Legislators Just Blocked A South Dakota Bill That Would Protect Pregnant Employees

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Pregnant employees who feel they do not have proper accommodations at work — and have been denied things like private space for breastfeeding or more frequent breaks — have an easy solution: just quit.
At least, that's what one South Dakota lawmaker thinks.

When House Bill 1120, which would have required businesses in the state to provide needed support for pregnant employees and new parents, was denied last Monday, state representative Wayne Steinhauer suggested that anyone who feels their needs are not met by an employer just find a new job, Rewired reports.

“It’s not prison. You can quit,” Steinhauer said during a hearing of the House Commerce and Energy Committee, according to Rewired. “You’ve got a choice every day. You make a choice whether you come to work. And I’m here to tell you, if a person’s not allowing you to breast-feed at work or making appropriate accommodations at work, we can pass this law, but you don’t want to work for that guy. Get the heck out of there.”

Forget for a second that it isn't simple to just find a new job, especially if you're pregnant or have a newborn child. Steinhauer's comments still take all responsibility out of employers' hands, and put a burden on pregnant employees to either fight for accommodations they need, or find a new job. In many cases, that puts power in the hands of men and takes it away from women. Not. Cool.

The bill wouldn't have allowed pregnant employees to take advantage of a business in any way, and in fact made allowances for businesses that may not have the financial resources to provide extra support.

It only applied to businesses with 50 or more employees, and would have required they make "reasonable" accommodations. This includes "more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, adjustment of seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, private non-bathroom space for breastfeeding, assistance with manual labor, and modified work schedules," according to the bill.

This all sounds reasonable to us, but if for any reason an employer couldn't provide this support — whether because they couldn't afford the money or manpower — they would be off the hook.

Although workplace discrimination of pregnant employees was outlawed in 1978, many businesses still fall short in protecting their workers. Only 18 states, the District of Columbia, and four other cities currently require employers to extend accommodations to pregnant workers, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. And that's just not enough.
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