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The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and its impact on pay equity

August 29, 2023

By Aishwarya Sinha & Kristen Herman

Making adjustments at work for pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a child after birth should be a guaranteed benefit. However, in the United States, pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare can greatly disrupt a person’s career path and opportunity for earnings. According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 75% of pregnant women who requested accommodations reported facing adverse consequences.1  

The motherhood penalty, when women are “financially penalized for having children,” has long been a significant contributor to the gender pay gap, leading to decreased earnings for women after becoming parents.2 One study found that mothers are offered 7% lower starting salaries than non-mothers with equal qualifications;  another that each child born results in an additional 4% decrease in earnings.3  Fathers do not face the same discrimination, and in fact are rewarded for having children, often offered higher pay than non-fathers.4,5  

Though we do not have specific research on the implications for non-binary and transgender birthing people, we know that LGBTQ+ people, without being pregnant, experience higher rates of discrimination at work and in pay.6 In terms of complications related to childbirth, more LGBTQ+ birthing people in one study reported complications with physical health, mental health, and breastfeeding compared to cisgender, heterosexual people.7 In fact, 25% of LGBTQ+ birthing people in this same study reported complications specific to returning to work, whereas 16% of cisgender heterosexual people reported experiencing this type of complication.8

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) strengthens protections for pregnant workers and requires reasonable accommodations be made in the workplace for companies with at least 15 employees. The Act builds on the protections provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring that pregnant workers are provided with necessary adjustments to carry on their job duties without facing discrimination, losing their job, or experiencing negative health impacts on their pregnancy. PWFA gives workers the right to receive reasonable accommodations like light duty, breaks, a stool to sit on, change scheduling, access to water and food, and other needs related to their pregnancy, childbirth recovery and related medical conditions, including lactation, during pregnancy and for up to one year after a birth.  

The PWFA will have a positive impact on pay equity, especially for birthing people. The Act addresses some conditions that impact pay disparities resulting from pregnancy and childcare. By requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations, including flexible work schedules, pregnant workers are able to continue working and providing for their families throughout their pregnancy and childbirth recovery. The National Partnership for Women & Families state that pregnant women who received reasonable accommodations were 55% more likely to remain employed during their pregnancies.9 Without this, new birthing people may go without their usual earnings for months after the birth. This can rapidly deplete savings and make it difficult if not impossible to afford basic necessities. Without accommodations, many pregnant workers may be unable to return to jobs after childbirth. This results in short-term lost wages and long-term disrupts saving potential, ability to build retirement, purchase a home, or have funds for their or their child’s education. It also disrupts career growth and future earning and promotion potential. 

For employers, PWFA can help reduce the turnover rate of pregnant workers. Pregnant workers can continue contributing to the workforce, reducing the discrimination and penalties that often result in birthing people leaving their jobs or experiencing career stagnation due to a lack of support during pregnancy. 

PWFA will contribute to reducing pregnancy-related discrimination and promoting a more inclusive and equitable work environment by providing reasonable accommodations, preventing retaliation, and reducing penalties. This Act helps narrow the gender wage gap by keeping pregnant workers in the work force and ensures that pregnant people can continue contributing to the workforce throughout their pregnancy and after without sacrificing their long-term health, economic security, or career advancement.  

To learn more about the PWFA, check out these resources:

 The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is inclusive of all pregnant and birthing persons regardless of gender or sexual orientation. However, because of biases in existing research, there is little to no information on the unique experiences of discrimination faced by pregnant people who are non-binary and/or transgender. Please note wherever in the blog the term “women,” “woman,” or “motherhood” is used rather than “people,” “parent,” or “parenting,” is because those statistics are taken directly from research that did not include the perspectives of all birthing people. We also recognize that LGBTQ+ as a term does not always include non-binary folks and does not center transgender people. Again, this is a result of bias in research and lumping oppressed communities into a single group, which erases unique identities.  


  1. National Women’s Law Center(2021). The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Making Room for Pregnancy on the Job. Retrieved from
  2. American Association of University Women, AAUW (n.d.). The Motherhood Penalty. Retrieved from
  3. Correll, S. J., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty? 1. American journal of sociology, 112(5), 1297-1339.
  4. Gault, B., Milli, J., Hartmann, H., Hegeswich, A., & Reichlin, L. (2014). Paid Parental Leave in the United States. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Retrieved from
  5. Correll, S. J., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty? 1. American journal of sociology, 112(5), 1297-1339.
  6. Center for American Progress, CAP (April 2012). The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap: Many Workers Receive Less Pay Due to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination. Retrieved from
  7. Association of American Medical Colleges (June 2022). Polling Spotlight: Understanding the Experiences of LGBTQ+ Birthing People. Retrieved from
  8. Ibid.
  9. National Partnership for Women and Families (2022). Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers: State and Local Laws. Retrieved from