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Nebraska Policy Should Promote Health and Economic Security for Pregnant Workers and Families

Nebraska citizens value both family and hard work and it is important that policies in the workplace match these values. Nebraska has high overall employment and high numbers of women in the workforce. Approximately 71% of women who give birth within a particular year are working. Often, these women are the sole or primary bread winners in their household. In 2010, nearly two thirds of mothers were the primary or co-earners for their family. Unfortunately, maintaining job responsibilities while pregnant can come with challenges and women are not always offered sufficient accommodations.

In spite of some protections in federal law, pregnant workers in physically demanding jobs are particularly vulnerable to the effects of discrimination in the workplace. Many are let go, forced to quit, or involuntarily placed on unpaid medical or disability leave after requesting reasonable accommodations for their temporary situation. Instead of granting simple and temporary modifications, employers may force pregnant workers to choose between their health as well as their unborn child’s health and their economic security.

According to the USDA, a U.S. family will spend an average of about $12,000 on a newborn during his or her first year of life. Without appropriate work accommodations, pregnant workers are at risk of losing their pay check at a time when their family’s expenses will significantly increase. When a family’s financial stability is threatened, they are more likely to need to rely on public assistance programs and may not be able to afford adequate prenatal care that is essential to the mother’s and the baby’s health.

Both physical and emotional stress can have detrimental effects on pregnant workers and their babies. Pregnant workers who are forced to continue lifting heavy objects or stand on their feet for too long are at risk of experiencing severe pain, premature labor pain, and even miscarriage. The emotional stress that results from job loss or a loss of wages while on leave can increase the risk of giving birth to a premature baby and/or a baby with a low birth weight. Low birth weight babies are more likely than healthy babies to have health problems as a newborn and are more likely to have long-term health problems. Low birth weight newborns are at risk for respiratory, heart, and intestine problems, as well as at risk for bleeding in the brain. Long-term health conditions that low birth weight babies may face include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

For the sake of pregnant workers and their babies’ health, Nebraska needs antidiscrimination policy that allows pregnant workers reasonable modifications in the workplace.  LB 627, which is expected to be considered by the State Legislature this year, would clarify and update accommodations for pregnant workers.  Pregnant workers should be able to continue earning money to support their families without putting their baby at risk and we hope the Legislature will pass this bill.

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