Three cheers for the Pregnancy Accommodation Act.

Cara Crotty said it best when she wrote, “South Carolina is not known for being a hotbed of employment law progressivism.” She is not wrong! But, in a surprisingly progressive twist, the South Carolina governor recently signed into law the Pregnancy Accommodations Act (HB  3865). 

The law took effect on May 17, but employers do not have to comply with the notice and posting requirements until September 14.

The Pregnancy Accommodations Act adds to an already-existing South Carolina statute prohibiting sex discrimination. The new law is more specific, adding that discrimination is also prohibited “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including, but not limited to, lactation.” The law further provides that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefits programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

The statute also includes some commonsense ideas employers can use for accommodating pregnant women or women with related conditions, including more frequent or longer break periods, more frequent bathroom breaks, and providing a private place for lactation. (Employers are not required to construct a permanent, dedicated space for lactation.)  

Finally, the law requires employers to notify employees of their right to be free from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. A notice informing employees of these rights “must be conspicuously posted at an employer’s place of business in an area accessible to employees.” It may also help for South Carolina employers to add language in their EEO statements that they prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and related conditions.

I am sure many professional women who have been pregnant, and men who have or have had a pregnant coworker or spouse, are rolling their eyes at this piece of news. It sounds so obvious to many of us that pregnant women should be allowed to use the bathroom more often, or put up their feet now and again. In addition, federal law has required pregnancy accommodation in many situations ever since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, and the federal Nursing Mothers Act already prohibits employers from requiring nursing mothers to use a bathroom to express milk. 

Even so, according to the National Women’s Law Center, less than half of the states have discrimination laws specifically addressing pregnancy discrimination and accommodations. So, good for South Carolina for sending the message that pregnant and childbearing workers are valued.