Politics

Kentucky employers would be required to provide workers with “reasonable accommodations” if they become pregnant under a bill that passed out of a legislative committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 38 would require employers to give women the opportunity to transfer to less strenuous duties and other accommodations.

Lyndi Trischler, a police officer from Florence, was put on unpaid leave when she became pregnant.

“The human resources director told me that it was poor planning on my part and that I would have to take the unpaid leave,” Trischler said.

“If there had been a clear law on the books, then my coworkers and I would not have to be afraid of getting pregnant and having families.”

In 2014, Trischler and fellow Florence police officer Samantha Riley filed a federal discrimination complaint against the city and won, prompting the city to award them $135,000 in damages and change its policies.

State law currently doesn’t guarantee employment protections for pregnant women.

Under Senate Bill 38, employers would be required to give pregnant workers more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position, and private space that is not a bathroom for breast feeding.

Employers would be exempt if they prove the accommodations would be an “undue hardship” or if they have fewer than eight employees.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Republican from Lexington, is the bill’s sponsor.

“Pregnant women are pushed out of their jobs and often treated worse than other employees with similar limitations because the law does not explicitly guarantee reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth,” Kerr said.

Elizabeth Gedmark is an attorney with family rights advocacy group A Better Balance. She represented the Florence police officers in their discrimination complaint and said the department wanted to accommodate their requests.

“But their hands were tied by this outdated, discriminatory city policy that seemed to think that pregnant women should be at home instead of in the workforce,” Gedmark said.

Gedmark said about 250,000 women are denied requests for accommodation every year.

Sen. Joe Bowen, a Republican from Owensboro, said the proposal might lead to employers hiring fewer employees who are women.

“What we have to be careful about in society is that we don’t stymie the opportunities for females to get a job by perhaps overregulating it and an employer saying ‘gosh there are so many regulations out there, it’d be easier for me to hire a male,’” Bowen said.

The bill is now eligible for a vote in the state Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.