The Vermont Senate has passed a revised version of a bill requiring employers to accommodate pregnant women in the workplace.
The Senate passed H.136 in a voice vote Wednesday. The bill now moves back to the House, which can accept the changes or ask for a committee of conference to negotiate a consensus.
The new version of H.136 gives pregnant women the same protections as workers with disabilities. The bill is much shorter than the House’s original version, which critics said created new definitions in Vermont law that would be too hard to implement.
Currently, pregnant workers are protected under disability laws only if they have specific medical problems associated with their pregnancies, such as morning sickness. Women with healthy pregnancies are often unable to get accommodations at work, members of the House argued.
Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, who advocated for the original bill in the House, said pregnant workers needed specific protections because a U.S. Supreme Court case from 2015, Young v. United Parcel Service, said pregnant workers are not entitled to reasonable accommodations in the same way workers with disabilities are.
“What we were able to do is tie it into existing law on fair employment practice … on disability, without the person necessarily having to be disabled,” said Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, who worked on changing the bill. “I don’t think it really changed much in substance from what the House did.”
He said the new language simplifies the bill because there are already decades of case law about what an “undue hardship” on an employer means or “reasonable accommodations” are for an employee.
At the same time, Sirotkin said, the bill wouldn’t elevate pregnancy to the same level as disability status because the accommodations typically are of a different nature.
“It tends to be smaller kinds of accommodations like bathroom breaks, stools, uniforms, as opposed to perhaps ramps or hallways or major changes in job descriptions” for disabled workers, he said.
Sen. Carolyn Branagan, R-Franklin, offered an amendment before the bill passed to clarify that the Senate does not consider pregnancy a disability. Senators unanimously approved that clarification.
“Pregnancy is a normal process experienced by every woman,” Branagan said on the floor. “This amendment is short and sweet. It clarifies that nothing in this section of law should be construed to mean that an employee who is pregnant … is disabled.”
Sirotkin said the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee members “fully support it.” He added: “We felt that the bill as introduced did not consider pregnancy-related condition to be a disability, but this made it perfectly clear.”