Indiana lawmakers consider protections for pregnant workers

More Indiana businesses would have to allow pregnant women to take longer breaks, transfer to less physical work and take unpaid time off after childbirth under a proposal state lawmakers are considering.

The Senate Family and Children Services Committee voted 7-2 Monday to endorse Senate Bill 342, even though some business groups argued it wasn’t necessary and could lead to greater burdens on small businesses.

The proposal would apply to businesses with more than 15 employees and would require them to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant women that don’t cause an undue hardship on the company.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is supporting the bill after urging legislators in his State of the State speech this month to have Indiana join 27 other states that already have similar laws.

State Health Commissioner Kristina Box told the committee that job modifications such as allowing pregnant women to sit while working or limiting how much weight they lift can help improve Indiana’s infant mortality rate. The state has the 7th worst infant mortality rate in the country with about 600 infant deaths in 2017.

“These basic changes lower the risk for a pre-term birth, which is the No. 1 cause of infant mortality in our state,” said Box, who is an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Federal laws already require larger companies to provide pregnancy accommodations, but the proposal would clear up confusion for smaller businesses on their requirements, said Republican Sen. Ron Alting of Lafayette, who is the bill’s author.

Several doctors and other health advocates spoke in favor of the proposal. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and some other business groups raised questions about increasing regulation on smaller businesses, while local chamber groups from Indianapolis and other cities supported it as a way to provide clear expectations for businesses.

Large companies already offer pregnancy accommodations because of the need to recruit and retain employees, and smaller businesses could face legal expenses to determine what steps meet the standard of reasonable job modifications, said Andrew Berger, senior vice president of the Indiana Manufacturers Association.

“If there’s not an inherent need, an absolute need for the government to be involved … you should not add another layer into this system,” Berger said.

Angela Espada, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, described how she was born more than two months premature and spent time in an intensive care unit after her mother continued working at an industrial laundry during her pregnancy.

“When you can help a pregnant mother sustain her pregnancy, that is pro-life,” Espada said. “But also, it is pro-choice so that women can have the choice to continue to work, to chose to bring healthy babies into the world.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Democratic Sen. Jean Breaux of Indianapolis said the proposal would provide more security for pregnant women.

“Oftentimes, women are reluctant to share their pregnancy because they are concerned about the ability to maintain employment,” Breaux said. “So, I think this kind of removes that fear from the workplace.”

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