March 15, 2017

Bill establishing protections for pregnant workers heads to Senate

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The House approved a bill to establish workplace protections for pregnant workers Tuesday afternoon on a 51-14 vote.

The bill would require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers who ask for them. Sponsors and proponents of the bill have given examples of reasonable accommodations such as allowing pregnant women breaks to walk or to or drink water at their desks.

Some of the legislators who raised concerns about the proposal during debate, such as state Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, ultimately voted for the measure. Dow said she worried about businesses being held liable to new damages.

“I’m thinking about the smaller business across the state who might not know this bill is being passed and might be negligent without even knowing,” Dow said during debate.

State Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, responded that any pregnant employee feeling wronged by her employer would have to raise a complaint to start the process.

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, supported the bill and during debate emphasized the bill would not force businesses to make accommodations that they couldn’t make.

While presenting the bill, Chasey cited Young v. UPS, a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a woman who worked for UPS who was fired after requesting to lift a lighter load while she was pregnant. In 2015, the high court remanded an earlier lower court ruling dismissing her case. Soon after, UPS changed its policies.

Chasey also explained that her bill is necessary because while federal law bars gender discrimination to employers of 50 or more workers, her bill would extend those protections to workplaces of four or more employees.

Sarah Coffey, an attorney with the Southwest Women’s Law Center who acted as the expert witness for Chasey’s bill, touted its economic benefits in a prepared statement released shortly after the House vote.

“With nearly two-thirds of mothers as breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, a woman’s wage is critical to the wellbeing of her family,” she said.

The bill now heads to the Senate with less than three days to go in the legislative session.