer breaks. (2) Acquisition or modification of equipment. (3) Seating. (4) Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position. (5) Job restructuring. (6) Light duty. (7) Break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. (8) Time off to recover from childbirth. (9) Assistance with manual labor. (10) Modified work schedules. The bill also would have required a poster at the work site and would have applied to employers of 15 or more. Rafferty said he would reintroduce the legislation in a future session.

Another similar bill introduced in 2021 was never scheduled for a committee hearing.  SB100 by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, would have required all employers to make reasonable efforts to provide breastfeeding employees with a time and place to express milk in private. Under the bill, the unpaid break time each day would have been required to be in “a room or other location with access to an electrical outlet in close proximity to the work area, other than toilet stall.” Federal law requires employers to provide a nursing mother reasonable break time to express breast milk and provide a place for the employee to express breast milk. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the federal break time requirement if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship.

On May 14, the U.S. House of Representatives on a vote of 329-73 approved the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The federal legislation awaits action by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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