Pregnant workers' bill backed by Lovely becomes law

Associated PressMass. Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, left, shakes hands with Alejandra Duarte after the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was signed into law at the Statehouse on Thursday in Boston. 

SALEM – A bill championed by State Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem that provides new protections for pregnant workers was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday.

The law makes it illegal for employers to not hire a woman because she is pregnant, and requires companies to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees at their request, including more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, a temporary transfer to a less strenuous position, or access to a lactation room.

Lovely, who first filed the bill in the Senate last year, said pregnant workers are accommodated by employers all the time, but there were still instances when employers were not being reasonable. One woman who testified at a hearing on the bill said she lost her pregnancy at 19 weeks because she was forced to push heavy laundry bins and work 10 hours per day, Lovely said.

"What we want to do is have reasonable people communicate with each other," she said. "Pregnancy is not a disease, it's a natural condition and it has an end to it. Most women are able to have normal, healthy pregnancies, but some don't and need to be accommodated."

Lovely, a Democrat, said there was initial push-back from the business community due to concerns about costs, but the two sides worked together to create a bill that was fair to both sides.

"The original bill was geared more to employees' needs," she said. "We worked really hard to make it balanced so that reasonable accommodations could be achieved for both employer and employee, and not be mandated by the employee."

Baker signed the bill on Thursday in a State House ceremony that included two dozen lawmakers.

"When 65 to 75 percent of all women between the ages of 25 and 55 are in the workforce, many people might call this long overdue and common sense reform, but I think for all us here today we'll just leave it at a job well done," Baker said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com. Material from the State House News Service was used in this story.

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