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Why a law protecting pregnant workers won’t be enforced in Texas

Many of our readers may not be aware of a relatively new federal law protecting pregnant employees that was approved by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden as part of a larger funding package at the end of 2022. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers with at least 15 employees to (among other things) provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are pregnant. 

These accommodations include things like reassigning job duties that could be harmful to a pregnant employee or the baby and allowing pregnant employees more restroom breaks. The law also allows employees to sue employers who don’t abide by the law.

In Texas, however, employers aren’t required to follow the law. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration over the PWFA. He claims that it’s unconstitutional because when it passed in the House of Representatives, a majority of the members voted by proxy rather than in person. That was allowed under the rules at that time due to continued public health concerns.

A federal court judge’s ruling

Earlier this year, a federal court judge for the Northern District of Texas ruled in in the AG’s favor, agreeing with his claim that since a majority of the House of Representatives voted by proxy (whether for or against the bill), there wasn’t an official quorum. Therefore, he ruled, the law couldn’t be enforced. He didn’t, however, rule that Texas couldn’t benefit from the funding approved under the same vote.

The PWFA seems to have been the real target

The issue of a quorum and Paxton’s lawsuit seem to be solely aimed at the PWFA. He originally argued that the accommodations required by the law placed an undue burden on state government agencies. He claimed that state law already provided adequate accommodations for pregnant workers.

Even without legal mandates, responsible employers provide pregnant employees with the protections and accommodations they need to continue to do their jobs and also remain safe and healthy. Unfortunately, not all employers do so. Even when an organization has rules in place to protect pregnant workers, not all supervisors and managers abide by them. 

It’s crucial to know your rights as a pregnant employee and to speak up when your safety and health – or even your comfort – are being needlessly jeopardized. If you can’t resolve an issue with your employer, it can help to seek legal guidance.