A new bill proposing reasonable accommodation for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding ran into some friction on the Senate floor yesterday.
Senator Todd Weiler (Republican – Woods Cross) was presenting SB 59 – Antidiscrimination Act Revisions for final passage in the Senate chamber when Senator Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City) appeared to imply that passage of the bill would make it harder to fire someone because they are pregnant.
“This puts me in a pretty tough position as an employer…and I value [my employees] very highly – they are how I make money. When somebody gets a broken foot or a broken arm, I work with them, I try to help them stay employed. But, the other day I had a guy break a foot playing basketball and, well, he is a driver – if he can’t push the gas pedal, what good is he to me? You try to help them, but you get to a point where you can’t employ somebody,” Jenkins told the body while debating the bill.
“If [an employee or potential employee’s] doctor brings a certificate saying ‘this is what we think you need to do’ well then it appears by this that I am kind of obligated to do what that health provider thinks. So, instead of a law, I have an opinion. If I deny employment [based on breastfeading], I’m really sticking my neck out, and it scares me…You are putting me in a spot where I am against my employees – and I don’t want to be against my employees, I want to make them happy,” added Jenkins.
SB 59 emphasises that an employer only has to make “reasonable accommodations” such as allowing an additional break to pump breast milk or to provide a stool to people who traditionally stand while working.
The legal framework of reasonable accommodation dates back to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and is generally understood to mean a modification to a job or work environment that allows an otherwise qualified individual to participate in that particular job. Jenkins, however, appeared to be under the impression that his entire building would need retrofitting if SB 59 were to pass.
“So, I’ve got a little secretary that comes to work, that works for me – she works in my financial department – she’s really good. Well, occasionally, she brings one of her kids and puts a blanket out next to her desk and puts her child on that blanket for an hour and, we all walk around him and stumble over his toys, and it is very intrusive to the office – it makes it really hard to work around – but it is only for an hour or so until her husband gets off, so we work with it.,” Jinkins told the body, noting that any further modifications would create an undue hardship on his company.
“When I look at what you are asking here, you are asking that if somebody is breastfeeding – that’s frankly the one that worries me the most because it’s invasive on the office,” Jenkins explaned, noting that “It’s not that my entity couldn’t afford to do this, it is the fact that I don’t have a room, I have bathrooms that they could go into – so I guess I could set up a bench in a bathroom…I get to a point where I could put her in a conference room, but I couldn’t use it for conferences. If she is going to bring a child with her, I guess that means someone is going to have to bring a child in multiple times a day while she is nursing. It gets very complicated as an employer to try and accommodate these circumstances – and I want to.
Weiler would go on to explain that his bill would only allow for an extra break, not for the company to build a new room specifically for breastfeeding. Furthermore, Weiler noted, nothing in the bill requires that employers have to allow children in the workplace.
However Jenkins pressed on.
“Let’s get down to the hard answer. This lady is going to be breastfeeding, so if [the bill] doesn’t require children in the workplace, how is that child going to get there to breastfeed? I mean I’m assuming that her husband or somebody is going to have to bring that child to stand at her desk with that child until it is, you know, its time, when it’s hungry. So that is a child in the workplace, is it not?” Jenkins would wonder aloud.
Weiler would remind Jenkins that a mother does not need a child present to expresses milk, stating that mothers “put a lid on it, cool it, and take it home.” He would also add that if an employer can not reasonably accommodate a request, they are not required to do so under the law – for example, a mother who happens to be a miner could not petition a employer to demand that she come topside several times a day to breastfeed because that would use a disproportionally large portion of the company’s resources.
Senator Deidre Henderson (Republican – Spanish Fork) stood in support of SB 59. During her discussion she reminded the body that, the bill also protects employers because they could reasonably explain why one employee was receiving additional breaks or special equipment while others did not.
Jenkins used one final opportunity to add that he thinks “most employers already do these kind of things where possible, because we value our employees – but I don’t think we need a law telling us to do these kind of things. Because, when these laws say they help, they also hurt. This is one more addition to an anti-discrimination act [where] it is already against the law to discriminate. You get down into the weeds here, with such detail, I don’t think it is necessary.”
Prior to the vote, Weiler would close by noting that the Senate Busines and Labor Committee did receive testimony of one woman lost her job specifically because of a lack of reasonable accommodation being granted by the employer – that woman, it was discovered, is now receiving welfare and living off the state.
“I’m embarrassed that we are such a family-friendly state that we haven’t extended these protections to women in the workplace,” Wiler would conclude.
The bill would pass 18-9 and is now headed to the House.