A New Law Is Supposed to Protect Pregnant Workers — But What If We Don’t Know How?

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Health

Vanessa Langness had always been a bit worried about the chemicals she worked with as a biomedical researcher, but when she got pregnant in October, her concerns grew. The 34-year-old based in Santa Maria, California, suspected the ethidium bromide she was using in the lab for molecular cloning could put her and her baby at risk.

She wasn’t sure what to do; she was only a few weeks into her pregnancy and didn’t know how it would affect her career.

“Women are taught: You aren’t supposed to tell people until after the first trimester,” she said. “But that’s actually a really delicate stage for the formation of the baby.”

Langness did some research online but couldn’t find much information on what kind of extra precautions she should take because of her pregnancy. Without realizing it, she had stumbled upon an often overlooked area of science and medicine: the occupational health of pregnant workers. Those who are pregnant often face hazardous circumstances doing jobs in which they must lift heavy objects, stand for long periods, or, like Langness, work with chemicals.

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 chemica …

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