Bill proposing job protections for pregnant workers advances
By BRUCE SCHREINER
Feb. 08, 2018
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Lyndi Trischler's pregnancy caused her some discomforting challenges as a police officer — her bulletproof vest became so snug it made it tougher to breathe. And her gun-belt hurt her.
At her doctor's advice, the Kentucky patrol officer requested a switch to desk work with the Florence police department. Her request was denied due to city policy and she eventually went on unpaid leave — resulting in financial hardships that forced her family to move in with relatives.
On Thursday, Trischler spoke out in favor of legislation that would create workplace protections for pregnant women in Kentucky. The bill took a first step forward when the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced it with strong bipartisan support.
"What I went through was pretty terrible, and I'm hoping that no one else has to go through that," said Trischler, who has resumed her patrol duties.
The bill's proposed workplace accommodations for pregnant women include opportunities for temporary transfer to less strenuous or less hazardous duties, more frequent or longer work breaks or modified schedules. Or it could be something as simple as providing a stool to sit on.
Supporters said the bill is a response to Kentucky's lack of explicit legal protections to ensure pregnant women are not pushed out of jobs. State law also doesn't explicitly guarantee "reasonable accommodations" for expectant mothers who work, they said.
Kentucky needs more women in the workforce, and many of them will become pregnant, said Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, the bill's lead sponsor.
"No woman in Kentucky should have to choose between the health of her pregnancy and her job," she said. "Yet this is happening all too often in the commonwealth."
Trischler's situation resulted in litigation. In 2016, the City of Florence settled a discrimination lawsuit involving Trischler and another city police officer who also was denied light-duty work during her pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Justice said the northern Kentucky city agreed to pay $135,000 to the officers and rewrite city policies to make new accommodations for pregnant employees and employees with disabilities.
"I didn't want a handout," Trischler said Thursday. "I didn't want a paycheck to sit at home. I really wanted to work, and I think a lot of women want to work."
The bill also would apply to women who are back on the job after recent childbirth. Accommodations would include providing private space other than a bathroom to pump breast milk.
The measure would provide clarity for women and their employers about what types of accommodations should be offered, said Elizabeth Gedmark, a staff attorney with A Better Balance, a legal advocacy group for workers' rights.
"It actually would be helpful for businesses to understand their obligations, so they don't get wrapped up in things like litigation," she said.
The bill as currently written would apply to businesses with at least eight employees.
It would offer exemptions for employers who are able to show that an accommodation would impose an "undue hardship" on the business.
The legislation is Senate Bill 38.