A new federal requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to those who are pregnant. But public health experts say not nearly enough is known about which work circumstances are dangerous for pregnancies.
At the end of last year, Congress approved the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a law that requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to those who are pregnant. But the new law, which took effect June 27, has a big hole in it: Public health experts say not nearly enough is known about which work circumstances are dangerous for pregnancies, especially when chemical exposures are involved. That’s because occupational health studies overwhelmingly have been centered on men, and so have the health and safety standards based on those studies.
“A pregnant person’s physiology is very different from a nonpregnant person,” said Carissa Rocheleau, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “A lot of our existing permissible exposure limits date back to 1970. In the studies they based the limits on, there were very few women in general and even fewer pregnant women, if any.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ guidance for employment considerations during pregnancy says that very few chemical compounds “have been sufficiently studied to draw conclusions about potential reproductive harms.”