Reminder – the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) passed in December 2022 will become enforceable this coming June 27, 2023. How do things look so far for the law’s initial success or failure?


Findings at the Ohio Safety Congress and Expo, OSC23®, held March 7-10, 2023, suggest that the federal PWFA may face some headwinds for initial success. Consider the following:

During OSC23® 50 women attendees were asked about their awareness of the passage of the federal PWFA. Forty-seven (47) of the women responded that they were unaware of the PWFA. The three women that stated an awareness of the PWFA, could not fully explain how the Act would impact workplace health and safety. 

A male instructor from NIOSH presented the OSC23® training session titled “The future of work, technology, and occupational health and safety.” A course objective included “describe forces driving the future of work.” The NIOSH instructor responded during the conclusion of his course that he was unaware of the PWFA.

Prior to the start of the OSC23® day-long Industrial Hygiene Workshop, the three male instructors, each having the CIH® credential, were asked about their awareness of the PWFA. None of these instructors claimed an awareness of the PWFA. Among the approximately 50 people in the IH course, only one person raised a hand to acknowledge an awareness of the federal PWFA. 

Island of indifference?

Ohio appears to be a geographical island of indifference towards PWFA concepts. Ohio PWFA law was proposed in 2015 (S.B. 301) and 2021 (S.B. 177) but each proposed law died before the committee stage. Meanwhile, states encircling Ohio including Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburg, PA, passed PWFA law with strong bipartisan support. Ohio’s northern neighbor, Michigan, never proposed PWFA law, but Michigan’s 2021 safety conference included the training session, “How PWFA laws impacts Michigan workplaces.”

Societal concern

The U.S. Supreme Court’s March 2015 ruling in Peggy Young v. UPS warned of pockets of indifference towards challenges faced by pregnant workers. In Young v UPS the court majority ruled that Peggy was owed reasonable lifting accommodations under PDA concepts while she was pregnant. Speaking for the dissenting opinion (but reflective of consensus among all the justices) Justice Kennedy stated that:

“But as a matter of societal concern, indifference is quite another matter. There must be little doubt that women who are in the work force – by choice, by financial necessity, or both – confront a serious disadvantage after becoming pregnant. They may find it difficult to continue to work, at least in their regular assignment, while still taking necessary steps to avoid risks to their health and the health of their future children. This is why the difficulties pregnant women face in the workplace are and do remain an issue of national importance.” 

The failure of the federal PDA to legally ensure that pregnant workers are provided reasonable accommodations when needed, paved the way for the new PWFA legislation.

Century-old indifference? 

The federal PWFA facilitates actions to modify workplace conditions and/or practices that may endanger a pregnant worker’s health or threaten the health of her future child. 

The century-old (June 1921) article to the right demonstrates a long-time employer awareness of the hazards and risks to pregnant workers. The article in its entirety could be written today and many OHS pros would consider its information to be a modern revelation.

Why did the day-long OSC23® Industrial Hygiene Workshop address none of the hazards, risks, and modern accommodation controls that a pregnant worker must know to protect her own health and the health of her future child?

How could NIOSH not consider that the federal PWFA belongs in the future of work discussions? OSC23® was presented during our nation’s Women’s History Month. Why was passage of the federal PWFA overlooked in Ohio as an historical event for women?

The cost of indifference

There are many ways to measure the cost of indifference to the new federal PWFA legislation. For example, the March of Dimes PeristatsTM reports is one way to measure if health of pregnant women and their newborns are being protected. The 2022 March of Dimes Report Card shows that Ohio received a D+ Grade for preterm birth. Preterm birth often is associated with a host of poor birth outcomes such as vision, hearing, and learning problems. Columbus Ohio, site of OSC23®, received an F Grade for preterm birth. Ohio’s 2022 Infant Mortality Rate, an indication of overall health, is 6.5 compared to the national average of 5.4, a poor grade however you measure it. Other measures in the March of Dimes report finds poor maternal and birth outcomes in Ohio.

Article takeaway

Some people (fair or not but most will likely be men) may perceive that the PWFA is an undeserved entitlement for women. The U.S. OHS professions are dominated by men – mostly older men who were weaned on highly prescriptive OSHA regulations. Change is often difficult for people to accept and the PWFA is definitely a new way to manage health and safety hazards. The PWFA is federal law, however, and must be obeyed in good faith. As the old saying goes, “ignorance of the law is no excuse for non-compliance.”