Ebony Love-Taylor of Rock Hill is thankful for accommodations in the workplace that allowed her to breastfeed her daughter for a year and continue to work.
Love-Taylor was given a private place to pump milk at work and time to take her milk home.
“I couldn’t have done it without it,” Love-Taylor said. “I had an employer that was very understanding. She didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.”
Love-Taylor, whose youngest daughter is now 2, is employed at SC Works in Rock Hill. She is an example of the benefits workplace adjustments can provide women who have children.
A state law passed earlier this year solidifies help for women in the workplace who are pregnant or who have had children.
The South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act, which went into effect May 17, requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for women with medical needs related to pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions, including lactation.
“Current workplace laws are inadequate to protect pregnant women from being forced out or fired when they need a simple, reasonable accommodation in order to stay on the job,” the law states. “Many pregnant women are single mothers or the primary breadwinners for their families; if they lose their jobs then the whole family will suffer. This is not an outcome that families can afford in today’s difficult economy.”
Accommodations can include modifying work schedules, making existing facilities accessible for employees with medical needs arising from pregnancy or childbirth or providing more frequent and longer breaks, according to the state law.
“It makes pregnancy not as much as an issue for employers,” said Joan E. Winters, a Chester-based labor employment attorney who represents employers. “Women come into the workplace and while they are in the workplace, they find out they are pregnant. Many years ago that was the end of your job.”
“I commend the General Assembly in Columbia for passing this. It does open the door for more women to enter the workplace,” she said.
Lynn Hall, a project director for SC Works Catawba in Rock Hill, a brand of services aimed to help job seekers in South Carolina, said pregnancy used to be taboo to some employers.
“I have seen employers be more receptive to young ladies who were expecting while looking for work,” Hall said. “Companies are developing a more family-friendly culture.”
The state law supplements the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers of 15 or more to provide a private room for women to nurse or pump, Winters said. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
“Our clients pretty much adhere to those federal laws, but I’m sure there are employers out there that do not,” Winters said.
The state law requires those employers to also make accommodations for women who have medical difficulties related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as providing a workspace closer to the bathroom for women experiencing severe morning sickness or providing extra time to come to work in the morning.
“The South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act really does help women get into the workforce, and once they’re there get the time they need or the accommodations they need if they experience difficulties,” Winters said. “The accommodations can vary from case to case depending on the medical difficulty the woman is experiencing.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make accommodations for employees with physical or mental impairments that limit major life activities, but “pregnancy isn’t considered to be a disability,” Winters said.
The state law “gives them the same accommodations that would be given to someone with, say, severe asthma,” she said.
Love-Taylor said it’s important employers continue to provide help for women experiencing childbirth or pregnancy-related difficulties.
“Someone may be uncomfortable already asking the employer to make the accommodations because you do have work to do,” she said. “It would have been a dilemma if I didn’t have the accommodations. Breastfeeding was very important to me.”
South Carolina employers with 15 or more employees were required by Sept. 15 to make staff aware of their rights under the law, Winters said. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees can make accommodations on a voluntary basis.
“It does give a little more protection for women and families,” Winters said.
Want to know more?
Employers and employees can find out more about the South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act through the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission website or by calling 803-737-7800. South Carolina employees who feel they have not received proper accommodations under state law also may file a complaint with the affairs commission.