CHARLESTON – This summer WV FREE has been hard at work rolling out information for the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), legislation that requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Effective July 1, 2015, employers with 12 or more employees will need to make accommodations for pregnant employees such as providing a stool to sit on during a regular shift, giving light duty assignments with no heavy lifting and making allowances for bathroom and breast pumping breaks. Most importantly, PWFA prevents an employer from firing or penalizing a woman due to pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions.
PWFA passed overwhelmingly in the 2014 West Virginia State Legislature with broad bi-partisan support, with no Delegate or Senator voting against the bill and only seven members absent from voting. “Implementation of this bill is timely for WV FREE organizationally,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, Executive Director of WV FREE. “We currently have three expectant mothers working for reproductive justice here at WV FREE. We fought hard to pass this legislation during the 2014 WV legislative session because we believe maternal and reproductive rights are basic human rights. Beyond that, we know that a healthy workforce is a productive one. To celebrate the implementation of this landmark legislation we are opening a ‘Lactation Station.’”
WV FREE has dedicated a private space for nursing mothers where they can pump breast milk and nurse newborns. The room is equipped with a private refrigerator for milk storage, a comfortable couch, a footstool and other amenities that will make nursing more relaxing.
WV FREE has also updated its parental leave policies giving new parent employees, including adoptive parents, 10 weeks of paid leave. WV FREE staff may take an additional 2 weeks of unpaid leave and may also use sick and vacation leave to care for a child or sick family member.
“We encourage other employers to follow suit,” Pomponio said. “It’s high time to enable workers to care for themselves and their families. Creating more reasonable leave policies improves employee productivity and retention. It’s just the right thing to do.”
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration’s report, The Business Case for Breastfeeding, such provisions improve worker morale, increase workers’ dedication to their employers, and decrease worker turnover.
Pomponio decided to pitch the idea of increased paid leave to the WV FREE board of directors after reading about new policies set forth by Johnson and Johnson.
“Johnson and Johnson has been a leader nationally in updating their parental leave policies. We want WV FREE to follow suit and lead by example. We are publicizing our new policies with the hope we can raise the bar not just here in the Mountain State across sectors, but nationally among our sister organizations. Frankly, we would like to do more. But it’s a good place to start,”Pomponio said.
The issue is personal for Pomponio.
“My husband and I happily await the birth of our twins later this summer. We want to raise them in a state that values children and families,” Pomponio said. “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is an excellent step in that direction. At a time when Washington was gridlocked, our West Virginia legislators showed boldness in passing this legislation in 2014. State delegates and senators understood that we can’t wait on Congress to act. We can make progress right here in our own state. We applaud our state leaders for their forward thinking and hope that our Congressional delegation will follow West Virginia’s lead.”